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New Minnesota Stars FC Owner Bill McGuire Thinks Team Deserves a Chance to Succeed

2012 November 8
by Brian Quarstad

New Minnesota Stars FC owner, Bill McGuire.

William (Bill) McGuire, former CEO of UnitedHealth Care, will be announced by North American Soccer League Commissioner David Downs as the new owner of the Minnesota Stars FC professional soccer team on Thursday afternoon at a press conference held at Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis, Minn. The owners of the 7 other NASL teams have been footing the bill for the Stars the last two seasons in order for the league to have the eight required teams needed to operate a league which is governed by FIFA. The two-year reprieve also gave the Stars and NASL front office time to find new owners. It’s fitting that the NASL Commissioner will introduce the team’s new owner as it was Downs himself who made the initial connection with McGuire and his son-in-law Nick Rogers.

Rogers, who is from Maryland, met McGuire’s daughter Marissa while he went to law school at the U of M and the two were married several years ago. It was Marissa who got a call from David Downs several years ago probing to see if they knew anyone in Minnesota who would have interest in the Stars. Downs’ daughter and Marissa were roommates at Amherst College which is where the commissioner got to know her.

“Forward months and months and he asked again,” said McGuire who sat down to discuss the acquisition of the team with me on Tuesday afternoon. “We decided to look at it a little closer, think about it and try to understand how it might work.”

McGuire, who used the word “community” many times in the 30 minute interview, says he still wasn’t really interested himself but was just trying to see if he could help or promote the need for an owner. But at some point he started looking at it differently and asking questions. “The fundamental issue is: I believe that this is a good asset for the community. It’s built around the notion that soccer is clearly the largest sport in the world based on participation either playing or fan involvement. It’s multicultural and diverse. It spans all economics and it’s a “people’s” game. It’s the fastest growing sport in this country where other sports are actually falling in numbers. It’s also a significant sport for the state of Minnesota, particularly in the lower levels and in high school.”

The 64-year-old McGuire said not all the paperwork is even complete yet as the league needed a decision so they could move forward with their 2013 schedule. He says the parties have agreed in principle and it’s just a matter of finalizing the details.

McGuire and his wife Nadine have given donations in the tens of millions of dollars for items like the Bill and Nadine McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center. They built and maintain Gold Medal Park next to the Guthrie Theater where he is also active. Bill McGuire often seems to look for projects that have a great sense of “community.”

“I think that fits into the whole notion that it would be something that would be good to help promote in the community. If you have something that people can relate to, in this case pro sports, it could do a lot to develop and sustain growth at all levels,” McGuire said.

The New Yorker who grew up in Texas said the long soccer legacy in Minnesota (23 consecutive years) is another reason he felt compelled to step in and acquire the Stars. “It’s almost incomprehensible for me to think that you could have a professional team that a year ago wins the national championship and this year was in the final game and loses in a shoot out for the championship, and it’s struggling. It’s certainly performing, relative to its perception and involvement in the community, much lower than it ought to.”

Both McGuire and Rogers admit to being sports fans. McGuire, who still loves basketball, played the sport at a high level at a Texas high school and was even offered a college scholarship which he turned down to focus on school. In fact McGuire met his wife Nadine after the state championship basketball game. “At the time she was dating a player from the other team,” said McGuire with a smile, admitting losing the championship game but winning the real prize.

“I’m not saying everyone should play, but I think that sports is one of the important elements of growing up and learning things. There are disciplines and characteristics that grow out of sports,” McGuire explained.

Rogers, who played multiple sports when he was young, including a little youth soccer, also loves sports. But he says it was his brother who was a very good soccer goalkeeper. It was through him that Nick was reunited with the sport in the last several years. “We were watching this Red Bulls versus Galaxy game several years ago and was a really good game,” recalls Rogers. “My brother and I looked at each other and said there is something going on with MLS right now and American soccer that we should be paying attention to. That was the beginning of my real serious interest in pro soccer.”

