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Footballers’ Billionaires

Will soccer–henceforth to be referred to as football in this post–ever be a profitable business in America? A bevy of Colorado billionaires seem to think so. Last Friday, Wal-Mart developer turned sports mogul Stan Kroenke announced a collaboration between his Major League Soccer club, Colorado Rapids, and England Premier League’s famed Arsenal club.

Will soccer–henceforth to be referred to as football in this post–ever be a profitable business in America?

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A bevy of Colorado billionaires seem to think so.

Last Friday, Wal-Mart developer turned sports mogul Stan Kroenke announced a collaboration between his Major League Soccer club, Colorado Rapids, and England Premier League’s famed Arsenal club.

The agreement includes the creation of the Arsenal Center of Excellence, a football skills training center, and the launch of the Arsenal Cup, a club tournament that will be open to American teams, reports the Denver Post.

Both will take place at Kroenke’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Park east of Denver, “the largest and most state of the art football complex on earth.” The facility–set to open April 7–includes an 18,000-seat outdoor stadium for the Rapids and 24 full-sized outdoor fields for the state’s prolific youth football programs. Through either an ironic stroke of luck or a brilliant marketing ploy, the property abuts the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge–A World War II-era chemical weapons plant (think mustard gas, Lewisite and chlorine gas) turned nature preserve–and will include the refuge’s new visitors center.

The Rapids will help promote the Arsenal brand in the U.S., while Arsenal will help train promising Rapids players, according to the Post. The deal doesn’t give Kroenke an equity stake in Arsenal, however.

The Rapid-Arsenal partnership follows the purchase of the Premiership’s Liverpool club for $430.8 million by George Gillett Jr., former owner of the Vail ski area, current owner of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and chairman of the Greeley, Colorado-based Swift & Co., the America’s third-largest beef processor.

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You can bet a Kroenke-style Liverpool-MLS club partnership is in the works.

Last month Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Los Angeles Galaxy MLS club made international headlines when they signed English football star David Beckham to a five-year contract worth $250 million in salary and endorsements.

Why the sudden surge in American interest and investment in English football?

“Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and while it will never replace American football or baseball, there are commercial opportunities in the states that people like [Malcom Glazier, the American owner of NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers who recently bought Manchester United] have used to their advantage,” Deloitte sports researcher Paul Rawnsley said in The Guardian.

“People with vision and with money who are extremely successful understand that soccer is going to become a major part of the American sports landscape within the next 10 years,” Dean Bonham, chief executive of the Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports consulting firm, told the Post.

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That news hasn’t reached everybody on the other side of the Rockies, however. Utah taxpayers recently voted down an opportunity to pay for $35 million of a $110 million stadium complex for their MLS club, Real (say it with me: re-all) Salt Lake, the new club of football wunderkind Freddy Adu.

The squad was set to pack up for St. Louis when Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. stepped in last week and, against popular sentiment, pushed a bill through the state legislature shuttling $35 million in hotel taxes to the project, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Some do the analysis based on the here and now,” Huntsman told the Tribune. “And others are paid to do the analysis on what is good for the state 20 to 30 years from now”

When Huntsman looks ahead, he sees a successful team playing in a packed stadium surrounded by hotels and restaurants and businesses. He sees a burgeoning tax base and an entertainment hub for soccer-crazy families, reports the Tribune.

And you can bet your Really Bend it Like Beckham DVD that he sees a bunch of billionaires with football dreams and money to burn in the state next door.

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