The operating rights to D.C. United have been sold in a record deal to a local investor group led by current team president Kevin Payne.
Completing an 11-month search for new team operators, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) sold United’s rights to Global Sports and Entertainment, a newly formed investor group led by Payne and local businessmen Willi Lauterbach and Tim Kissler. Exact terms for the deal were not disclosed, but the price exceeded $20million, the previous high mark for rights to a Major League Soccer team.
In the single-entity MLS, equity in the teams is held at the league level, and investors acquire operating rights to each club.
“We’re very pleased. Getting Willi and Tim involved is going to be very beneficial for us and give us a lot of momentum going forward,” Payne said. “We have a lot of common interests, particularly as it relates to merging sports and urban multipurpose developments.”
The entry of Lauterback and Kissler is designed to jump-start long-developing plans to build a soccer-specific stadium for United, likely at Poplar Point in Southeast. But AEG bought the United rights in February 2001 with the same goal, and after four years of back-and-forth negotiations with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, a solid stadium deal never materialized. Part of the delay owed to the District’s ultimately successful pursuit of a Major League Baseball franchise.
Sports commission officials now hope for a finalized pact on the soccer stadium later this year, with completion on the facility targeted for 2008 or ‘09.
The United deal, however, marks another point in a planned reduction of AEG’s profile within MLS. AEG, controlled by Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz, at one point controlled more than half the teams in the league. It now retains rights to four of 12 MLS clubs.
AEG will own United’s rights through the rest of this season, with closing on the transaction to take place during the offseason. But with Payne directly involved in both situations, the day-to-day operations for United will see little change.
“Mr. Anschutz loves this team. It’s a prototype for the rest of the league,” said Tim Leiweke, AEG president and chief executive officer. “But we can’t own everything, and it’s in the best interests of the league to lower our presence and bring more local, capable people.”