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

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Monday, November 13, 2017

As most Manhattanites arrived to their jobs on Monday morning, Salt Lake’s staff was already an hour into negotiations with the NWSL, A&E and U.S. Soccer.

ZARKOS: It was probably one of the easiest negotiations, most friendly, most collaborative I’ve ever been in, because they recognized a high-level MLS operator wanted to come in. Not only did we come in, but we were super-excited, wanted to do it. And they also ran into Dell Loy, whose positivity and energy wanted to get it done. He said that, ‘by the time we fly out of here in two days, we will have a deal inked.’

HANSEN: We got there at eight o’clock. Dan Flynn and Amanda [Duffy] are there, with their attorney, and then people from A&E/Lifetime were there.

We met up in the morning, then we went into the pure negotiations. It took until about one o’clock on that, but we were prepared. We knew what we needed to ask. We weren’t going to overreact, because any overreaching on our side would mean fellow owners would have to cover it … We were good at contracts, so we had our attorney there, and he worked for 30 hours.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

With the framework in place, the team broke up, leaving the details to the lawyers. Hansen stayed in New York, while two leads of the club’s technical side took a quick trip West to begin their crash course in the realities of NWSL soccer.

I found it to be super-ironic. Here’s us in Utah, we’re about to create this very ambitious launch of this NWSL team, and Madison Square Garden and the Dolan family is throwing in the towel on the Liberty.

- Andy Caroll

HANSEN: The next day, while I was at MLS commercial meetings, [Rob Funk] and [the other lawyers] worked through the deal. They call me a number of times, and Craig. By evening, we thought we pretty much had a deal, but they had to get it blessed … I said, ‘I’m getting on a plane at noon [on Wednesday].’

Rob Zarkos and Craig Waibel jumped out of New York while we were in the negotiations and flew to meet with [U.S. women’s national team head coach] Jill [Ellis] to talk about a coach, to talk about players in Kansas, and the national team. They were learning a lot of the rules, and how we related to the national team. And there’s where we got the name of Laura Harvey, again. It came up three times. They had a second list, but I said since she’s on [people’s] first list three times, let’s just go get her.

CARROLL: Tuesday was the day that Madison Square Garden announced that they were selling the [WNBA’s] Liberty. We’re in New York, at the time, and I found it to be super-ironic. Here’s us in Utah, we’re about to create this very ambitious launch of this NWSL team, and Madison Square Garden and the Dolan family is throwing in the towel on the Liberty. As a guy who grew up in New York, I found that to be pretty ironic.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

No matter what, the Real Salt Lake contingent is getting on a plane midday. Before then, though, the team that would eventually be called the Utah Royals officially came into existence.

CARROLL: The thing that I will remember most about that trip are the people. We worked very, very well together as a team. Bob Funk, who is Dell Loy’s attorney, who can’t get enough credit in this situation, in my view, absolutely worked tirelessly throughout the night to get this deal done. The deal could not have been done without him.

HANSEN: Bob [Funk] worked 10 hours on Monday, 10 a.m. `til 12 a.m. on Tuesday, four hours on Wednesday. We never let him out of the hotel room. We just made him work.

We moved forward, signed at 11:30 a.m. [on Wednesday], got off the plane [in Utah] that night. At an advisory board meeting, we had 90 people there for dinner that night, from 7 o’clock until 8 o’clock.

CARROLL: When you looked at it, [the people who made the deal happen] was a very small group. We were all on the same page. We were very strategic …

If there is one thing that one can talk about, whether it was RSL or the Portland organization, or U.S. Soccer and the Lifetime network, it was about the people. It was the people in the room. It’s the reason these things get done. It’s the reason these things are successful.

ZARKOS: It was fun. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t tired. I had three days off in four weeks. But, if you want to do exciting things … Like I tell everybody, this is that job where, you look back on it in 10 years, you kind of marvel that you were a part of it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

There was no time to waste. The team didn’t have a name, and it was yet to reach out to its eventual coach, but as of midday Wednesday, Real Salt Lake had its women’s team. And with partners to solicit and staffs to assemble, the official announcement couldn’t come soon enough.

ZARKOS: I was absolutely shocked at the size of the press conference and the number of people online who had turned into it. It validated our thoughts about how it would play, locally, but even beyond that, that’s the largest press conference I think we’ve had since I’ve been here.

HANSEN: At the press conference, we had 500 people there, and there were 180,000 on Facebook Live during the press conference. (Laughs.) We can’t quite pull what the president gets on Twitter; we’re not as controversial.

CARROLL: I was just absolutely, when you see it, it is the reason why success is inevitable. The community support that we get, the business community support that we get, is the reason that makes Real Salt Lake, Salt Lake and Utah a special place. It’s the reason that, if we do it right and we have the right plan and we execute, this community will embrace it.

HANSEN: I want somebody to bet against me, that I won’t have 20,000 people sitting in the stands in yellow shirts on April 14, our first game. I want somebody to put money on it so I can make a good chunk of money on this bet.

Looking back

HANSEN: I have seven daughters. It’s not hard for me to do the right thing by women.

CARROLL: Dell Loy has never been accused of being shy. He is successful because he has a conviction, a sense of urgency, and just knows that if he puts his mind to it, he’ll be successful.

HANSEN: There was a lot of passion to get this done. And I would compliment Amanda and Dan Flynn. Clearly, they were very decisive and very helpful. They were no bureaucracy, in the least. They were committed to getting us in the league, and they knew what they needed. And to our credit, we weren’t demanding … We decided we’d rather be a good partner than extract something.

ZARKOS: Salt Lake takes pride in being excellent despite its size. The fact they have a team that can really compete with some of the what you consider the big-boy clubs, right? We have a full training facility. We have a USL team that was best in the league in the regular season. We have an RSL team that, second half of the season, had the best record and best statistics in [MLS]. And now we’re bringing a women’s team in? That’s punching above our weight, right?

I think there’s pride in that. You can be a small town with a small mind, but that’s not Salt Lake. There’s really that civic pride, but also excellence, despite the size. I really feel that here.

CARROLL: I have no doubt we’ll be successful. We’re going to learn a few things along the way. We’ve got some great partners in Portland, in Merritt and Mike, who have been very helpful. We expect them to be helpful along the way.

HANSEN: It’s the right thing. It truly is the right thing to do. And that’s something I hope we always do.

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