Real Salt Lake Founder Dave Checketts - Click here to listen to audio of Dave Checketts' speech
“Eight years ago I had the opportunity of a lifetime to help build something for my hometown and home state. At that time I made a promise to everyone that I’d build something of meaning, something that would have meaning to the community and to fans and to the people of Utah.
“It’s hard to realize when you’re building something exactly what is taking place, but as we’ve now gone through the years and reflected on these past eight years I believe we’ve achieved something really great. We’ve done it together and we’ve accomplished something that everybody can take pride in and take a part of.
“The journey has included, of course, being the first MLS team to sell the front sponsorship with XanGo on the front of our jersey. Thank you to XanGo. It’s included building this beautiful stadium, Rio Tinto Stadium. Thank you to Rio Tinto and to Layton Construction and to the architects and everybody else who helped us design and lobby and build this beautiful building.
“We built a team and the team was the most driving force. It was based on this concept that ‘The Team is the Star.’ So to [RSL Head Coach] Jason Kreis who created that concept and – even though he can’t be here, he’s at training camp doing his job – thank you for that concept and for all it means.
“We created the team that then won the 2009 MLS Cup, one of the most memorable days of my life and the lives of our family. That was quite a day. We currently have the longest active playoff streak at five years and have three straight seasons of winning 15 games. We got to the CONCACAF Champions League Final, that was a very memorable time in our stadium as that was the furthest a U.S. team ever had gone in that tournament. And I could just go on and on with many happy and wonderful memories.
“We built a great front office. When we moved into Rio Tinto Stadium we had just over 4,000 season ticket holders and that number today stands at over 9,000. I hope we get to 10,000 this year which would put us in elite company in MLS circles and, for that matter, in professional sports circles.
“We created something from nothing. There was no RSL; there was no shield; we created something from nothing. Now, I have to say that it is time to turn all of that over to a very capable local owner. And as I do that there are many people to thank. It took a real village here to build this all up. First I want to thank Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, and Mark Abbot, the president of MLS. They believed in me, they trusted me enough to take this mission on. I want to thank the Utah political leaders. [Sandy City] Mayor Tom Dolan came to my office many, many years ago with a vision for this piece of land. It started with him and [former Utah] Gov. Huntsman followed and became an important and valiant part of the effort. He’s been followed by Gov. Herbert who has been a sensational supporter and partner, as well.
“I’d also like to thank our corporate partners. Rio Tinto, XanGo, KFC, JetBlue, Anheuser-Busch, all of these companies that believed that we had a vision and thought it was achievable and decided to join us and support us early on, thank you. And thank you to all of the sponsors that support us today.
“Our fans… I can’t say enough about the fans and the way that they have supported us, filled up this stadium and made it a fortress and a difficult place to play every night.
“To RSL executives, coaches and general managers; men like [RSL President] Bill Manning, Jason Kreis [RSL GM] Garth Lagerwey, [RSL VP of Broadcasting and Communications] Trey Fitz-Gerald, who’s been here from the beginning. [RSL Senior VP] John Kimball and [RSL CFO] Gary Reimer and so many others who are all part of the original dream and vision, [Director of Premium Seating] Pattie Benson, people who have stepped in and taken parts of the club and made it work, to all of you thank you very much.
“Last and very certainly far from least, I want to thank my family. I don’t recall the exact date, but I think it was the fourth time the county council had voted down the stadium proposal, the fourth time in a row and I thought it was dead. I was walking into a dinner with the President of Real Madrid, we were at a restaurant in Salt Lake and as I was walking into the dinner and my 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth – who is here today and is now 20 – asked me, ‘So, how did the vote go, exactly?’ And I said, ‘We got voted down again, I think we’ve reached the end.’ She burst out in tears and that is why the stadium got built. That night sitting with Eric Gelfan from our office in New York and others, I said let’s just have a groundbreaking in the morning. As long as Real Madrid’s here, let’s have a groundbreaking and that’ll put everybody on notice that we’re going to build a stadium and that’s what we did. So Elizabeth, thank you very much for your role in me never wanting to disappoint you and that’s what made us build something that I will remember forever.”
“When I look back there are many great moments to think about, but I leave with you the message that I started with: What we’ve created is something that we’ve set out to create. It’s a wonderful asset for the people of Utah, a place where they can come and be unified and watch the beautiful game. And as MLS grows in the world, this stadium, and this team will be an even more important part of the message of what soccer means in the United States and in the state of Utah. it is now, as you know, my pleasure to turn it over to Dell Loy Hansen, who is buying my shares of the club and will become the sole owner of the club. Since he joined the ownership group, he has brought to us an extremely stable and local presence. He has helped penetrate deeper into the community and increase our sponsorship and our ticket sales and he’s brought many of his business relationships to be ticket holders and supporters and buyers. So to him I wish the very best of luck. To all of you I offer my deepest appreciation and gratitude for what this club, for what this community treasure will always mean to us. Thank you once again and to Dell Loy, best of luck.”