The 30-year-old Rogers is an attorney by trade and will have a role with the team that is yet to be determined. He resigned from the law firm he had been working for just last week.

“Nick has some interest, knowledge and capabilities,” said McGuire. “We will look for something for him to do to be engaged along with some of the really good people that are there already. People always do well when they have an opportunity to participate in something that they care deeply about. This will be another test of that premise.”

Both McGuire and Rogers said they were aware Minnesota had a pro soccer team but didn’t know a lot beyond that. They have been catching up fast and talking to lots of Stars fans, including discussions they had with supporters at the team’s end of the season party at Brit’s Pub last Tuesday evening. McGuire and Rogers surprised both the Stars front office staff and fans by showing up at the event and asking questions about the team. McGuire says he believes in empowering people and states that he realized he doesn’t have all the answers himself.

“My experience tells me that there’s a lot of smart people out there and one is best served when you try to listen and coalesce their thoughts and I would say, “what do you think”?” Which is exactly what McGuire asks me when I question if they are happy with the Stars name or if they are thinking about a change. He then throws out a whole series of variations of the current name, which tells me they have indeed been thinking about future branding. But he says that decisions about such things would not be made this year but would instead be pushed off to the future. In fact McGuire made many remarks throughout the conversation that would show his commitment to the longevity of the Stars.

“I think the vision is, can we facilitate this sport, realizing its full potential relative to its value and what it might do in the community. It’s incomprehensible, whether it’s financial or fan base, performing as it currently is. The Stars have great loyal fans. They are wonderful. We were at that last home game and it was spectacular. But there should be ten times that amount of people there. We should be able to do better and help it. I don’t think I can necessarily do it better than someone else. But I believe in my ability to bring together people and help them look at things differently and possibly bring in some resources of different kinds because it’s a community wide opportunity.”

Here are some other comments from the interview.

Accessibility of the Stars to the average fan in a major league sports town
“I think one of the bigger challenges right now is this is a market that probably has more teams to attract than any other market in America except for New York. There is everything possible going on in every season. So I think it’s incumbent upon us to make it additive. Quite frankly, for a whole lot of people, it’s infinitely more accessible. Where else can you go and enjoy a Saturday evening for $12.00? You can’t hardly do a movie for that any more.”

On his contributions to the community
“We support the arts, we support education and we are supporting this. Soccer is arguably one of the most interesting things going on in the sports world because it’s growing so much.”

On the Vikings possibility of bringing in an MLS team
“I think the Vikings’ focus, and quite frankly as it should be, is on building the stadium. I don’t think it’s worth speculation quite frankly. I don’t look at this as a battle between potential MLS versus the Stars. I look at it as the here and now. This is a professional team that plays at a high level and has a fan base and I believe will build even a bigger fan base. The notional idea that the only glory out there is a MLS team I think is not worth spending much energy on. If this team does well and finds its fanbase things will work out for the best. I don’t think that the pot at the end of the rainbow is a different team. I think it’s a good soccer program in the state and frankly we think it already is. I’m just not going to spend too many minutes speculating what might happen down the road.”

Manny Lagos and Djorn Buchholz
“With a reasonable amount of certainty we think that Manny [Lagos] will be with the team and Djorn [Buchholz] will be with the team. They are both very talented individuals. Perhaps more importantly to me, to supplement their talent, they have a deep affection for the team, the sport and the community. To me, the way I think, those are not easily replaceable assets. It’s easier to find people who understand soccer than people that actually care about the community. I think we will endeavor to make sure they are involved and I know they want to be involved.”

Where the team will play in 2013
“I think we have a couple of venues that are obvious. We have Blaine at the National Sports Center. We certainly see ourselves continuing to participate up there and play, hopefully in front of a whole lot more people. The Metrodome has been used before and I don’t think that’s out of the question. I think we are trying to sort out venues, not just type or style but location. What would present the best opportunity to attract people. So those are the two most obvious places and I don’t think it’s out of the question to see both of them utilized. We clearly have the most glorious summers. Who wouldn’t rather play in a Minnesota summer than a Texas summer? Having grown up in Texas, I tell you that’s is not even a close contest. When you get to April that’s a different deal. It wouldn’t be sensible to jump around too many place for every game.”

