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Volume 7 No. 80
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Investors Kyle Martino, Stuart Holden Discuss Mallorca's Fight To Avoid Relegation

Former U.S. internationals Kyle Martino and Stuart Holden traveled the world playing football and now cover it at the highest levels. Martino, who played several years in Major League Soccer, currently covers the Premier League for NBC Sports. Holden, who played for the MLS Houston Dynamo and then-Premier League club Bolton Wanderers, is now a Fox Sports analyst and host. But when their mutual friend, former NBA MVP Steve Nash, asked them to become part of an ownership group looking to acquire a team in Europe, it was hard to believe at first. Martino said that after he and Holden realized Nash was serious, it was a quick, easy decision. "Stu and I sat for all of five seconds before we decided, 'Yeah, we want to be involved in this,'" Martino recalled. "It's every kid's dream when you're playing Football Manager and all these computer games and you're pretending to own a team. The idea that we would get to turn fantasy into reality was something that we jumped on immediately." After multiple ultimately futile takeover attempts of other clubs, Sarver and Co.'s acquisition of Spanish second division side Mallorca was completed in Jan. '16. A group led by Robert Sarver, who owns the NBA Phoenix Suns, acquired the club on the Balearic island via a capital investment of just over €20M. "When you say that you're an owner of a team, that's kind of surreal to say," Holden said of his thoughts when the deal went through. "Having been a player and played at the highest level in World Cups and in the Premier League, you're on the complete other side of that since retirement and going into broadcasting. ... It was kind of a surreal moment, of like, 'Man this is really happening.' Because for a while there, it didn't feel like it was." The board of directors listed on Mallorca's website includes Sarver, Nash and Suns Vice-Chair Andy Kohlberg. 

'A LA LIGA CLUB'
: Holden cited the rich history of Mallorca, which won the Copa del Rey in '03 and played in La Liga from the '97-98 season through '12-13, as one of the reasons the group found it appealing. Mallorca's Iberostar Stadium, with a capacity of more than 23,000, is larger than the homes of several La Liga clubs. The club's location on a picturesque island also played a role. "It's an attractive destination for fans and for players, and for owners as well. That just kind of plays into the idea of what we think Mallorca can be," Holden said. "This is a team that does have that structure in place, they have a great stadium that just needs a few adjustments here and there, but it's a massive stadium compared to the other ones in Segunda. This is a La Liga club that just, for whatever reason, in recent history hasn't performed well. We saw that as an opportunity."

RELEGATION BATTLE: After narrowly avoiding a drop to the third tier at the end of the '15-16 season, Mallorca once again finds itself in jeopardy of being relegated. With three games left this season, Mallorca is 20th in Spain's 22-team second tier, and two points from safety.  "Are we happy with the place the team is currently? No," Holden said in April. "Does it make you nervous at times? Yes, because a lot of work has gone into the structure at the club." Mallorca's play has improved dramatically since the club hired Manager Sergi Barjuán on April 4. The team has recorded three wins, two draws and two losses in its seven games under Barjuan. Mallorca's last game, a 1-0 win over Almería on Saturday, gave it three victories in its last four matches. "I hurt and cringe and scream with amazing joy with every up and down that goes on with this team, just like the fans do," Martino said. "You realize really quickly how fast you can fall in love with a club, and the pain that you inherit -- it doesn't matter if it's Manchester United or Mallorca -- there are ups and downs for every club." A look at the Twitter timelines of Nash and Martino on Saturday offered a glimpse at their mindsets during the Almería match. Holden and Martino both said that neither the club's players nor owners will give the possibility of relegation much thought unless they are forced to do so. But Holden was adamant that Sarver and the U.S. ownership group will remain committed to Mallorca even if it ends up in Spain’s non-professional Segunda B. "This was never a short-term investment," Holden said. "It was never, 'We're going to get into this club and we're going to flip it.' We would still stay true to the longer-term vision, which is to continue to develop players with a focus on the academy and bringing players through the first team."

TREMENDOUS ASSET: Nash's love of football is well-documented. In addition to his involvement with Mallorca, Nash is part of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps' ownership group and a vocal supporter of Tottenham. The former point guard made a quick impression during pickup games with Holden, Martino and other former pro footballers. Holden: "I think Steve Nash could have played professional soccer, no doubt." Holden added that he believes Nash gives Mallorca invaluable insight into how to get the most out of a team, regardless of the sport. "Steve brings a savvy soccer mind," Holden said. "But not just that, the savvy mind of a winner, a guy that knows which little buttons need to be pushed, or what type of things can create the right culture that we want to have at the club. He's a tremendous asset, not just for Kyle and I to have, but for Robert Sarver and for Mallorca to have him involved in the team. Not to mention the celebrity factor that he brings too."

Stuart Holden
LOOKING AHEAD: While Mallorca's struggle to stay in Spain's second tier is the primary objective for now, Martino said that building a following in the U.S. is among the team's primary long-term goals. "Obviously the plan is to break, as much as we can, into the American market," Martino said. "That's one of the reasons we've gotten involved. Working on the Premier League, I see how much our fanbase is consuming and falling in love with these clubs and being exposed to these amazing brands all over the country. Eventually, we want to find a way to continue to grow Mallorca's presence in the States. ... I'm sure at a high level, Robert's [Sarver] got a lot of this planned out behind the scenes, but that's above my pay grade. I'm sure I'll learn about that when we're cheersing and slapping hands after we survive this battle we have toward the end of the year." Holden said that grassroots development will play a big role in cultivating a presence in North America. "In the future, it will be something along the lines of soccer camps, bringing over some of our coaches from the academy," he said. "Potentially at some point having trips organized to bring groups and students over to Mallorca to get that type of experience. It has to be a really grassroots approach. You want people to become fans of the people that are involved in the club, and then we think that word will spread that way." For now, though, Holden, Martino and everyone else at Mallorca have a singular focus: securing the team's place in the second division. Despite the on-field struggles, both Holden and Martino said they are enjoying learning about everything that goes into owning a team. Martino: "It's been a roller coaster ride so far, and I look forward to, hopefully, that amazing day when we can be over there watching the game that needs to be won to get them back in La Liga. If that comes to fruition, this will be probably one of the most enjoyable and one of the most exciting projects I've ever been a part of."