Real Salt Lake Sole Owner Dell Loy Hansen - Click here to listen to audio of Dell Loy Hansen's speech
“If you meet Dave Checketts and you spend time with him, you meet a person that isn’t afraid to dream the impossible dream. I would never have dreamed this possible, I would never have taken a risk this gigantic and he has remarkable faith that the vision that he sees people will follow. The dilemma sometimes is that they’re a little slow getting to the vision and that allowed me to join the team. Dave’s definitely been a visionary; as Commissioner Garber and I have talked about, we owe a great debt to Dave. When he signed his franchise agreement, the league was, ‘will it exist.’ And the very fact that RSL – which is the smallest market that MLS is in – could prove to consistently perform in the top third has proven to other franchises that Major League Soccer can exist and will.”
“We’re in Utah, everyone else [in the league] is in very large cities and yet we consistently, from a management side with Bill and his team, perform at the top with sponsorship and corporate sponsors. On the field Dave’s been able to put Garth and Jason in such a mindset that we now lead the league in [consecutive playoff appearances].”
“Dave and I are aware that his vision was ahead of its time. He built a stadium that was too visionary, this was too much, it’s too good and he got less public support [than other cities.] So making up those shortfalls was where he invited me to come in. This was a baby that he had born. And when the pain of trying to carry the financial burden was so great, he invited me to come in and help do that. He has been very gracious to me through this entire process, he is remarkably good at managing sports teams and we formed a good team.”
“I want to answer what the commissioner asked me, which was, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And it comes down to two ideas. Way back in time I worked with [former Utah] Gov. Leavitt on economic development. We flew out to Silicon Valley time after time to meet with companies we were trying to recruit and a lot of them honestly didn’t know a lot about Utah. But when we’d meet these cowboy boot guys on Sand Hill Road or in different Silicon Valley tech firms, the very first thing they wanted us to talk about was the [NBA’s Utah] Jazz. They said, ‘What do you think of Stockton and Malone?’ And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Isn’t this interesting?’ We come in from Utah where there’s the Mormon church, there’s great recreation, there’s skiing, but the very first thing virtually all of these executives did to form a connection with us was talk about the Jazz. And it came home to me the importance of our professional teams in economic development…. We are identified by headlines – I’ve cut them out of the paper ‘RSL crushes New York’, ‘LA falls to Real Salt Lake.’ So when you take this small market in Salt Lake City and you hit the west coast in San Jose, LA, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and you constantly are a winning team against these other markets that hits the local press. Salt Lake’s not just a wannabe player, they’re the player and your professional sports help establish those community sentiments.”
“The second thing is the fans and family. I thought, ‘How do you express the love for the great fans that Dave and I have come to know here at RSL?’ You have pride every time you watch someone approach the goal and the stands just rocket up. The intensity of this fan base is just amazing and it just is a pride I know in Dave’s heart and mine to see we can be part of something that makes people feel so wonderful.
“But I’ll tell you a story that I think is worth telling. There’s a young 10-year-old in St. George [Utah], his name is Garret Lewis. He had watched RSL on TV every time he could. If there was a game being played, he watched it and he fell in love with [RSL goalie] Nick Rimando. Garret was the goalie on his St. George team and Nick was his hero so when his 10th birthday came along, he said the only thing he wanted to do was go to a Real game. So his mom loaded up her kids and the neighbors and seven of them trekked up to Salt Lake. I knew they were coming, so I got them a jersey with Nick’s number and his name on it and they went to the box where I was. Their arms were plastered on the rail the whole game, couldn’t take their eyes off the game, they were here to see his hero Nick Rimando play. And this speaks volumes about our team members that after the game – we won the game and it was a difficult game I remember – we went down into the players’ hallway with these young kids, 10 years old wearing their Real jerseys, and here comes the sweatiest of players. If you’ve ever hugged these guys after a game you got to take a shower. I mean they have left it all on the field, they are worn out to the max, ready to get a shower, get home and get to bed. And nick and [RSL defender] Nat Borchers and two or three of the other players stopped and talked to these youngsters, signed their jerseys, took pictures with them and then they finally went into the locker room. I don’t think you’d ever see that in the NFL, I don’t think you’d see it in basketball, but part of our culture is the connection to the fans. Garret went home that night – left at 10 got home at 3:30 in the morning – and his mother said he slept in the jersey for the entire week. He hugged the Real soccer ball that Nick had signed, it was his teddy bear and to this day it sits on the end of his bed. Now when you think of the large soccer community we have [in Utah] – among our youth it’s the largest participation rate in the nation – Real is instrumental in putting that vision that you can be part of something that is so big. I think Dave and I both feel that bringing that to families and community is by far the most important part of this team.”
“This is a huge challenge and Dave is an impossible act to follow. I see [Deb Checketts] sitting there and I think of all the times Dave came to a Saturday game, took a redeye home, probably didn’t sleep and then showed up for his church work as stake president. And you think what kind of devotion does it take?
