With the Major League Soccer playoffs set to begin in a few weeks Checketts finds himself at a crossroads. The team made the most improbable run a year ago entering the playoffs with a losing record and knocking out the much-hyped L.A. Galaxy and star Landon Donovan in the championship game 1-1 (5-4 in a shootout). The 2010 RSL will enter the playoffs with a winning record, respect and a bull’s-eye on its back.
“Last year was so exciting,” Checketts, a Bountiful native, said from his New York City office. “We had gone through so much to get where we were and into the playoffs and then to win it was just a culmination of years of work by so many people.”
Most of that work was by Checketts himself, who gambled in a big way to see the team’s stadium built in Sandy.
“I literally put everything I had into that project,” Checketts said.
Checketts remained focused and undeterred when politicians including Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and members of the community fought to keep Rio Tinto Stadium from being built. When his team captured the MLS title last year Checketts and members of RSL paraded with their fans through the streets of Salt Lake City, giving him time to reflect.
“The best thing about sports is that it brings communities together,” Checketts said. “I’m not a vindictive person so I wasn’t thinking about rubbing it in anyone’s nose. I was just excited to share this with our city, my hometown. To bring the first professional sport title to Utah in 38 years was a thrill.”
The shootout championship win definitely lifted the pride and spirit of Utahns, even those who are not necessarily soccer fans. For Checketts the businessman, the winning kick by Robbie Russell also banged up the finances for his team and business.
“People love a winner and being associated with a winner,” Checketts said. “The championship definitely helped us from a business point of view.”
Season tickets vaulted by 25 percent from the 2009 season to 2010 and sponsorship increased by more than 30 percent. The increased exposure of Rio Tinto Stadium aided Checketts in attracting big name concerts to Salt Lake including this summer’s huge Paul McCartney show, the only time the former Beatle ever played in Utah. That concert not only was a boost to RSL, but also a shot in the arm to the area as fans from as far away as Tennessee made the trip to see McCartney. The biggest jump, however, financially for RSL came in the form of merchandise.
“Our merchandise sales more than tripled,” Checketts said. “It’s great to be here and in other parts of the country and see people, especially young people, wearing Real Salt Lake shirts or scarves or whatever it might be. It’s just a thrill.”
With the team eying another championship run, Checketts remains confident, but understands the reality of winning back-to-back titles in any sport. The tasking is difficult at best and rarely done.
“I’m not sure people really understand how hard it is to win two in a row,” Checketts said. “But I am excited about the challenge and so is the team.
“These are steps toward what I set out to build, a soccer dynasty.”