Utah's professional sports landscape changed forever in July with the historic announcement by Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber that Salt Lake City will be home to the nine-year old League's 12th team, becoming the second major league sports organization in state history.
The Utah MLS organization is owned and operated by long-time sports entrepreneur Dave Checketts and associates, representing Sports Capital Partners. Salt Lake City's MLS team will begin play in 2005, along with the already announced "Chivas USA" organization owned and operated by Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara, who will soon unveil the location of that team. The 2005 MLS regular season, the League's tenth campaign, kicks off next Spring.
"The Salt Lake City bid for a 2005 kickoff emerged from a crowded pack due to the experience and savvy of Dave Checketts and his group," said Commissioner Garber today at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the team will play its first few seasons. "The Checketts-run team will make an immediate impact in this diverse and emerging soccer community and in the League. We are proud to now call Salt Lake City home to Major League Soccer."
MLS continues to forge ahead on the League's plan to add two additional cities for the 2006 season, bringing the League's size to 14 teams for what will be the eleventh campaign. Conversations continue with several communities, including but not limited to Seattle, Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Portland, Phoenix and Minneapolis.
"I truly believe that Major League Soccer is the sports league of the future, and I want more than anything for Utah to be a part of it," said Checketts at today's press conference, attended by many of Utah's top government, business and community leaders. "This team is my legacy and my thank you to my home state and community."
The dramatic news further establishes Salt Lake City in particular and Utah in general as a progressive, growing climate for major league sports and similar events. The state has been home to the Utah Jazz of the NBA since 1979, and has played host to two NBA Finals, multiple NBA playoffs and an NBA All-Star game during that period. Utah was also the host of the successful 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which brought it positive attention from sponsors, athletes and media around the world.
"Salt Lake's success on the international stage with the Olympics was part of what went into making this decision," said Dave Checketts, principal owner of the new Salt Lake City Major League Soccer team. "But we fought long and hard to bring this team to Utah. We faced serious competition from other cities and people who desperately wanted this team, including Seattle and Microsoft's Paul Allen. We showed MLS that Salt Lake City was the place for the League's next team."
Utah's unique demographics make it particularly appealing to MLS. Boasting a significant soccer fan base already, Utah has the highest per-capita participation in organized soccer (estimated at more than 200,000 players), a rapidly growing Hispanic and Latino population, as well as a significant Eastern European population.
"Utah already boasts sizeable soccer-loving communities from outside the United States, as well as many former LDS Church missionaries who have returned with a love of the game," said Commissioner Garber. "That's what Salt Lake's home team will offer - exciting, action-packed, world-class, Major League Soccer."
Beyond just the sports entertainment value, Salt Lake's MLS team will bring significant socio-economic benefits to the state. Figures on the team's estimated economic benefit to the state are currently being studied and will be released soon.
"Dave and his group have done an incredible thing for Utah," said Rocky Anderson, Mayor of Salt Lake City. "This team will bring immeasurable benefits to our city and state for years to come."
Checketts returns to Salt Lake after spending much of his early career at the helm of the NBA's Utah Jazz and the better part of the past decade overseeing the NBA New York Knicks and varied other New York sports and media interests. David W. Checketts founded Sports Capital Partners (SCP) in September 2001. He is the Chairman of this growing consulting and investment service firm for sports teams and media assets which in 2002 acquired SportsWest Communications. Checketts serves concurrently as Chairman for SportsWest Communications, a syndicated broadcaster of college sports for the Mountain West and the Western Athletic Conferences (NCAA). The 48-year-old Checketts created his sports media companies after a successful ten-year career at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
"This team will become much more than just another team to root for," Checketts said. "Our team will become a rallying point for every different segment of our community and bridge divides between our ever-diversified communities."