What a time for LA sports fans. Los Angeles is the desired destination now for owners of three NFL franchises, and has recently received a second MLS franchise set to join the league in 2017. Last Thursday the star studded ownership group of MLS expansion franchise LAFC released their new logo, and announced Hollywood funnyman Will Ferrell has joined as a partial owner of the new franchise. With the press release drawing attention across the globe, we decided to look into the background of LAFC, and what lies ahead for the future MLS franchise in the upcoming year prior to their first game in 2017.
Henry Nguyen, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur born in Vietnam, is the dignitary behind LA’s third attempt at an MLS franchise. Nguyen made his name in the business world by introducing McDonald's to his homeland of Vietnam. Nguyen joined with Tom Penn, a sports industry veteran and former vice president of operations for the Portland Trailblazers, and Peter Guber a co-owner of the LA Dodgers, to form the ownership group that brought LAFC to MLS. Nguyen also brought aboard two Malaysian entrepreneurs as well. Vincent Tann, who everyone may remember as the notorious owner of Welsh club Cardiff City who famously changed the club’s colors from blue to red to appeal to the Asian market, and Ruben Gnanalingham a co-owner of London’s Queens Park Rangers. Without the threat of relegation the two Malaysians jumped at the opportunity to get into MLS, and together the five owners make up the majority ownership group of the new LA side.
With the new club's close proximity to Hollywood, numerous entertainment stars and athletes became involved as partial owners of the new franchise. Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm Garciaparra, Nomar Garciaparra, former Google exec. Chad Hurley, Will Ferrell and a long list of big name media and entertainment businessmen rounded out the lengthy list of investors in the franchise. The new LA side will definitely pack the star power to attract fans to the new franchise, and with the 100 millions dollar franchise fee easily matched by the investors, the process of building a soccer specific stadium has now become the focus of the investment group.
The stadium plans have been laid out for a new soccer specific stadium to be built next to the LA Coliseum near the campus of USC. The stadium plans to have a natural grass surface and hold close to 22,000 fans for matches. The setting is 22 miles from StubHub Center in Carson, California home of the future cross town rival LA Galaxy. The setting just off of the campus of USC will supply a more urban setting for the stadium and will allow for fans from the Pasadena, Glendale, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica a shorter drive to games. The stadium promises to be an a state of the art venue, with top of the line food and beverage choices and green technologies.
The logo the club produced is a sleek look for the club, a gold LA with a wing coming from the A based on a black background. The color scheme includes red as the third color, a somewhat comical inclusion with the history of the 5 owners and their football past. The look comes off to me as very show business, with the black and gold possibly aiming to replicate the fierce look of the LA Raiders of the past. I will be extremely interested in what culture will surround the franchise once it develops a fan base. As some LA franchises have failed to develop a following in the past, with Chivas USA failing recently and the NFL leaving town in 1994 for St. Louis, it will be interesting to see if the expansion franchise can develop a “die-hard” fan culture that is prevalent in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Fans that will stick with the team even through tough times and unsuccessful seasons.
The club hopes to deliver an elite youth academy with an aim to start in the fall of 2016. With southern California being a hotbed of youth soccer, as long as the club can supply quality facilities, I am sure the goal will be reached by the desired deadline. The club plans to announce a manager this year as well, and with the endless supply of money the team seems to have at their disposal, a big name in the global game may be on the horizon for the new franchise. The sunny California weather has never failed to attract global superstars, so expect big names to sign on at the club both on and off the pitch.
So for a club with no players, a coach, or a home, LAFC has managed to create a media storm surrounding the future MLS side. The celebrities involved and the buzz around the Los Angeles sports market has sparked a large interest in the club and expectations are now higher than ever for the new owners to produce a quality side on the field and a great fan experience for the supporters at their new ground come 2017. The cross town rivalry with LA Galaxy, the chosen celebrity soccer destination currently in SoCal, will be intriguing for fans. The previous rivalry with Chivas USA was dominated by the Galaxy, and never really grew into a substantial derby due to the polar opposite success levels the sides saw in MLS. A rivalry culture could develop in the LA scene, similar to Chicago baseball, with a celebrity and upper middle class fan base supporting one side, and more of a blue collar fan base supporting the other.
If a fan base fails to back the club, as we have previously seen in Los Angeles, the team may struggle to succeed in a city that has proven in the past to not really be crazy about professional sports. LAFC will have to feed into the celebrity feel it has already supplied with its big name investors in order to feed into the ego of the LA fan base. With an ownership group possessin endless amounts of money, it will be exciting to see what they can produce in terms of facilities and fan experience. Every new franchise promises to make stadiums packed with the newest technologies and finest amenities, but most fail to deliver. Nonetheless MLS once again has a second franchise in Los Angeles, and it will be interesting to see what is in store for the black and gold side from Hollywood come 2017. For more on the expansion side visit the LAFC website and read more at ESPN FC
About the author - Kevin Wolfe