A glitzy press conference and the shock appearance of a Hollywood superstar. Yes, Los Angeles Football Club, the newly enabled 22nd MLS franchise, is unapologetically climbing the ladder towards its debut in the 2018 season in Tinsel Town-style.
The sight of funnyman Will Ferrell taking the stage to announce he’s joined the likes of Magic Johnson, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, and US women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm in becoming part-owner of the newfangled franchise has raised awareness and immediately reached the global masses.
Wait. Someone didn’t get the message? No problem. Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube, is also on the board. Yet, delve further behind the scenes and this venture is anything but a transparent attempt to break into the thriving US soccer scene, thanks to the appearance of a comedic sensation and his well-heeled friends.
Ferrell, a keen enthusiast of the sport, is just one member of a thriving 26-person investment group which includes Vincent Tan, the crackpot owner of Cardiff City. His presence will raise rye smiles in South Wales.
Most notable, however, is the presence of Peter Guber, renowned film director and co-owner of the all-conquering NBA side Golden State Warriors and MLB outfit LA Dodgers. His films have grossed $3 billion while earning 50 Oscar nominations.
Ever since Guber became involved with the Warriors in 2012, the franchise has soared. The entrepreneur, who has served as executive director on silver screen classics such as ‘Rain Man’, ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Midnight Express’, is also a pioneer who is convinced virtual reality – sitting at home using technology to transport you to the best seats in the house – will forever change the way we watch sport.
Ferrell and Magic Johnson’s presence is paramount for mainstream promotion – though it’s the experience and drive of the 73 year-old innovator that makes this noble project no laughing matter. Vietnamese-American businessman Henry Nguyen and Ruben Gnanalingam, who co-owns QPR, are also huge players in the grandiose plan to bring the beautiful game to the City of Angels.
Another look at the new LAFC crest while Mayor Garcetti and Peter Guber dodge streamers. pic.twitter.com/9XWf4h3V2V— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) January 7, 2016
“In a market like Los Angeles, you need all the glitz and glamour, but make no mistake, anything Peter Guber is involved in should be taken very seriously,” a highly placed MLS source told Sport360. “His energy, expertise, and drive behind this whole project makes it very exciting.
This is no publicity stunt. Far from it. With Peter’s connections in both sport and entertainment, this new team will have contacts and interest like no other. It’s a fascinating project.” History recalls that Los Angeles is, and remains, a challenging sporting market to crack.
Chivas USA endured a nightmare in MLS, horrifically failing to tap into the vibrant Hispanic, soccermad culture amid a series of cataclysmic management failures. They folded last year – LAFC are being seen as their natural successor.
The iconic LA Raiders left the area in 1995 and, although hopes remain of the NFL returning, success is anything but guaranteed. Robbie Keane’s LA Galaxy may have five MLS titles to their name, yet their base in Carson is a 20-minute drive outside of central Los Angeles.
The site LAFC are proposing for their stadium – around 13 miles away from Galaxy’s StubHub Center – will be downtown next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The venue boast a modern 22,000-seat stadium with a clear roof. Described as the “cathedral of soccer” and a “tight, urban sound-box”, it looks like being worth every penny of the estimated $250m cost.
Furthermore, Guber and his associates have been warmed by the emergence of New York City FC into the American sporting landscape. Young fans desperate to see the likes of Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, and Frank Lampard ensured the rapid creation of a vibrant fanbase.
Attempting to tackle the Galaxy head-on in a cross-city rivalry, the likes of which aren’t as prevalent in US sports as they are in Europe, is another huge driver for this project. As are Guber and company.