Former UnitedHealth CEO McGuire is new Stars owner

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2012 - 10:46 PM

The former boss at UnitedHealth Group hopes to ''remove the uncertainty'' that has plagued the team while it was leagued-owned.

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William McGuire speaks to Society of American Business Writers and Editors in 2006.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune file

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Wealthy Twin Cities businessman William McGuire will be announced as the principal owner of the Minnesota Stars FC soccer team at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

McGuire, who rose to prominence nationally as the head of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group for more than 15 years, takes over a Stars team that was owned by the North American Soccer League the past two seasons. The Stars won the NASL championship in 2011 and finished second this season.

McGuire said Wednesday that he's neither "illiterate" nor a "scholar" when it comes to soccer, acknowledging that basketball is his sports "passion.'' He said he sees preserving the Stars as "a piece of making a better community."

"I want to help support, grow and expand awareness and interest in the largest sport in the world," McGuire said.

McGuire, 64, will be introduced as the Stars owner at a 3 p.m. news conference Thursday at Brit's Pub in downtown Minneapolis. The team's principal owner said he might create an ownership group. Terms of the deal, expected to be completed soon, were not released.

His involvement dramatically changes the profile of the Stars, on the verge of being disbanded in a league vote less than two weeks ago, and puts them in the hands of a 6-6 physician-turned-executive who less than 10 years ago was the highest-compensated business leader in Minnesota.

The Stars arose in 2010 out of the ashes of the Minnesota Thunder, which folded under former owner Dean Johnson. The team was owned for one season by the National Sports Center in Blaine, where it plays its home games, before the NASL took the team over in 2011.

"We have to remove the uncertainty attached to this organization," McGuire said.

The team opened the 2012 season at the Metrodome, seeking to draw more fans after finishing last in league attendance in 2011. The Stars drew an average of 2,796 fans this year to rank fifth in the eight-team NASL.

McGuire said he began exploring possible ownership of the team in July. He attended several Stars games at the National Sports Center, a 20-minute drive north from downtown Minneapolis, and said he saw the potential of the team gaining a foothold in a competitive Twin Cities sports market.

He is exploring playing home games next season at different metro area sites, including the Metrodome. That's a venue the Thunder occasionally tried.

"Results will follow our ability to put a high-quality product in front of the fans," McGuire said. "We haven't fulfilled that yet, whether because of the location, the budget or the poor financial performance.

"Folks who come to the games have a good time, but there are only 3-4,000 of them."

McGuire said larger topics such as preparing the team for a move to Major League Soccer or building a soccer- specific stadium are "not really a focus right now."

If there's a big soccer fan in the McGuire family, it's his son-in-law, Nick Rogers, 30. He is expected to help direct the team's marketing and public relations efforts.

Based on McGuire's business and philanthropic interests, he easily met U.S. Soccer Federation guidelines calling for a majority team owner to have a net worth of at least $20 million.

McGuire, who took over as president of UnitedHealth in 1989, oversaw its rise to become the nation's second- largest health insurer. As chairman and CEO, he pushed UnitedHealth into new businesses and new markets, often buying larger, more established companies.

McGuire's total compensation, including gains from stock options, exceeded $100 million in 2004 and 2006. He was the highest-paid Minnesota executive in four years from 2000 and 2005.

In 2006, McGuire became embroiled in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for backdating stock options, a practice that rewarded McGuire and other executives with inflated gains. The scandal, which included an internal investigation, forced McGuire out and cost his company $900 million to settle shareholder lawsuits.

In the Twin Cities, he and his wife Nadine's patronage of the arts has included giving $10 million to both the Guthrie Theater and Walker Art Center. He also financed construction and maintenance nearby for Gold Medal Park.

Said Stars CEO Djorn Buch- holz of McGuire: "For us, we get somebody who has already done amazing things in the community, someone that gives us confidence moving forward."

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