Major League Soccer announced on Sunday that Dell Loy Hansen intends to sell Real Salt Lake FC, National Women’s Soccer League side Utah Royals FC and the United Soccer League Championship’s Real Monarchs.
Hansen has been under pressure since a report from The Athletic detailed his repeated use of racist language to and in front of team employees.
That report came on the heels of Hansen’s reaction to Wednesday’s MLS player-led walkout in protest of racial injustice. The protest led to the postponement of five matches, including Wednesday’s match between RSL and LAFC scheduled for Rio Tinto Stadium.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that while MLS commissioner Don Garber and Hansen had spoken multiple times over the last several days, Hansen arrived at his decision to sell on his own.
“Major League Soccer has been informed that Real Salt Lake Investor-Operator Dell Loy Hansen has decided that he will begin a process to sell Utah Soccer Holdings, the entity that owns Real Salt Lake (MLS), Utah Royals FC (NWSL) and Real Monarchs (USL),” Garber said in a statement.
“MLS will work with Mr. Hansen on supporting the sale efforts for the company and will work closely with the club’s executive staff to support the operations of the team during the transition period.
“I want to acknowledge Dell Loy Hansen’s significant efforts to build the sport of soccer in the state of Utah and for his commitment to Major League Soccer.”
Hansen confirmed his intention to sell Utah Soccer Holdings in a statement shortly after the MLS announcement.
“I recognize that at times I have spoken too quickly, without pausing to consider the feelings or good intentions of others. This is not acceptable and I assume full responsibility for allowing my words to travel unfiltered as to their significance and impact,” he said.
“I believe that communities are strengthened by diversity. I am truly sorry for offending and being insensitive to the plight of others. I seek to do better and commit to supporting and improving diversity and inclusion in my own community going forward.
“After deep consideration and soul-searching, my wife Julie and I agree that the best way forward for the Real Salt Lake family is to assume new ownership and a refreshed vision.”
The NWSL said it was in the best interest of the league and the Royals to be sold, adding “Mr. Hansen’s contributions to the league’s growth and continued development of soccer are notable, but we agree that the decision is the right one for the future of the Royals. We look forward to supporting the Royals players and staff and will assist the ownership transition in every way possible.”
During an interview on Thursday on a Hansen-owned radio station, KXRK, Hansen spoke of the protest as being “like somebody stabbed you and you’re trying to figure out a way to pull the knife out and move forward. That’s what it feels like. The disrespect is profound to me personally.”
In a subsequent interview with ESPN700, which Hansen also owns, the RSL owner walked back some of his comments and apologized to Garber.
However, The Athletic report led to calls from around the MLS and NWSL that Hansen should be forced to sell his teams.
Both MLS and the NWSL announced on Thursday that they would be conducting investigations into Hansen’s behavior.
MLS could have forced Hansen to sell the side, but it was unclear whether a similar mechanism existed within the NWSL.
Section 14, Part D states the league’s board of governors can terminate an owner’s interest in a team if 75% of the owners vote to do so. They would need to find that “the team operator or any owner has failed to act in the best interest of the league.” If that 75% threshold is met, an owner would have six months to sell the team. If those six months pass without a sale, the league could then sell the team itself to a buyer approved by the board of governors “at such price and on such terms as the commissioner deems reasonable and appropriate.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Larry H. Miller Sports Group, owners of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, are interested in purchasing the teams.
Ryan Smith, the co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics, tweeted that he has an interest in buying the franchise, saying “I’m in … they got my number.”
Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore has also tweeted that he is part of a group interested in purchasing the teams. NFL star J.J. Watt, who plays for the Houston Texans and is married to Chicago Red Stars forward Kealia Watt, tweeted his interest in the Royals.
Hansen acquired full control of RSL in January 2013, taking over from founder Dave Checketts. He previously had a minority stake in the club beginning in October 2009, serving as the organisation’s vice chairman and alternate governor.
The purchase sparked an exodus of long-time RSL staff members — some voluntary, some forced — with manager Jason Kreis, general manager Garth Lagerwey and president Bill Manning among those departing over the ensuing months.
In August 2019, Hansen took the step of firing then-manager Mike Petke when it emerged that Petke had directed homophobic slurs at match officials following a Leagues Cup match against UANL Tigres the previous month.