Last night, RSL commentator Brian Dunseth brought up a point that has us all in a bit of a tizzy: There’s a non-zero possibility that RSL could have suitors from Las Vegas.
Now, it should be noted that it’s speculation, and he’s not revealing anything that he is certain about — at least, not directly — but that doesn’t mean that it has me feeling particularly good about it.
That said, I don’t think it’ll happen, and maybe that’s me being overly optimistic. Why? Well, let’s get into it.
RSL has an established presence along the Wasatch Front
This is not a case of MLS contracting Chivas USA, who were sadly not well-supported, didn’t have their own stadium, and had a poor reputation. If Real Salt Lake were to be transplanted to Las Vegas (a move I’d only be OK with if they were legally obligated to keep the extant name), they’d be starting anew, and that’s not an insignificant effort.
Of course, this on its own isn’t actually evidence that MLS wouldn’t do something like this — at least, not solely because of this. But think about it: Real Salt Lake was once a top market for MLS, despite our relative smallness. Our local ratings were (and perhaps still are) better than many other, much bigger markets. MLS needs vibrant small markets to survive in the medium-term, and while they might love to be rid of small markets at some point, I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that makes much sense for a league that still is below even the NHL in popularity.
Now, does that mean MLS isn’t trying to get into Las Vegas? Of course not. They probably see it as an attractive option. (I, however, think it’s terrible. Have you been to Las Vegas in the summer? It is not great.)
RSL has a residential academy
The future of MLS necessarily involves selling players that have come up in academies. MLS as a development league has been a talking point for a long time, and Real Salt Lake has helped lead the way on that. Even while we have made some fairly massive missteps, we are a pioneering club, and we have built infrastructure to account for that.
Are there problems with the academy? Certainly, and while I don’t think that’s unusual in MLS, it is worth paying attention to those problems. And are charter schools sometimes academically tenuous? Absolutely.
But that’s no reason to dump what is a massive investment into the club by Dell Loy Hansen. It is included in the sale, and it will be vital for the success of this team and this league.
MLS isn’t done growing
I know Las Vegas may be an attractive option for Major League Soccer, but I don’t think they’re particularly interested in that coming at the expense of an existing team. If we look at the Columbus/Austin drama, it is telling that MLS didn’t just say, “OK, you’re going to Austin, damn the consequences.” MLS is not, I think, interested in contraction at this point — the look isn’t great, after all — and along with other factors here, I don’t think they’ll want to uproot Real Salt Lake.
Utah has quite a few very wealthy people who will be interested in Real Salt Lake, having come into money through the tech landscape. Ryan Smith might have been the most interested, best party at the time, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’d be the only party in the mix.
Does it mean I know about an interested party in Utah that’s not Ryan Smith. Sadly, no. But I would not be surprised if there was one. I don’t think we even necessarily need a billionaire (what a weird world we live in, that anybody “needs” a billionaire) — we could easily have a group bid with Utah roots.
Ryan Smith could still be interested
This is my last point, and I think it’s the most salient. We don’t have evidence that Ryan Smith isn’t interested in buying the club. Yes, he just dropped a massive amount of cash on the Jazz, but let us consider a few things.
First, we absolutely know that Ryan Smith was interested.
Second, we absolutely know that the Larry H. Miller Group was interested. Running multiple sports franchises in a market provides some integrative benefits, and I’d imagine that was a substantial part of their interest.
Third, we know that Ryan Smith bought the Utah Jazz for something like $1.6
million BILLION. That’s a lot of money. RSL would be maybe a third of that, optimistically (for Dell Loy Hansen, at least.)
Ed. Note: A previous version of this story said Smith bought the Jazz for $1.6 million. That would be a real steal. It has been corrected and capitalized to emphasize that it’s a whole lot of money.
The benefits of owning multiple franchises in the market remain. His ownership of the Jazz does not preclude that. RSL may not be his boyhood team (he’s not that young, though he is remarkably young) but his interest was real in the beginning. So hopefully he, you know, likes us. I’d like him to like us.