Our goal is (to) build the very best women's sports organization in America. —Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen
SANDY — Tears welled up in Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen’s eyes during a press conference Thursday as he spoke about his seven daughters and granddaughters while explaining why he bought a professional women’s soccer team.
RSL general manager Craig Waibel also got teary-eyed at the Rio Tinto Stadium event as he shared a story about telling his 7-year-old daughter that her daddy had been gone a lot lately to help bring a National Women's Soccer League club to Utah.
"She was speechless," Waibel said. "I could see it in her eyes that she gets new heroes, so this is awesome."
RSL believes that will be a common feeling among soccer-loving girls around the state.
It became clear through the message the organization conveyed Thursday that bringing a new sports team to the Beehive State isn't the only objective. It's bigger than that.
"Our goal," Hansen articulated through a press release, "is (to) build the very best women's sports organization in America."
Along with making that announcement Thursday, RSL wanted to celebrate a new opportunity for female soccer players and fans of all ages in a state that has become more and more passionate about this sport.
"We believe in equality. ... I see (my daughters) here in the audience and I look at my granddaughters and I think I want them to have every opportunity that any male would have without reservation," Hansen said. "We want to fill this stadium. We want to make this a rallying point in Utah for the evolution and equality between men and women. It's happening, it's arriving and we want to be at the forefront of that."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert echoed that sentiment. Though only given 24 hours notice, the state's boss rearranged his schedule to be at the well-attended press conference along with Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy, RSL officials (including men's coach Mike Petke) and a couple hundred staffers, family members, soccer players and media members.
"I'm honored to be here on what's a red-letter day," Herbert said, adding that Utah is becoming synonymous with soccer and emphasizing his excitement over furthered "empowerment to women" through sports.
"Give credit to the people of Utah," the governor added. "This is just an amplification of what's been taking place in Utah."
The Real Salt Lake organization has long wanted to bring a top-tier women’s team to the state, and a golden opportunity presented itself two weeks ago when FC Kansas City ownership decided to sell its women’s team.
Even though RSL is neck-deep in a massive project to get the $73 million Real Academy in Herriman up and running this winter, Hansen decided to pursue purchasing the NWSL franchise. He'd planned on beginning this process two years from now.
Fifteen whirlwind days later, the top women's league in the world was announcing a new and relocated addition.
"This is an exciting day for us," NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy said. "We have no doubt that there's going to be a lot of success here in Sandy and with this organization as you bring women’s soccer to this city and to this state."
Hansen said he's "never been more excited" about a project.
"This deal came together very quickly," the real-estate developer mogul said. "We always said, 'Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you can’t blame us because we weren’t the contractors.'"
The women's team has a name and a logo, but neither has been announced yet. Ticket pricing, corporate opportunities and broadcasting options will also be revealed in the near future. The club isn't sure whether it's assuming Kansas City's players or if it will be starting from scratch to build a roster. Waibel said they will be hiring a new coaching staff. He's excited to have secured an interview with their top coach prospect. In addition, Hansen noted that the RSL women's organization will hire 16 new employees, but a lot of the responsibilities will be taken care of by a "can-do staff" that's already in place.
This will be the sixth season for the NWSL, which features teams located in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Houston, Orlando, North Carolina, Washington D.C., Boston and New Jersey. The league boasts some of the brightest stars in women's soccer, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath from the 2015 U.S. Women's National Team.
Hansen humorously — but seriously — made it clear that he wants to win a championship in the team's inaugural season in Utah. Games begin in March.
"We are now pretty committed that Amanda (the league commissioner) is going to have to show up and give us the trophy here in September," Hansen said.
Women salaries aren’t equal to their male counterparts — the league's salaries range from $15,000 to $41,700 — but RSL wants to make everything else is equal or even better for the women’s professional team. That includes locker rooms and facilities at The Riot, food services and participation opportunities, Hansen said.
Hansen envisions a packed and rowdy Rio Tinto Stadium cheering on the women just like RSL fans do for their men’s team. Ticket pricing hasn't been announced, but the intention is to make the games affordable for families. In December, he will pay somebody $5,000 to create a "loud and proud" cheer that fans can do that is similar to the RSL men's song "Believe."
Annie Hawkins, a center midfielder who plays for the RSL-sponsored women's pro-am team, said this has been what her group has been trying to build in Utah for the past three years.
"It was just a matter of time," Hawkins said. "I think it’s something that can really impact the community here. There’s a ton of (girl) players who are very talented in youth soccer. It's a huge stepping stone for them to be able to dream about what they want to do in the world of soccer and have someone in their backyard that they can watch."
During an open Q&A session Thursday, Hawkins, who played pro soccer in Sweden, asked if there will be open tryouts. Waibel said the new team will likely include a good representation of Utah players.
"I'm too old, but we were asking for her because she's awesome," a smiling Hawkins said, pointing to former BYU and Davis High player Colette Smith. "She should definitely be on the team."
Smith, a midfielder, would love nothing more than to play professionally in her home state. Regardless, she believes this development is big for her sport.
"To look up to the players on the national team that are going to play in this stadium is massive for the whole community, for women's soccer in Utah," Smith said. "We have two teams that are in the Top 25 in college play in Utah — BYU and Utah (women's) soccer — so for them to have that next stepping stone here in Utah is massive. It's so awesome."