Employees describe toxic RSL culture: ‘rotten from the top down’

Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen, left, with Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll, right
Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen took to X96 Thursday morning to express his frustration at the Real Salt Lake player’s decision to not play against LAFC on Wednesday as a protest of racism and police brutality in this country. Before the end of the weekend, Hansen had agreed to sell the team and has taken a leave of absence.

That was due in no small part to backlash from fans after many staff members started to share their experience with the organization, including reports of racist language used by Hansen. Most notably was Andy Williams speaking to the Athletic, but many others shared their stories as well.

Since then, other issues have come to light — including allegations of sexism — in interviews with current and former employees of the Real Salt Lake organization. We learned for many the tone of the culture set by certain members of leadership has been toxic.

According to interviews with employees and former employees of the organization, sexism and belittling behavior were commonplace when interacting with certain members of leadership at the organization.

In an interview, former sideline reporter Rebecca Cade told RSL Soapbox about a meeting where her physical appearance was openly discussed by male coworkers, including current Real Salt Lake chief business officer Andy Carroll.

“I was told, by a coworker, that there was a management meeting one Friday after work that only included the men in management — like the marketing guys and PR guys, all the guys I work with,” Cade said. “(Andy Carroll) passed around scotch, was talking very inappropriately and was discussing my body with the other men. I didn’t really ask for specifics, but I know for sure they were talking about my boobs.”

This story was corroborated by someone in that meeting who wished to remain anonymous.

When Cade was fired from the organization in 2018, she complained about this story and other behavior to HR but never heard back. Along with another female employee, she reported being told how to dress, though neither was ever given a formal dress code.

When asked to describe the culture at Real Salt Lake, Cade responded with just one word: “toxic.”

During planning for the Utah Royals media day in 2019, Carroll requested that the players be posed with the specific purpose of making them look “sexy,” according to former team photographer Roscoe Myrick.

The staff refused to photograph the female players in this way. This story was verified by another staff member, who asked to remain anonymous.

In RSL Soapbox’s interviews for this article, we heard that Carroll preferred that only Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez, and Kelley O’Hara be used on billboards and advertisements, as he allegedly felt they were the prettiest players on the team. He apparently did not want Gunny Jonsdottir or Becky Sauerbrunn used, as they were “too ugly.”

When goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart tied the record for most shutouts in an NWSL season, members of the Media Department were discouraged from promoting that accomplishment more widely, allegedly because Carroll did not think she was attractive enough.

A statement from the organization in response to the allegations said Utah Soccer “does not tolerate … language or conduct that is prejudicial or discriminatory against women.”

“Utah Soccer prioritizes gender equality and has worked diligently to support and empower women both on and off the field. This is exemplified in its various women’s initiatives and in the devotion it has shown to the sport of women’s soccer more broadly. Utah Soccer does not tolerate and has never tolerated language or conduct that is prejudicial or discriminatory against women, and has made it a central part of its mission to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all of its employees and players. Likewise, any belittling or threatening behavior is wholly counter to the culture of Utah Soccer and such conduct is never permitted or condoned.”

Sexism isn’t the only issue staff allegedly had to face during their employment, as the results of a toxic culture set by Hansen and Carroll often made their work difficult.

Staff were also often expected to work long hours. One person told RSL Soapbox they pulled more all-nighters working for RSL than they ever did in college and say they never received compensation for the additional hours. Utah overtime law requires employers to pay time-and-a-half an employee’s base rate for any hours worked over 40 hours in a week for hourly employees.

A Real Salt Lake player we interviewed, who asked to remain unnamed, pointed out that many of the front office staff are expected to work overtime, and to his knowledge, without additional compensation.

Carroll was often harsh with his subordinates, one source told us.

“I remember in company-wide meetings he (Carroll) would call them (the sales staff) out,” a former staff member told us. “He’d go over the sales numbers for that month and then make comments like, ‘If (insert sales person) doesn’t help us get these numbers up, he’ll be in the unemployment line next month.’”

The source also said Carroll would yell at and belittle staff often. This was confirmed by a second source, who witnessed this behavior.

There seemed to be a sense among the staff that they were not valued by Hansen. Salaries disclosed to RSL Soapbox are on the very low end compared to what would be market rates for similar roles in the Salt Lake City area , and turnover appears to be high.

A currently furloughed employee felt they weren’t valued at the club.

“I could literally kill myself working for this team and it would not matter to Dell Loy Hansen,” the employee said. “I could kill myself working for the team and Dell Loy would wipe my blood off his hands and say, ‘OK, onto the next person.’ It’s sad that people in that club feel that way, because I know I’m not the only person who feels that way. It’s almost like nothing you do matters, because the people don’t value you. Your peers may value you, but the people who make the decisions and matter within the club don’t value you.”

The furloughed employee went on to say that Hansen told her he could get a high school student to do their job for free, so she should feel grateful to have a job at all.

Another former employee, who has since gone on to work for another sports team outside of Utah described the difference in culture as “night and day.”

“People from the top down are willing to collaborate and employee’s feedback is listened to and changes happen because of that, which isn’t something I felt at RSL,” they said when contrasting the positions. “We couldn’t express a concern and have that concern be validated.”

The staff does seem to genuinely believe in one another and the team, but found problems further up the chain, according to some interviews.

“The people I work with, the staff I work with are some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” said an employee. “It is a joy to work in my department. It’s really great — good people who really care about soccer and just want the chance to work in professional sports. However, as you make your way up the organizational ladder, it feels like everyone is greatly under-appreciated.”

There was also the issue of Hansen’s understanding of the sport in general. Hansen, who made his wealth through real estate, was new to sports management when he joined Real Salt Lake as a minority owner in 2009. Until this week, Hansen served as club president from the time Bill Manning, now president at Toronto FC, left the club in August 2015.

One staff member said Hansen’s apparent lack of understanding of soccer made things more difficult at the club.

“Dell Loy always thinks that whatever he has asked for is the only thing that’s going on,” they said. “That’s the biggest problem. He’s an owner that does not understand soccer and he doesn’t understand the demands of soccer. ... He doesn’t understand the rules that are being made. He doesn’t understand the need for more players, quite honestly. “

Another former front office staff member said Hansen and Carroll often demanded control over areas of the club beyond their designated roles or areas of expertise.

“Dell Loy interferes on areas that he’s not an expert at but he also controls everything,” the former staffer said. “He’s a controller. He’s got people in place from general manager from front office staff from head coaches who are happy to have a job.

“They’re probably in the bottom 25% of salaries in the field because Dell Loy doesn’t want to lose control. He has people in place, his minions, who do the same thing and rule by fear. He already underpays people then wants to get more work (on top of their normal job duties) and it’s just toxic.”

One employee said, “I can’t pinpoint what makes the culture at RSL bad, but it’s rotten from the top down.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated rules around overtime pay salaried employees in Utah.

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