An eclectic mix of owners calls the shots as MLS celebrates 25 years

By Amy Tennery
Reuters

By Amy Tennery

(Reuters) - As Major League Soccer looks to its next quarter century, an eclectic roster of owners from the realms of Hollywood to commercial industry could be calling the shots.

Billing itself as a modern, progressive league of the future, MLS has slowly chipped away at the stereotypical notion of the stodgy pro sports boardroom in its first 25 years, recently adding its first female majority-owned team to its ranks.

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"Our owners are such a unique group of people that have come together," Commissioner Don Garber told Reuters this week, as MLS celebrates its 25th season.

"There are four members of our board who are women, we (have) a large international contingent of owners, we have a Hispanic owner, we (have) the sport industrialist in (NFL team owners) Robert Kraft (and) the Hunt family.

"They are such a great group of people who really believe in Major League Soccer and what the future could be for our league and our sport."

In August, the league awarded its latest expansion franchise to St. Louis, with its leader, Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Caroyln Kindle Betz, breaking one of pro sports' most stubborn glass ceilings in the process.

Though she did not necessarily seek to be a trailblazer for her gender, Kindle Betz told Reuters she found much to like in the league's culture.

"When you are a newer professional league and you have expansion teams, I think just by virtue of what you are you’re going to attract different ownership groups," said Kindle Betz, whose franchise is expected to launch for the 2022 season. "The female ownership was never a driving force; it was sort of a byproduct of something bigger."

Kindle Betz said the mood around the league is one of collaboration among owners - a relatively rarity in the cutthroat world of professional sports.

"I don’t know of any other professional sports where you can go do a site visit and have an owner tell you, ‘here’s absolutely what you do not want to do,’ or another team say, ‘Hey, if you need to get your supporter groups incorporated, we did it, we have a great reference,'" said Kindle Betz.

She has visited "four or five" franchises, most recently meeting with entrepreneur Jorge Mas, a member of Inter Miami's ownership group with famed English footballer David Beckham.

"You never feel like the new kid on the block – or, if you do, it was very short-lived."

The collection of MLS owners features its fair share of established sports scions, including New England Revolution owner Kraft, who also helms the NFL's New England Patriots, and Atlanta United's Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

But the league also features less traditional owners, such as video game entrepreneur Brandon Beck and women's soccer pioneer Mia Hamm, both members of LAFC's sprawling ownership group.

"You’re appealing to women, and men and different backgrounds, different ethnicities," said Josh Wolff, head coach of expansion franchise Austin FC, which counts Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey among its minority owners. "The league is also in a much stronger place today than it was 15 years ago."


(Reporting By Amy Tennery; additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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