Ex-Duke Players Join in Purchase of D.C. United

By Joseph White
Associated Press
Monday, January 8, 2007; 3:17 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Duke co-captains Brian Davis and Christian Laettner wore black and red soccer scarves instead of basketball jerseys Monday as MLS unveiled a new, minority-led ownership group that is paying a league-record $33 million for the operating rights to D.C. United.

Now comes the hard part -- finding a way to build the team a new stadium in the poorest section of the city.

Davis and Laettner joined a group called D.C. United Holdings and led by San Francisco businessmen Victor MacFarlane and Will Chang. MacFarlane and Davis are the first black owners in MLS, and Chang, who is also one of the owners of baseball's San Francisco Giants, is the first Chinese-American MLS owner.

"Soccer is the No. 1 sport for people of color all around the world, but not here in the U.S. -- yet," MacFarlane said. "We want to be part of the change that is now on the horizon. We would love to help make soccer the sport that African-Americans and other children of color first look to for recreation and entertainment."

It has taken 261/27 years to sell United's rights -- a deal involving a local group, Global Development Partners, fell apart last year -- and the new owners hope it will take less time to build a new stadium on the underdeveloped south bank of the Anacostia River, across the river from the site of the new Washington Nationals ballpark.

The soccer stadium will cost $150 million to $200 million, and the goal is to complete it by the 2009 season on land now owned by the National Park Service.

But city and team officials said Monday they had yet to begin talks regarding who would eventually own the land, how the stadium would be financed, and how all involved would benefit from the expected development projects that would surround the stadium. In addition, the city is dealing with voter discontent from the protracted negotiations for the Nationals' ballpark.

"We don't have a plan yet," MacFarlane said.

Soccer-specific stadiums, where teams can control revenue such as parking and advertising, are seen as essential for MLS' financial viability. Columbus, Los Angeles, Chivas USA, FC Dallas and Chicago all play in soccer-specific facilities, while United's home is city-owned RFK Stadium, which was built in 1961.

"This team needs a stadium no different than the Nationals did, no different than the Redskins did, and no different than the Wizards and the Capitals," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "We're no different than any other sports league."

The new ownership group said it plans to add three more members: Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks, Black Entertainment Television talk show host Carlos Watson, and California real estate developer Allen Warren. In MLS, the teams are all owned by the league but operated individually.

United's rights had been owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which for several years was largely responsible for keeping MLS afloat. AEG owned the rights to as many as five teams at one point, but it is now down to three in a league that is expanding to 13 teams this year.

The sale is not expected to affect the day-to-day operations of a flagship franchise that has won a record four MLS titles. Kevin Payne will remain the team's president.

Davis and Laettner are also part of a group trying to buy the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies' current owner said last month the Davis-Laettner group had until Jan. 15 to come up with the money but added he doubted they would meet that deadline.

"All I can say right now is we're working on it," Laettner said Monday.

While their careers were centered around basketball, Davis said he got plenty of exposure to soccer while playing for a professional basketball team in France. Laettner said he was a goalkeeper in high school until his mother made him quit for fear that an injury would wreck his basketball career.

"I'm proud to say I can juggle the ball a lot better than Brian can," Laettner said, "so I think I have a little more expertise."

© 2007 The Associated Press