Behind the MLS Ambition Rankings: Real Salt Lake

Friday March 3rd, 2017

How much money has your team spent in the past five years on youth development? How much in the past year?

RSL’s academy setup for the last several years has centered on a well-documented partnership with Grande Sports Academy in Casa Grande, AZ. Under the guidance of Martin Vasquez, RSL teams have advanced to and won regional and national titles in both the U-16 and U-18 USSDA/Generation adidas/Dallas Cup tourneys. The estimated 5-year outlay for this program would be high seven figures.

In April, 2016, RSL Owner Dell Loy Hansen announced that the club would build a $50 million training facility 20 minutes southwest of Rio Tinto Stadium in Herriman, an eight-field indoor/outdoor complex which would become the daily training home of RSL (MLS), Real Monarchs (USL), as well as the club’s U-18 and U-16 academy teams.

The Arizona-based academy program–including Vasquez’ staff–will relocate to Utah late Summer 2017, with an anticipated December 2017 move for RSL and Monarchs from Rio Tinto Stadium to the Herriman campus.

Additionally, the campus would house a 5,000-seat stadium for Real Monarchs’ regular-season games, a future NWSL women’s team, and local college/high school use, amongst other programming. The Herriman campus will also be the site of a 300-student “STEM” charter school (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math; although we joke about the “S” standing for Soccer) for local boys and girls, including the club’s academy players. Dormitory-style housing is planned for the academy teams, which will grow to three next year when the U-14 class is added.

How many homegrown players have you signed? How many have played in MLS league games for your first team?

The current USA U-20 roster selected by Tab Ramos boasts a 25% composition of RSL homegrown products–Justen Glad, Danny Acosta, Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon, all under RSL contract in 2017, as well as Academy player Aaron Herrera, currently a University of New Mexico defender.

In addition to those four players, RSL’s 2017 MLS roster includes an additional four homegrowns–GK Lalo Hernandez, FW Jordan Allen, M/F Ricardo Velazco and MF Jose Hernandez, recently signed from a two-year UCLA career that saw him claim co-Pac 12 Player of the Year honors in 2016.

Since 2011, the club has signed the following 20 HG players to either RSL or Monarchs contracts:

Donny Toia, Nico Muniz, Lalo Fernandez, Carlos Salcedo, Mikey Orellana, Benji Lopez, Jordan Allen, Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo, Phanuel Kavita, Fito Ovalle, Ricardo Velazco, Eti Tavares, Coco Navarro, Christian Herrera, Brooks Lennon, Edgar Duran, Andrew Brody, Danny Acosta and Jose Hernandez.

As we enter 2017, five players from the above list have logged MLS first-team minutes: Salcedo, Allen, Glad, Saucedo and Kavita. Lennon, Acosta and Velazco should see time with RSL this year, while both Lalo and Jose Hernandez currently occupy RSL roster spots.

Our first HG signing, Donny Toia, has developed into a reliable MLS player, after rising through the minor leagues after being released by RSL in 2011. DF Carlos Salcedo played sparingly in MLS behind RSL’s center back combinations of Borchers, Olave and Schuler in 2013-14, but has found international success at Chivas de Guadalajara and Fiorentina.

Several players from the list–Fernandez, Orellana, Ovalle, Tavares, Navarro, Duran and Brody–saw significant USL minutes with the Real Monarchs in 2015 and/or 2016, while Saucedo (Veracruz) and Herrera (Pachuca) spent last year on loan. Brody starts 2017 on the Real Monarchs roster and impressed in RSL’s 2017 early preseason.

An additional four players once called the club’s Arizona academy home–Romain Gall, Eriq Zavaleta, Tony Cascio and Nick DeLeon–but due to ever-shifting MLS rules, RSL was not granted their HG rights. A fifth, FW Ben Spencer, had his rights traded to Toronto FC.

How many season-ticket holders do you have? How many did you have in 2016?

RSL expects to arrive at approximately 14,000 “Royalty” members by the May 1, 2017 cutoff for season-ticket sales, which would be down about 1,000 from a year ago. Most of the attrition is due to RSL consolidating and controlling the secondary market by pulling nearly 600 season tickets from local brokers, who were undercutting per-game pricing in the past.

Where does your first team train? Did you build the training facility yourself? If so, how much did it cost?

RSL will continue to train at America First Field in Sandy–only 1/2 mile from Rio Tinto Stadium–for the sixth consecutive season in 2017, prior to moving to the club’s Herriman facility next season. The ground, about 1 1/2 regulation fields–was built next to Sandy City Hall for high six figures back in 2011.

