Three days after Chivas USA shut down, MLS commissioner Don Garber on Thursday set Southern California soccer on a new path by introducing the owners of the tentatively-named Los Angeles Football Club, which will take a field to be determined in 2017.
A consortium comprising at least 22 investors will be led by Vietnamese-American businessman Henry Nguyen, who’s the new franchise’s managing partner. He’s working with Los Angeles Dodgers and Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber (executive chairman) and Tom Penn (president), a one-time NBA executive, attorney and agent who co-founded the Sports Leadership Institute. Garber said Thursday that he met Nguyen at one of Penn’s conferences.
Their involvement was reported first by SI.com last month.
They’ll be joined by a star-studded group of minority shareholders that includes NBA Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson; controversial Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan; U.S. women’s national team legend Mia Hamm and her husband, former Major League Baseball All-Star Nomar Garciaparra; YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, motivational speaker Tony Robbins; executives at Dick Clark Production and investors in AS Roma and Queens Park Rangers, among others.
“This is a money group. This is a group that will help us achieve our strategy,” Garber said.
That strategy is keyed on creating a genuine rival for the LA Galaxy, an MLS original that has won four league championships.
“The marketplace is big enough and large enough for two competitors to live warmly but combatively,” said Guber, who produced films such as Rain Man, Batman (the one with Jack Nicholson) and The Color Purple. “We want to engage respectfully, but fight like heck on the field.”
Each of the owners was given a black and red scarf at the announcement, although both the league and club later said that the LAFC name and colors were placeholders. “The new Los Angeles team’s brand identity, along with the front office, coaching and administrative staff will be announced at later dates,” MLS said. LAFC sent out a tweet on its new account saying, “This is your team. You decide its future. Logo, team name, kits - we want to hear from you.”
Nguyen referred to the sport as “football proper” several times during the news conference, hinting that LAFC, which was trademarked at one point by Chivas USA and MLS, may have legs.
The ownership group’s most pressing issue won’t be a name, but a privately funded stadium. MLS was interested in selling the rights to an LA expansion team only to a group with local ownership (Nguyen is moving to the area) that was committed to building a new facility. There were no details presented on Thursday, although Garber said Monday, “We believe there’s an opportunity to build a stadium in a downtown location.”
He continued, “We have been, as you know, working to determine whether or not there’s an opportunity for us to build a soccer stadium on the USC campus. That’s one of a number of different sites we are open to and it could be we end up not downtown, but in another part of the Los Angeles market that could provide us with everything we need to be successful … We have been looking at one particular site for some time now. Now that we have an ownership group, those discussions will be handled by the new ownership group.”
LAFC, or whatever it winds up being called, will be the league’s 22nd team. Orlando City and New York City FC (plus Chivas USA’s departure) will bring the ranks to 20 next year. Atlanta, which was announced in April, will enter in 2017 along with LA.
“We’re coming in at a point in time where we’re in a rocket ship. MLS is a terrific league, incredibly well managed, incredible ownership, and we’re really excited to be part of that,” Nguyen said.