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January 23, 2013
Manning pulls it together for RSL

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning (r) accepts the Doug Hamilton Award for MLS Executive of the Year from league Commissioner Don Garber.
Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning (r) accepts the Doug Hamilton Award for MLS Executive of the Year from league Commissioner Don Garber.
Photo courtesy Real Salt Lake
If there really is a recipe for running a successful Major League Soccer team, it may have three key ingredients---a new stadium, a winning product on the field, and a strong management team. Just ask Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning.

"We've built a nice franchise here," said Manning, who was named the 2012 recipient of the Doug Hamilton Award as Major League Soccer's Executive of the Year. "We have a great staff. I owe it to having a bunch of really good people to work with here. They make me look good."

The award from MLS honors RSL’s growth and excellent metrics in key business areas, including ticket sales and retention, corporate sponsorship revenue and activation, and local television ratings.

“Under Bill’s direction, Real Salt Lake has shown consistent, steady growth and the club has excelled both on and off the field, across a number of different competitions,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “The club’s metrics in key business areas can be directly attributed to Bill and his hardworking and dedicated front office staff. The atmosphere inside Rio Tinto Stadium – a true home-field advantage – is among the best in Major League Soccer.”

It was the opening of the stadium in Sandy, Utah, after nearly five seasons playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium, that started the club's transformation.

"I think the stadium gave me and my staff the opportunity to change the culture and to change everything. It gave us a real first-class building, the kind you could stick your chest out a little bit, rather than playing in someone else's building."

The opening of Rio Tinto Stadium in 2009 coincided with RSL's rising fortunes on the pitch, creating a perfect storm for a savvy sports marketer like Manning, who in addition to an impressive soccer background also worked in the NBA with the Houston Rockets and the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We started winning some games and the team won that championship in '09 and that changed who we were on the field. Then off the field, the results kept coming," said Manning who engineered the naming rights sponsorship for the stadium. "Our sponsorships--the fastest growing in MLS over the last four years -- ticket sales, we are up to almost 8,800 season ticket holders last year. Before we opened this building, we were less than 4,000. I think this year we will be at 10,000. It just keeps going up."

That figure will put RSL near the top third in the league, despite the fact that they play in the smallest market in MLS.

It’s not just ticket sales and sponsorship that have risen over the last few years. Nearly everything about the franchise has been transformed.

"We did almost a million and a half dollars in merchandise sales last year. Before we opened the building we were at maybe $300-350,000. We've got the new TV deal that's got us on HD over the air on KTVX- and KUCW. That's brought a lot of exposure to us. It really is almost an entirely different franchise."

Manning, a Massapequa, NY native, says raising the league's profile on television is the next step in the growth of MLS. That, along with winning the CONCACAF Champions League. RSL came close a few years ago, and Manning himself had a taste of that in his playing days, when the Brooklyn Italians won the U.S. Open Cup in 1991 and played Guadalajara in the CONCACAF competition.

"The television is the next key, the growing of viewership," he said. "Obviously the new TV deals can dramatically change our business going forward. I also think, competitively, we need an MLS team to win CONCACAF, which would get an entry into the world club championships. We almost got there,” Manning said, speaking of RSL’s 3-2 aggregate loss to Monterrey in the 2010-11 final. “That was an amazing, amazing experience. As a league we want to win this region. We want to prove that we are the best team or league in this region. That's not easy. I think that is the next step for us."

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