Did your team build its own stadium? If yes, how much money did the team spend on the stadium?

Rio Tinto Stadium opened in October, 2008, as part of a reported $110 million private-public partnership. Since that time, the Sandy venue has undergone numerous upgrades and improvements, including enhanced premium seating options, an all-you-can-eat section, a massive video display installation and a solar-panel array in surrounding lots. For 2017, the Audi Executive Club opens on the East Side concourse level at midfield, an exclusive business-to-business networking opportunity for the region’s professionals.

Do you have a USL affiliate? How big is your budget this year for your USL team?

With the addition of Mike Petke as head coach for the Real Monarchs and the expansion of the club's USL staff to include former Wilmington coaches Mark Briggs and Matt Glaeser, as well as former RSL defender Jamison Olave, the growth of the Monarchs increases each year. We estimate a 20% increase in expenses in support of this critical connection piece between our Academy and the first team, not including the club’s Herriman Training Center development.

How much money have you spent in the three previous years on Designated Players (transfer fees and salary)? How much are you spending on Designated Players this year?

Information not disclosed.

How much TAM have you spent since its inception in the middle of 2015 (including this year)?

Information not disclosed.

How would you describe your investment in and use of data analytics? How many full-time analytics employees do you have?

RSL’s first data analyst was hired midway through last season, although both of the club’s sports science hires this past winter rely heavily on data-based performance and training analytics as well. RSL has also hired a second full-time scout, as former NY Cosmos player/scout Dane Murphy was hired recently to join long-time MLS veteran and former RSL assistant coach Andy Williams, who has been with the club since Nov., 2004 in some capacity as player, coach and now scout. 

Who is your jersey sponsor? What’s your total income on sponsorships this season?

For the fourth consecutive year, RSL’s jersey-front partner is LifeVantage. Our May 1, 2017, projections for club sponsorships should exceed $14.5 million.

Local TV deal: How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season? How big is your budget for presenting local TV broadcasts? Do your broadcasters travel on the road for local TV broadcasts?

For 2017, all 33 of RSL’s 34 non-National English-language TV games will air locally. For the 13th consecutive season, RSL’s games will air on free, over-the-air TV in Utah, with the 3-hour game window also running live in Boise, ID; Reno and Las Vegas, NV for a third straight year. RSL’s partner at the Sinclair-owned American Sports Network produces the game (approximately $40,000/game) and assumes roughly 50% of the cost while donating the airtime on the syndicated affiliates and allowing RSL to own 90% of the commercial inventory. Our broadcasters, David James (play by play) and Brian Dunseth (analyst) travel for each road contest.

While RSL has provided our fans with both English- and Spanish-language radio since the club’s inception in 2005, RSL will offer our TV games in Spanish for the first time ever in 2017 on UniMás Utah, which will also boast a 30-minute Saturday morning RSL magazine show on over-the-air Univision 32 each week, one featuring former RSL DF Jamison Olave, now an assistant coach on Mike Petke’s Monarchs staff as well as color analyst in Spanish on the club’s radio/TV broadcasts.

How many front-office employees does your team have? How many have you added or subtracted in the past year?

The club’s front office includes approximately 80 full-time employees, growing slightly in the past year overall, with the majority of additions on the soccer side of the business. The Real Monarchs USL staff has grown, as has the club’s sports science, scouting, video and data analytics departments which support both the MLS and USL sides, as well as the Academy and youth development initiatives.

What other sorts of details should we know about your club that are a good barometer of the club’s ambition?

In November, on a parallel path to the club’s campus in Herriman, Hansen broke ground on the first of a half-dozen “regional training centers” in North Logan, UT. Each $5 million RTC houses a classroom, as well as an indoor and outdoor field, dedicated to fulfilling a curriculum consistent with the club's vision and mission for youth soccer training and education, and the continued development of both recreational and competitive pre-Academy (ages 7-12) initiatives across Utah and Arizona. Future locations coming online in next 2-3 years are expected to be Ogden, West Valley, Orem, St. George and a pair of Arizona locations TBD.

One of the primary objectives of these centers–working closely with our Community and Camps foundations for youth soccer education and opportunity covering players, coaches, clubs and referees–is to provide opportunity for former players who wish to remain in the area to serve as coaches/ambassadors after their MLS/USL playing days are over. Imagine the aspirational power of guys like Kyle Beckerman or Chris Wingert honing the skills of boys and girls ages 7-12 in various areas of the game, both on the field and in the classroom!

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