WASHINGTON -- 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, commissioner Don Garber said. Chang, one of the owners of baseball's San Francisco Giants, is the first Chinese-American MLS owner, according to Garber.
"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."
The new owners will now focus on building a stadium on the 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.
The 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. 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.