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Anschutz Empire Includes Galaxy

Soccer: Purchase gives Kings' billionaire owner 25% of MLS franchises.

October 22, 1998|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Denver-based billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, whose sports holdings include the NHL's Kings, has bought Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy for $26 million.

The sale of the team was completed Wednesday and gives Anschutz control of three MLS clubs. He also owns the Colorado Rapids and the Chicago Fire.

Formal announcement of the transaction, which was approved unanimously by the MLS management committee in New York on Wednesday morning, will be made Friday in Century City.

The immediate on-field impact of the sale will be limited, but in the long term it marks a significant move for the league and the Galaxy.

The team will continue to play at the Rose Bowl for at least one, and possibly two, more seasons. After that, it could share a stadium with a future NFL team in Los Angeles or build its own soccer-specific stadium.

Los Angeles Soccer Partners, a group of a dozen or more investors led by investment banker Marc Rapaport, paid $5 million to bring the Galaxy into the league as one of 10 original MLS teams.

"My heart and my head are in different places," Rapaport said of the sale, adding that owning the Galaxy had been a positive experience.

"Our investors are happy, and the ones who have come to the games and gotten involved with the team I think share our emotional attachment to the team," he said.

"But at the end of the day, if we wanted Los Angeles' team to continue to grow and prosper, I think we needed to get it in deeper pockets. The team really needs to go to the next level. Sports is moving in the direction of large corporations and billion-dollar owners, and we're neither."

Rapaport said that ownership by Anschutz is logical, given the industrialist's already substantial holdings in Los Angeles.

"It's a natural for somebody who owns the Kings and the Staples Center and has marketing people in town and who loves soccer and who has resources that exceed our partnership's resources," he said.

Danny Villanueva, the Galaxy's president and general manager, was also one of its owners. He gives way to Tim Leiweke, president of the Kings and now also president of the Galaxy.

Leiweke said Wednesday that he will meet with the Galaxy staff and players today to outline plans for the future.

"We want to do this quickly so that we don't leave people hanging," he said. "We want to keep the good talent. If there are those who aren't focused or have no burning desire to take this organization to the next level, they won't make it through the process.

"My role will be active. Soccer is a bit of a passion for me, so I'm excited to be back in it because it really is something that I enjoy being around.

"I will not get involved in player personnel decisions because I also tend to stay out of that for the Kings, for example. Hopefully, we will have an organization in place that will have soccer expertise and knowledge and be able to make those decisions without my interference.

"My driving motive will be creating the right environment for the Galaxy team and players and fans and trying to solve the facility issues that are out there."

As for where the Galaxy will play and practice, Leiweke said:

"We will talk to the [Carson and Coliseum] football groups, both of them. In fact, I already have talked to both of them and we're going to sit down and meet with them now that this transaction has been finalized.

"But we will also look at the Rose Bowl and we will take a very hard look at building our own soccer facility that would also serve as the training center and the headquarters for the Galaxy and soccer in Southern California.

"We are prepared to use our resources and our business knowledge and our experience and the organization that we have together today . . . to create a better environment for the Galaxy both on and off the field."

The Galaxy has led the league in attendance in two of its three seasons and averaged 21,784 fans this year. Its sale to Anschutz had been under consideration since March.

"No one ever went broke selling at a profit," MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said of the reasons behind the sale, adding that he thought it "was consistent with what I believe was Marc Rapaport's and his partners' investment strategy when they first got involved in soccer some three years ago."

Logan said he had met with Anschutz on Tuesday and that "[Anschutz] was very excited about the prospects of owning a third team in the league. From the standpoint of MLS, we are extraordinarily grateful for this reaffirmation of his support for not only what we're doing but the way we're doing it."

Logan said MLS has no qualms about Anschutz owning one-quarter of its 12 teams.

"We're a league that has made no bones about and is rather open about multiple ownership, as opposed to some others who either disguise common ownership or look at it in a different way," he said.

"We think that it is something that, if well handled and well controlled, is something that is not onerous to us and is a positive.

"In addition to that, we have our own internal safeguards with regard to the kinds of things we could receive some criticism for, most specifically the issue of trades."

Leiweke, who will become a member of the MLS board of governors, underlined the independence of the Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire.

"We're going to be independent," he said. "We're going to make sure that we're separate organizations with separate directions and separate philosophies. We'll be very competitive on and off the field with the Rapids organization and the Fire organization."

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