Eventually moving the team to Minneapolis
“I don’t think that’s decided. We need to figure out how to make the team most accessible to the community broadly. That’s: geographic reach, demographic, ethnicity. There are just a whole lot of things to consider and we have a lot of work to do on that yet. But we want to position the team where it would be most accessible to most people. But there is no question we will be involved with the National Sports Center this year at some level.”

Fans’ financial expectations of McGuire
“I think you can expect us to support the team in ways that it needs to be supported to be successful. I’m not a believer in throwing money at things and it will all be better. For years the Twins had a reputation for developing young talent. Our opportunity is to spend our time and energy to make the business, from a business standpoint, most successful. But if we put out a good product we will certainly be more successful. But no entity, no matter how altruistic, can go on losing that money year after year and expect to survive. And quite frankly it shouldn’t. If you can’t figure out how to do something that people value, then quite frankly, we should put that energy somewhere else.”

Long term goals
“One is for the players to represent soccer to the youth players in the state. I want to get the players more engaged in the community.”

“It’s a sport where you play to compete but you also play to win and we are going to want to win.”

“Obviously we want it to be a successful enterprise. But how do you define success? This is not something you are going to get rich off of. But if we can make this a viable year-to-year growing entity — I want to see 8 to 10 thousand people at those games next year. It’s incomprehensible to me that this team performed the way it performed two years in a row and we don’t get more involvement and attention — including the media. Then San Antonio comes along and in one year is drawing 8 to 10 thousand people a game average. That’s nuts! They are doing something and we have got to figure out how to do it. I don’t think its for a lack of interest in soccer. The trends are too strong world wide. We just have to figure out to make people aware of it and the enjoyment of experience.”

The Stars press conference will take place on Thursday afternoon Nov. 8, at 3:00 p.m. at Brit’s Pub, 1110 Nicollet Mall; Minneapolis, Minn. The public is encouraged to attend and the team will also have an update about  plans for the 2013 season. They will also be accepting $50 season ticket deposits at the event for those wishing to commit early for the 2013 season.

27 Responses
  1. Bart permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Well written! McGuire seems to be approaching this in a very logical and well thought out manner.

    It just goes to show you that the concept of everyone knowing everyone within 6 degrees is a true one.

  2. November 8, 2012

    FIFA doesn’t have anything to do with it. The 8-team requirement is a USSF standard, not a FIFA one.

  3. November 8, 2012

    “I want to see 8 to 10 thousand people at those games next year. It’s incomprehensible to me that this team performed the way it performed two years in a row and we don’t get more involvement and attention — including the media.”

    Wow. He really doesn’t know how this works. Sounds like another owner who got sold on the idea (which is great), but who seems to think that in this sport at this level, you can just win and people just show up. This isn’t promising.

  4. Strikers Return permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Great story BQ! It sounds like there is going to be a lot going on with the Stars over the next few years. The key to the whole thing sounds like it is going to be how do the people react. If he puts the resources behind the team to market it properly, make sure they are playing in the best possible location, and the team continues to be good on the field, I hope the attendance gets to where it needs to be for him to stay behind this. Frankly you could say that about every NASL team I suppose. Once again, congratulations to all the Stars fans on what looks like a much brighter future!

  5. Jesse permalink
    November 8, 2012

    KT,

    He is not only referring to the on field performance, but also the off field execution. Djorn and co have been doing the best they can with limited resources. You can see the outcomes of applying resources to marketing in the attendance of the home opener at the Dome last year. With careful, judicious using of marketing resources that are adequate to the job over the course of the whole season he believes that combined with on field success should lead to those types of attendance figures. I don’t think we’ve seen anyone with this level of business acumen apply it to D2 American soccer with the exception of San Antonio. Regardless, I think a careful reading of the statements made are clearly NOT win and they will come, it is win on and OFF the field and they will come.

