Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Los Angeles billionaire who has been in talks about becoming a major investor in D.C. United, might not buy into the MLS club at all, multiple people said this week.
The situation remains “fluid,” one person familiar with the negotiations said. However, others close to the talks, who requested anonymity because of privacy issues, said Soon-Shiong, a prominent physician who bought the Los Angeles Times this year, likely will not join the group.
The current majority investor, Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir, is planning to sell most, if not all, of his 78-percent stake to Jason Levien, who owns the balance. Levien, in turn, has been attempting to form a new group that, multiple sources said, would include some of his partners at Swansea City, which was relegated to the English Championship from the Premier League in May.
American Steve Kaplan is the primary investor at Swansea City. A consortium headed by Kaplan and Levien controls 68 percent of the Swans. Kaplan and Levien have known one another for years through ownership stakes in the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, Swansea City and other investments, including esports and technology ventures.
Al Tylis, an American, is among the Swansea group planning to invest in United.
No deal is imminent, and Thohir, who attended Audi Field’s opening ceremonies last week, has retained his stake in the team.
In May, people familiar with the negotiations said the number of other Swansea figures to invest in United hinged on whether Soon-Shiong joined the group. Without Soon-Shiong, three or four from the Swansea consortium would invest in the D.C. team; otherwise, it was going to be two or three.
MLS executives, two people said, have been eager to enlist Soon-Shiong but are not sold on the Swansea group. No deal can go through without approval of MLS’s board of governors. Team investors own stakes in the single-entity league.
One source said MLS “holds the cards.”
Levien said he did not want to comment. A message left with Soon-Shiong’s spokeswoman was not returned.
In April, Bloomberg reported Soon-Shiong would complete the deal by the end of that month. The report proved to be untrue, and all along, Levien has been attempting to form a diversified group.
Levien and Thohir raised about $250 million to build Audi Field, the 20,000-capacity venue that replaced RFK Stadium as United’s home. The city government provided $150 million on land acquisition and infrastructure costs. The venue opened last weekend.
Meantime, president of business operations Tom Hunt, the top-ranking official in United’s front office, has left the organization after four-plus years to rejoin the NBA’s Sacramento Kings as executive vice president of business operations. Hunt worked for the Kings from 2005 to 2011.
Before joining United in 2014, he oversaw corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics.
“Our mission was to transform the business and the brand, with a laser focus on growing the fan base and delivering a world-class stadium the District deserved,” Hunt said in a written statement. “It has been a privilege to work alongside the entire D.C. United family to see these goals realized.”
Last month, as United was preparing to open Audi Field, Troy Scott, who oversaw the stadium project, left the organization to become the Baltimore Orioles’ vice president of ballpark operations.
On Tuesday, United announced the hiring of Chris Hull as senior adviser in communications and business operations. Hull will arrive from England, where he has spent 25 years in the sports, communications and broadcasting industries. On occasion, he has served as a fill-in analyst on United’s TV broadcasts.
In other news, D.C. formally announced the name of the United Soccer League club that it will operate starting next year: Loudoun United. The team plans to compete in the USL’s second division and play at a new, 5,000-seat stadium as part of the organization’s proposed training center at Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park in Leesburg.
Loudoun United will sign players unaffiliated with the D.C. club and inherit young players aligned with the MLS team. With its own USL team, United will end a longstanding partnership with the Richmond Kickers, an independent team that inherited a few D.C. players each season.