SBJ/20100201/This Week's News

D.C. United owner seeks investors

D.C. United owner Will Chang has hired sports investment firm Inner Circle Sports and begun to search for local or strategic partners who would be interested in investing in the Major League Soccer club.

The San Francisco-based owner of D.C. United assumed control of the team in May after buying out partner and real estate developer Victor MacFarlane. Chang said he has begun to search for investors not because he faces any financial challenges but because he believes the addition of new partners with ties to Washington, D.C., or strategic interests in the team can assist the franchise in its effort to build a new stadium and other initiatives.

“I bought [my partner] out because I had a vision of what the ownership structure ought to look like,” Chang said. “I still believe in the franchise, and I’m now in the process of restructuring the ownership group to bring the franchise forward.”

Will Chang hopes to structure an
ownership group similar to the
San Francisco Giants’.

By adding new partners, Chang hopes to construct an ownership group similar to the one behind the San Francisco Giants, which he co-owns with 29 other partners. The Giants are owned primarily by individual investors with local ties, but there also are investors who live outside the Bay Area and companies like the local Fox affiliate, KTVU, and local sports radio station KNBR.

Chang doesn’t have a timeline for when he would like to add new investors nor has he decided how many investors he wants to add. He said he hopes to keep the group relatively small and added that he plans to remain the club’s majority owner.

“I’m under no pressure,” he said. “I’m going to wait and be patient and do a thorough search for strategic partners who can help with the success of the franchise.”

Group ownership is not uncommon in MLS. The San Jose Earthquakes are owned by Lew Wolff and John Fisher; Real Salt Lake is owned by SCP Worldwide and Dell Loy Hansen; and Seattle Sounders FC is owned by Joe Roth, Adrian Hanauer, Drew Carey and Paul Allen.

Chang, who played high school soccer, bought the team with MacFarlane from AEG for $33 million in 2007. MacFarlane planned to lead the franchise’s construction of a new stadium and mixed-use development at Poplar Point. However, negotiations broke down in 2008, and financial pressures during the recession led him to sell his share of the team.

The franchise has been looking to develop a new stadium in other locations, from D.C. to Virginia to Maryland. By adding partners with local interests, Chang hopes that he can re-energize the stadium project.

“If I said [finding partners] didn’t have anything to do with the stadium, I would be lying,” he said. “Victor had good relationships with many of the city leaders. I lost that and I think it’s important to have partners who can provide that.”

But Chang said that’s not his only consideration. He also is looking to find additional partners who can help shoulder the costs of the club and inject additional capital into the team.

“This league is going to be more and more competitive, and the ability for one to be able to write a check is going to be more and more important to building the brand and the franchise,” Chang said. “To have partners share in that responsibility is important.”

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