“So thank you Dave. While it’s been challenging to get us through this last three years, the ride has been worth it and I take the challenge to take the platform that has been so artfully put together by Dave. It’s humbling, but I’m going to try. Thank you, Dave.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber - Click here to listen to audio of Commissioner Garber's speech
“Thank you to Dave. I’m sad to see him go for reasons both at the MLS level and at the personal level in that I have this great long term relationship with Dave Checketts. At Major League Soccer we have this dream to build what we call a ‘Soccer Nation in America.’ And when the league was founded in 1996, it’s hard to have thought back then that we’d be sitting here today in a market like Salt Lake – which is a smaller market than many others in the United States – and have a team that matters so much in the community. The reason it matters is because this sport resonates, not just in big cities with large populations like LA or New York or Chicago, but it could live and succeed anywhere. The fact that we have such incredible success in a place like Salt Lake City empowers everyone who cares about the game in the United States to believe that this plan, this dream to be a true soccer nation is probably being lived and being a reality in many, many place because of the success that we’ve had in Salt Lake City.
“That dream began back in 2003. I didn’t know Dave then personally, but I’m a New Yorker and everybody that lived in New York knew Dave because he managed a couple of teams in New York City. But I was sitting on a plane going out to an investor conference and in the lobby of the hotel, Dave Checketts is there. I wanted to introduce myself to him – I had been a long suffering New York Knick and Ranger fan –and I wanted to say, ‘Dave it’s an honor to meet you.’ And he said, ‘Hey, an honor to meet you as well, Don, I hear the league is growing, let’s sit down and talk about MLS.’ Two days later Dave is in my office and about two weeks later we had shaken hands on an agreement to put a team in Salt Lake City. That decision put this league on the path to the greatness that we have been able to achieve just a few short years later. It was that decision that led to the public/private partnership to build the stadium; to the plan to create a European style with its brand; to plan to build a stadium that was patterned, though smaller, on some of the great old European stadiums. It was that decision that led to having an ex-MLS player be coach and an ex-MLS player be [GM] and to create a professional sports team that launched this league to be able to be where it is today. For that Dave, I deeply thank you, both personally and professionally.”
“I’ll finish the story about Real Salt Lake with something that I think everybody that lives in this community can feel really good about. This is a team that’s admired not just here in the United States and in Canada, but now it’s admired around the world. It’s achievements on the field, including being able to play in that CCL final against the tough Mexican opponent and almost getting to the Club World Cup and being able to represent not just the U.S., but the entire region, is a great accomplishment that in a few short years an expansion team would be able to do that. That’s a credit to everyone from ownership all the way down to those people that really care about that shield, from ticket takers to season ticket sales staff, to sponsorship staff and the like. Each of you should be very proud. Everybody in Major League Soccer is very proud of what you’ve done, so you should be proud yourself.
“This is not the end, this is actually a new beginning and Dell Loy will take this book and re-write the new chapter for it. We have great faith in Dell Loy, we have a great sense of pride in what he’s been able to achieve as a businessman and we all know that he will be able to take this team to new and different levels. So Dell Loy we welcome you as a full owner of this club. We know you’ve become a very passionate soccer fan and supporter…. Now you’re the sole owner and now you’re going to lead the future of this team in its next step on the field.”
“Before I throw it over to the Governor I want to thank the state and thank the City of Sandy for their belief in our league. This was a big risk. Mayor Dolan we met many times over the years… and what happened here in terms of creating this public/private partnership, it’s been a good model we’ve been able to use in other cities…. So I want Mr. Mayor for your support and you Mr. Governor for your support. We’re very happy to have a team in the State of Utah and proud to be able to take this sport and communicate and grow this sport throughout the state and the world.”
“Thank you Dave, we’ll miss you but it’s the beginning of a new friendship. Dell Loy welcome as the full owner of the team. I’m sure you’ll be a great full member of our board and we look forward to you taking this team to new heights.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert - Click here to listen to audio of Gov. Herbert's speech
“Partly because of Real Salt Lake, Utah’s future is extremely bright and it’s only made brighter today as we enter a new chapter in Real Salt Lake’s history.”
“We offer our heartiest congratulations to Dave and Deb for their contributions. We know that their roots are deep here in Utah and we expect continued great things from Dave and Deb as they go onto other opportunities. We’ll want to make sure we follow their successes, because they’re going to be many.”
“Dell Loy we know you’re a local boy made good. We appreciate your efforts and your investment in our state and this is another sign of your commitment to Utah and to the business community here. We offer you congratulations and best wishes as you go forward.”
Mrs. Deb Checketts - Click here to listen to audio of Deb Checketts' speech
“I’d just like to thank all of you for being here. Last Thursday Dave turned to me and said, ‘This is so hard to let this go. I wanted to leave this as a legacy to our family.’ But it was so easy to turn to him and say the legacy that you’re leaving to our family is of loyalty, honesty, integrity, hard work and lots of good memories. When I think about Real I think a little bit about the stadium, but I’ll think more about the memories. About one of my sons coming dressed as a character from Braveheart to a game; my nephew Chad with his bags of confetti; of looking down and seeing my nieces and nephews hold up their babies for me to see. I’ll just think of all of those good things.”
“The minute Dave put that shovel into the ground, we climbed into the trenches and we gave birth to this child [that is RSL]. So Dell Loy, this is hard, but what I want to see when I come back, what I want to see is development around the baby. I want to see the baby growing and progressing, so here’s the baby and we know it’ll do well.”