Checketts Says Goodbye to RSL

A reflection piece on what Checketts meant for the small-market team
by Chris Enger   |   Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kingdom of Salt - column on Real Salt Lake (RSL) & the Salt Lake City Utah soccer scene

Dave Checketts sold out … literally (and I’m actually using that word correctly. He sold out his portion of Real Salt Lake to the minority owner Dell Loy Hansen).

In an opportunity he possibly couldn’t pass up, Checketts steps out of team ownership and into the CEO role of Legends Hospitality Management, which is basically like working for the Cowboys and Yankees – a job even George Costanza couldn’t screw up. It would be a difficult job to deny if you’re living in Connecticut and owning a team in Salt Lake City.

I understand the decision.

Checketts brought “small market” Salt Lake City another major league sports franchise. Clearly, the team filled some unknown void as Real Salt Lake has become a staple in the Salt Lake valley and continues to grow every year.

Checkett’s vision gave his hometown a team. Sadly, he was going to have that stinking “Real” be the team name over more popular choices like the Highlanders. But the team became a way to bring together the local fans of two hated fanbases.

His hard work and good decisions gave the city its first championship. Checketts realized early on that initial General Manager Steve Pastorino and the team's first manager John Ellinger had to be let go in favor of an inexperienced back-up goalkeeper-turned-lawyer-and-broadcaster in Garth Lagerwey and an unproven player with an eternal chip on his shoulder in Jason Kreis, respectively. That decision probably saved the early off-field success of the team and helped RSL become the fan addiction it has become.

The former owner may have been perceived as unconventional, at least for MLS standards. When the team was fighting for a stadium and county funds to support the roads and infrastructure, he threatened to move the team to St. Louis. This was likely the lowlight in RSL’s short history. It worked, though, as he secured financing and now Sandy, Utah, is the home of one beautiful stadium.

He rattled the sabers of soccer elites when he inexplicably retired Jason Kreis’ number, a celebration never given to soccer players because of the traditional sanctity of soccer numbers. But overall Checketts' 20-plus years of managing and leading sporting franchises was just what this new team in a young league needed.

Again, Checketts may look like he cashed out. And if he did and he was only in it for the money, so be it. He played his hand perfectly and left the table when leaving was the right choice. The romantic in me would have loved to have seen him as the owner of the team for many years to come, but he has always been drawn to his other loves.

His last RSL decision of selling the remainder of his ownership to Dell Loy Hansen may be his best.

Hansen is a local businessman with roots in Utah and a late-blooming passion for the sport. Hansen also has deeper pockets, allowing the team to make bolder player choices. The new majority owner wants to see the franchise continue to grow so he can leave it to his kids.

It will be weird looking at the owner’s box and not seeing Checketts and his family around him. Maybe he’ll still be there, maybe not, but it won’t be the same.

To Dave, thank you. I never would have seen myself as a soccer fan 8 years ago – and here I am a soccer missionary, continually sharing the good work of the beautiful game – had it not been for you.

Maybe we can retire Dave’s trench coat.


Univ. of Utah
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KoS & SN Podcast co-host & self-proclaimed funniest man in Utah. Mormon by faith, Ute by geography, Gooner by accident & proud RSLer. Father of 4, husband of 1, brother of many. Bilingual by day, quasi superhero en la noche. There's only one "Fuegote".