  6. bullsear permalink
    November 8, 2012

    @KT, I’m not sure why his optimism means he doesn’t know “how this works.”

    If anything, San Antonio’s success have shown that if you take great pains to market your team wisely and provide a worthwhile game day experience, you can substantially outperform expectations.

    I think it’s clear that he wasn’t saying that winning = attendance. He’s talking about performance, involvement, press coverage, and attendance as well. All it says to me is that he has seen the team and the passion we have for them, and he thinks it’s criminal that more people don’t know about about it. I think most of us feel that way.

  7. bullsear permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Forget my last post. Too many typos.

    Just read Jesse’s instead!

  8. JeffreyG permalink
    November 8, 2012

    KT – I disagree. I think his 8-10k statement is promising. I think what he’s recognizing is that this team hasn’t been able to do the things promotion/media wise that let people know that there is an exciting high level soccer team in town. I think that’s exactly the type of attitude we need.

  9. ERic permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Congrats, Minnesota fans (and Djorn in particular — from an Austinite that appreciated his hard work down here).

  10. Max permalink
    November 8, 2012

    I think San Antonio is the light at the end of the tunnel and shows that various larger factors have changed to the point that lower division soccer can be successful. Hartman did not have much of a soccer background, but had been a very successful businessman. What he did was use his skills to put the right people around him, and from this interview Bill McGuire seems like a man with similar abilities.

  11. Mac permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Set the bar high (within reason). Go for 8,000 a game average, and if the turnout only doubles to 5,400 after one season, as they head into the next season with with at least two more teams coming into a starting to mature league, that’s still quite good.
    And they may very well do better.

  12. Soccrgeek permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Great article: however, Amherst College, where the daughter played sports, is in Massachusetts, not New York!

  13. David permalink
    November 8, 2012

    I also think the 8-10k isn’t too crazy. If the Stars can pull 2-4k with minimal marketing, why can’t they at least double that with quality well-placed marketing? And those expectations aren’t that far off.
    The fact is, he’s got business running through his veins, and you can’t argue that his résumé shows he’s good at it. It’s exactly what the organization needs. I’m excited for the coming years.

  14. Darren L. permalink
    November 8, 2012

    8 to 10K per game is a great goal. Why the hell not!! Go STARS!!

  15. Dave permalink
    November 8, 2012

    There was only three teams in D2 and D3 that averaged over 5,000 last year. The Scorpions, Rhinos(who inflated the hell out of their numbes), and Orlando. So 8 to 10k ain’t happening. The worry is saying stuff like wanting to see 8k to 10k by next year and then getting the usual 3k. What will McGuire think then? A reality check for sure.

    Also he shouldn’t look at SA. That statement scares me. That is very unique. Like the Cascadia. The fans there were starving for pro soccer and organized strong supporter groups before the Scorps played one game. It is not a situation that can be duplicated in Minny. And even SA probably will drop down from their numbers over the next few years.

    It almost feels like McGuire is acting like he bought a MLS team and not a minor league soccer team. He wonders why the Stars don’t get more involvement and attention from the media. Well duh! You are a minor league team in a major league town. Didn’t David Downs tell you that before you bought the club? You are not ever going to get attention. Soccer is never going to be a big deal until the Vikings bring a MLS team into town. And by then the Stars might be history.

    I agree with KT. Great for the guy saving the team. But I feel he is going to learn a lot of lessons about minor league soccer. And it won’t be good ones.

  16. Bart permalink
    November 8, 2012

    @Dave

    You rock, man! Clarity and right to the point! Not the way to win friends on this website.

  17. Chrös permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Watched the video of the press conference today. Exciting time in Minnesota soccer for sure.

