D.C. United set to introduce Erick Thohir as a new majority investor on Tuesday
By Steven Goff,
Erick Thohir, an Indonesian media magnate and part-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, will be introduced as D.C. United’s majority investor Tuesday, multiple people familiar with the deal said.
United has scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference at the W Hotel to “introduce new members of the ownership group.” Current investor Will Chang, who will retain a stake in the MLS club, and United President Kevin Payne will attend.
Another 76ers part-owner, Jason Levien, a former sports agent and NBA executive with the Sacramento Kings, will join the United group as well but Thohir is the big money man in the deal, multiple people said.
Reached Sunday night, Chang said he didn’t want to comment.
“Tomorrow’s announcement will be good news for the club. The time to talk about this is tomorrow,” Payne said, declining to offer specifics.
Thohir’s interest in United came to light in The Post in March, when he began telling associates he was pursuing a stake in the MLS team. He met the players at RFK Stadium in late May.
The deal eases the financial burden on Chang, United’s lone backer since partner Victor MacFarlane’s abrupt exit three years ago.
Since inheriting full control, the Bay Area-based Chang has sought additional partners with the help of Inner Circle Sports, an investment firm specializing in the sports industry. Inner Circle assisted in brokering the 76ers deal last fall.
Payne, who has overseen United’s operations since the club’s launch in 1996, is expected to retain day-to-day control.
The pact infuses the MLS club with much-needed resources to aggressively pursue a new stadium project at Buzzard Point in Southwest Washington. Under preliminary plans, United would offer to pay for the construction of the facility, four blocks west of Nationals Park, and seek assistance from the city government for land acquisition and infrastructure costs.
“There is going to be a lot of [talk] about the stadium as part of the [ownership] announcement,” Payne said. “Nothing specific but just in terms” of the club’s future with new investment.
Since MLS began, United has played at RFK Stadium, a 51-year-old facility that the club rents from the city. Most MLS teams play in new or renovated stadiums, projects that have enhanced their ability to turn a profit.
Without a new facility, United officials say remaining in Washington wouldn’t be financially feasible. They’ve explored a stadium proposal in Baltimore but insist they would exhaust all efforts on a D.C. project first.
United has targeted Buzzard Point, which sits near the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, for a stadium that would accommodate at least 21,000 fans and host many non-soccer events. The project would also include mixed-use development around the stadium, with the hope of revitalizing an untapped area between the baseball park and Maine Avenue waterfront.
New investors also will help stabilize United’s finances after years of multimillion-dollar losses and enhance the front office’s ability to compete with well-backed MLS teams, such as the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, for high-priced players.
Although United has shelled out money in recent years for accomplished players — former midfielder Marcelo Gallardo and current players Dwayne De Rosario, Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi — it hasn’t been in position to acquire the marquee likes of England’s David Beckham, France’s Thierry Henry or Ireland’s Robbie Keane.
Thohir owns TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines in Indonesia and has a stake in professional basketball in his native country. In October, he and Levien were among several investors in the 76ers, a group led by Chevy Chase native Josh Harris. Thohir is the first Asian owner of an NBA team.
“They seem pretty motivated to join this team, to continue to build the success of this team,” De Rosario, who met Thohir briefly in May, said on Monday after practice.
More on D.C. United Insider: A history of United’s investors D.C. United schedule, results MLS: Portland fires coach