It’s quite easy to breed cynicism. So any wariness regarding D.C. United’s new ownership group, introduced Tuesday at a classy affair atop the W Hotel, is understandable. We’ve seen the pomp and circumstance before. But when it comes to finding the club a soccer-specific stadium, the D.C. faithful know not to get their hopes up.
In choosing his new co-owners, however, Will Chang sure has pieced together a balanced mesh of personalities, skill sets and business assets to complement his own. If the formula is as effective in practice as it is in theory, United fans might look back on July 10, 2012, as the day the organization’s fate finally changed for the better.
“My dream is to find a permanent home for D.C. United,” Chang said. “I have found the perfect partners to fulfill my dream.”
The new faces are Philadelphia 76ers co-owners Erick Thohir and Jason Levien. The money man in this deal is Thohir, a deep-pocketed media and entertainment entrepreneur from Indonesia.
Chang in May 2009 became the club’s sole investor when he purchased the interest of partner Victor MacFarlane, a fellow Northern California businessman, following the team’s failed stab at building a stadium in Prince George’s County - a debacle that included jumping the gun with an overly optimistic news conference.
It was a financial commitment Chang never intended to make, and one the pragmatic Thohir is willing to largely absorb.
“You will not become rich owning a soccer team,” Thohir laughed. “Trust me.”
But the wild card here is Levien. A former NBA player agent and executive with the Sacramento Kings, Levien clearly knows the industry. More intriguingly, though, he’s a onetime attorney who served as a staffer in the Clinton administration, grabbed a degree from Georgetown and lived in the D.C. area for a decade, attending some United matches. While he is now based in New York, he owns a home in the District.
That makes him uniquely qualified to be United’s point man when it comes to stadium negotiations amid the political maze of red tape, scandal and hearsay that is the beleaguered D.C. government. On Tuesday, Levien had no qualms taking center stage at an event many figured would be centered on his more monetarily impactful partner.
Levien was brash and charismatic, employing confident rhetoric when fielding question after question on the stadium issue. And that is what the organization needs.
“We see a pathway” to a stadium, Levien said. “We also know we’re going to have to use our machete to get there. … They’re in a holding pattern, and we need to get out of that holding pattern and land this plane.”
If nothing else, the man wields a mean metaphor.
Thohir, meanwhile, also is the soccer brain in this equation, the one with big ideas who spoke knowledgably about building the roster and said he’d love to dig into his wallet for the right high-profile players.
As Levien pointed out, producing a winning product can only help in the bid for a stadium, which likely would be at the Buzzard Point property near Nationals Park. Playing at cavernous and crumbling RFK Stadium, United have trudged along at the worst facility in a league that every year rolls out more modern, intimate venues to much fanfare.
There has been some talk of the franchise moving, possibly to Baltimore, but all three co-owners were fervent regarding the tradition of the club, which won three of the first four MLS Cups and has carved a passionate niche in the D.C. community.
The paradox for some time has been that United couldn’t blaze a trail to a stadium without new investors, and the team couldn’t entice investors without a trail to a stadium.
Well, it would appear Thohir and Levien saw enough to take a leap of faith with Chang. The first domino has fallen. Are there more to follow?
“It’s going to be a real, true partnership,” United president Kevin Payne said. “I think it’s going to be a great day for D.C. United.”
He just may be right.