  18. Mac permalink
    November 8, 2012

    8-10k is a tall order…for next year. The situation is not static. MLS attendance growing for a number of reasons, including the continued overall growth of the sport in this country. As it has grown from 8 to 19 teams it has come to be taken more seriously, hence increased attendance numbers. As the NASL grows towards 18 teams in a country where supporter culture is growing, having loads of D2 teams developing 10 k attendance bases is not far fetched at all. Just might take longer than 12 months.
    As noted previously, McGuire seems to be quite the business guy. While I’m not saying NASL will be as big as MLS in the same moment at anytime, looking at where MLS will bee in 10-15 years in a country maturing into a soccer nation, it is not far fetched to picture NASL being as big in some of its markets as MLS is in SOME of its markets now (I’m looking at you Cbus and SJ, as examples).
    McGuire is likely looking to get into something, that will grow and develop a respectable amount, on the ground floor.

  19. November 9, 2012

    Well with no Development Academy attached they don’t stand a chance.

  20. November 9, 2012

    Well, I take it that is said with sarcasm. The one thing that teams like the Thunder learned and helped the NASL to learn, is DO NOT attach your team to a youth club or academy. There’s nothing quite like alienating a lot of your fan base by having owning or associating with a competing youth team/academy. The NASL teams have learned their lessons.

    If the league and it’s teams ever get strong enough to all be making a profit on a consistent basis and look stable for years to come, then you may see them start to do this sort of thing.

  21. November 9, 2012

    I’m thrilled to see this. Great interview BQ ! No one will be everything to everyone, but hearing McGuire say things like recognizing the tremendously deep sports market we have to compete in; recognizing the fantastic job that both Djorn & Manny have done with this team given very limited resources the last 2 years; their (the McGuire family) proven involvement in the Twin Cities community in philanthropic areas, I love it.

    Someone local whose heart is firmly planted here !!!!

    Grandiose dreams, heck why not ! He does not appear to have his head in the clouds, but scanning the horizon.

    Glass half-empty or half-full ? Me, I’m an optomist, and I’ll take half-full every time !

    Many Thanks to the McGuire Family !
    GO STARS !!!!!

  22. ButlerBob permalink
    November 9, 2012

    Another great article / interview. I’m encouraged by the things he said. My take on the attendance item is that he’s a business man and that you have to make an effort to grow your customer base and revenue. I think he will treat it as a business and not just throw money at it. But will make an effort to sell tickets. It’s just not win and people will show up.

  23. kevin permalink
    November 9, 2012

    The best possible venue would have to be the new St. Paul Stadium in Lowertown, it would be a huge mistake if the new owners do not have discussions with the Saints and work out some sort of deal to play in downtown St.Paul. Have the discussions before they break ground on the stadium, make it work for both teams.

  24. Etch permalink
    November 9, 2012

    Great Article Brian

    On the subject of 8-10K fans. Mr McGuire is right 8-10K should be there. With our population the goal is attainable. One always needs to set goals in buisness, marketing, negotiating, etc.
    In order to reach them one experiences both failure and success.

    Some big steps (Kicks, and Thunder and Stars) and many baby steps by all have already been taken (for 23 yrs) This is another big step and very positive one. Soccer is now approacing adult life.

  25. November 9, 2012

    Yes, the DA comment was a little sarcastic tounge in cheekish. I wish nothing but the best for the future of the club (not sarcasm), BUT the NASL needs to start thinking about tieing themselves with DA clubs. The MLS is doing it with great success and if the NASL wants to expand to the same level as the MLS (which I assume is their goal) then they should do it sooner rather than later. They don’t even have to fund these organizations in the beginning, the clubs can be a self sufficient 503 non-profits.

  26. November 9, 2012

    Also, Nessie is crumbling. If they want 8-10K, someone needs to work on that thing.

  27. November 9, 2012

    My guess is that the NSC is not in the long term plans. NSC is fine for now just as it is.

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