Inside the Royal wedding: How Utah's NWSL team came together in 15 days

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Just as Hansen had cleared Real Salt Lake’s schedules, Paulson had cleared Portland’s. For an estimated six-to-seven hours at Providence Park, the Thorns management welcomed their counterparts, opening up their minds and books to answer any questions Utah’s management still had at that point of the process.

When we left Portland, I said to Dell Loy, if we’re going to do this, we’ve got to do this now. Because our partners, their budgets will be gone, and if we don’t get this done to the point where we can talk about it, all the sponsorship money will be gone until 2019.

- Andy Carroll

ZARKOS: The great thing about MLS, no matter what is going on the field, the owners are pretty supportive of each other, bounce a lot of ideas off each other and are really competitive in a good way, wanting to raise the league and raise the teams.

CARROLL: The biggest takeaway was that it’s doable. I know Mike and I know Merritt, and I know the Portland market. I know how well they operate.

HANSEN: We would not have done this had Merritt and Mike, his CEO, not been so generous with their time to help us get oriented. We have seven hours of questions, contracts, things to look for. We had kind of a primer course to meet with the league.

CARROLL: When we left Portland, I said to Dell Loy, if we’re going to do this, we’ve got to do this now. Because our partners, their budgets will be gone, and if we don’t get this done to the point where we can talk about it, all the sponsorship money will be gone until 2019.

That was one of the things that stimulated it. The one thing we talk about here all the time is the fact that it is about the strong community that we have, whether it is fan-based, or the business community. With regards to RSL, we punch above our weight as far as sponsors, and we have this great support. And there’s no way we can launch this team if you’re talking to people in mid-December, and they’ve set their budgets in mid-November; you’re kind of a day late and a dollar short.

CARROLL: [Merritt’s a] leader. That’s what I would say. He is a leader, partner, friend -- the guy that cares and gets it. Absolutely authentic. I don’t think you can say enough really good things. He’s a driving force and a leader.

Some people say that Merritt’s got a big ego. I would say you don’t see it when you talk about how to grow the NWSL. He comes in and says, ‘What can I do to help you?’

HANSEN: Merritt was invaluable. I take my hat off to Merritt. As talented, amazing leader in the soccer world. He’s kind of standalone, for me.

He’s fun. He loves the game. He’s passionate. He believes in the quality of it. He treats men and women equal. He puts the Thorns on par with the Timbers. So we copied their model. We’ve paired the Royals with RSL and made them co-existing. All the billboards will show Captain Becky [Sauerbrunn] meets Captain [Kyle] Beckerman, shaking hands across a billboard … I’m waiting for that photo. Just waiting to get that photo.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In Portland, the idea of team equality set in. Whereas, at one time, Real Salt Lake planned on its eventual NWSL team playing in the smaller, USL stadium built for its Monarchs franchise, the Utah Royals will begin the 2018 season a Rio Tinto, the same place RSL plays its MLS games.

CARROLL: It’s almost what you look at is the art of the possible, which is what Dell Loy talks about all the time. We know that [the Thorns] do a great job, and I would say the takeaway, if we had to look at it, is a.) we know what’s possible, because they do it. That’s hugely important. And b.) the common thread that they talk about all the time is that they treat the Thorns exactly like the Timbers, and if you’re going to be successful, you have to subscribe to that philosophy. And we subscribe to that philosophy.

CARROLL: Everyone looks at the Thorns as the outlier, meaning that they’re just so special. I think they do an amazing job – but I think we have an opportunity to, in this market, with this business community, with this soccer community, to either rival that or even surpass that. That’s the thing that strikes you as wow, this is the right thing.

ZARKOS: [The Monarchs are] a minor-league model. You’re doing the fun, crazy Star Wars nights. You’re doing all those sorts of [things] to get people out to that.

As we thought about it, that’s not what the women’s team is. It isn’t. It’s the best national team in the world, so we should treat it like that. We should market it like that. We should market it like that.

I think we got on that plane all in. All we did on the plane ride back was start strategizing and talking about what we needed to do, what the deal needed to look like. I don’t think there was anybody on plane that was questioning it. I think everybody put their chips all in right when we walked out and got on the plane.

Friday, November 10, 2017 through Sunday, November 12, 2017

The final calm before the storm was the second weekend of the process. By this time, the principles knew: They’d be flying to New York on Sunday night, ready to spend two-and-a-half days hammering out the deal. By the time they left meetings with the NWSL, A&E Networks and U.S. Soccer, Real Salt Lake would finally have its women’s professional team, provided everybody put in the work ahead of time.

HANSEN: Friday, we worked on it -- a lot of people got ready, from the different departments. Saturday, nobody really put any time into it; it was just get ready. Now, Sunday, we flew, but we have all day on the airplane – we have five hours – so we basically pounded though everything on the airplane. The deal was hammered out. The marketing plan. The sponsorship plan. Ticket sales.

We had the league deliver us pro forma contracts. Then [Hansen’s attorney] Bob Funk literally just sat there on his computer and he started, on the airplane on Sunday.

NEXT: Sealing the deal in New York and Chicago