A topping-off ceremony marking the completion of steel construction at its stadium, the high-profile hiring of Bob Bradley as head coach and the signing of Mexican striker Carlos Vela are the latest milestones for Los Angeles Football Club as the franchise prepares to kick off its inaugural season in 2018.
LAFC’s deep-pocketed soccer-fanatic co-owners are betting big on the L.A. market, having made more than $500 million in capital commitments to the club. The team will become the 23rd Major League Soccer franchise when it begins play in March, but years of work have gone into ensuring the squad – and franchise – will be ready when the first whistle blows.
There are early indicators that LAFC’s grassroots efforts and motto to build a fan base “street by street, block by block” in the community and online are paying off. The team is already among the MLS leaders in terms of merchandise sales, having sold more caps than all but five other franchises.
“When you start at ground zero, it’s hard to build a culture. Every hire is a new employee – every fan is a new fan,” said LAFC Executive Chairman Peter Guber, chief executive of Mid-Wilshire’s Mandalay Entertainment and veteran sports exec.
The team’s aspirations are as large as its ownership group – 27 investors who each have committed money and provided expertise in various areas. The group is headed by Lead Managing Owner Larry Berg and Co-Managing Owners Bennett Rosenthal and Brandon Beck. (See Q&As on page 16.)
Guber, the team’s initial local investor, helped assemble the all-star ownership roster and advisory board, which sport household names that could prove bigger than the team’s potential players. Those co-owners include Earvin “Magic” Johnson, actor Will Ferrell, sports power couple Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley. Team President Tom Penn, a National Basketball Association analyst for ESPN and former Portland Trailblazers executive, also has a stake.
The group paid a $110 million expansion fee in October 2014 to acquire the rights to operate an MLS team. The franchise rights became available at auction after the league acquired and subsequently shuttered Chivas USA, a troubled team that had shared Carson’s StubHub Center with the Los Angeles Galaxy since 2004.
The composition of the ownership group changed last year when majority control transferred from Vietnam-based venture capitalist Henry Nguyen to the group led by Berg. The entire ownership group sits on an advisory board that meets twice a year.
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