Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.

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United FC owner Bill McGuire on first game, long-term commitment

Posted by: David La Vaque under Soccer Updated: April 10, 2013 - 4:43 PM

 Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire reached out to fans Wednesday via an open letter on the team’s website (mnunitedfc.com), sharing his views of what went well during last Saturday’s season-opener at the Metrodome and what could have been done better.

 
In an interview Wednesday, McGuire expounded on the contents of the letter, tackling everything from his impressions of the game to his commitment to professional soccer in this market.
 
“Overall, I was pleased,” said McGuire, who rose to prominence nationally as the head of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group for more than 15 years. “I was impressed with the energy, noise and enthusiasm that came through.”
 
A few glitches – not enough team apparel to keep up with demand, a box of supporter scarfs that arrived Monday instead of Saturday – did not sour McGuire’s outlook.  He believed the team drew well (6,754 fans) on a night that included cold rain and competing entities (Timberwolves, roller derby).
 
Parents with their children approached McGuire, he said, to thank him for his role in saving the sport locally. United FC, formerly the North American Soccer League-owned Stars FC, was in danger of folding last season before McGuire emerged to purchase the team.
 
McGuire insists his commitment is genuine. First, The United States Soccer Federation has strict ownership standards for Division II teams such as United FC. They include requiring each team's principal owner to have a net worth of at least $20 million.
 
So McGuire has the means. Does he have the patience to grow a professional soccer franchise he is not aware has ever been profitable?
 
"This is a tough road to hoe,” McGuire said. “This is a sports-heavy environment and you’ve got to get the exposure. Even those interested in soccer aren’t all cognizant we’re here. So you build an organization for the future rather than for the next day.”
 
Recent owners of the Thunder and Stars ran their teams on minimal budgets or promised grandiose plans they never realized. As a result, McGuire is sensitive to skeptical soccer fans, saying he has not “heard anyone who has expressed caution but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was there. We believe we’re acting consistently with how we’re talking."
 
Asked if he is prepared to lose money this season, McGuire said, “Whether one is for profit or not-for-profit, you have to engage in a way that allows you to stay afloat. I never had an illusion this would be profitable in its first year. It’s an investment for probably the first few years.”
 
The goal, he said, is to reach both soccer fans and fans of “accessible entertainment.” McGuire defined the term as making United FC games “an event you can afford to go to” in an era where more teams market to fans with deeper pockets.
 
On the subject of attracting sponsorship dollars, McGuire is taking a measured approach.
 
“It’s always difficult to ask people for things,” he said. “There are a lot of generous people,” constantly being solicited. “We’re purposely not trying to make relationships the reason for getting involved. We want to make the event itself the focus.”
 
McGuire said he received a phone call on Sunday from someone who attended Saturday’s game, enjoyed the experience and wrote a check to support the team. In addition, McGuire said, a small business owner bought a block of tickets for employees to use.
 
“All indications are pretty positive so far,” McGuire said.
 
The team plays host to FC Edmonton at 2:30 p.m. April 20 at the Metrodome.
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