Three Questions With LAFC President and Owner Tom Penn
In what’s becoming a uniquely American soccer tradition, LAFC unveiled its crest and colors in front of supporters last week. There’s something about people cheering for a crest that’s funny and moving in equal measure. It is tangible proof of the passion for football in this country.
In this edition of Three Questions, we ask the club’s president and owner Tom Penn about what it’s like to build a football team from scratch, and if LA is big enough for two MLS sides.
MiB: Tell us about the crest/colors selection process.
Penn: From day one, our commitment was to #BuildTogether with our supporters. We’ve engaged them in every step of the way, including our social media colors campaign to get a better feel about what Club colors would make Angelenos proud. Our responsibility was to create an icon that was 100% “of Los Angeles” in every way. From the Wings, to the Art Deco inspired font, to the “LA”, I believe we have achieved that. Our final crest has been in development for a year, and we are very happy with the warm reception of #BlacknGold here in LA.
MiB: Talk about the process of building club culture from scratch.
Penn: A blank canvas in a global city does not come around very often. We take very seriously the responsibility of building an organization and Club that the city can truly be proud of. The culture starts with people, and we’ve been very careful to assemble a diverse ownership group of experienced people with a passion for the game. The culture is also heavily influenced by the community we serve, so we have been diligent to listen to all of our partners and supporters and really hear what they have to say. Building a Club culture takes time, we know that, we will stay committed to being authentic to the world’s game, and its expression in LA, our Club culture will grow from that commitment.
MiB: How does being in a city with another club, one of MLS’s most established, affect the process?
Penn: We have a lot of respect for the LA Galaxy and the incredible organization they have built. They were one of the pioneers of our league. Rivalry is good for everyone, and this market has room for two Clubs. The fans are ready to experience a Los Angeles Derby. Having another club in the market inspires our staff to set the bar high in all we do.
MiB: LA is a city that loves its football. How will you carve your niche in a city that’s football pie is already divided between the Galaxy, Liga MX, the Premier League, La Liga, etc…
Penn: Out of the gate, we will physically look different in this market. We will have a 22,000 soccer-specific stadium in the heart of the city. We are aiming to build a cathedral of soccer in LA, and that alone will generate interest from avid soccer fans.
MiB: That stadium will be in South Los Angeles. How much will this location be a part of the team’s identity?
Penn: South Los Angeles will be in our DNA, the entire city will be in our DNA, we are Club built from true collaboration and partnership. You will see us very active in the community, because it matters to us.
MiB: What’s your favorite football bar in LA?
Penn: Ye Old King’s Head in Santa Monica, an LA classic. Let’s meet there next time you are in town. Bring your blazers!
MiB: You are an expert on basketball analytics, NBA salary cap issues and the draft process. What lessons will from your NBA life will you apply to your work at LAFC?
Penn: I’ve worked for many years in creatively structuring contracts and working within a restrictive salary cap system. Those are critical factors in building an MLS roster. I absolutely love working with talented agents and creative deal makers to get deals done. I look forward to assisting our soccer operations executives in this capacity. We will also learn from basketball and other sports to employ best practices in all aspects of our soccer operations… health, nutrition, training, sports science, sports psychology… you name it, we want to learn from the best. My time in other pro sports should help connect those links to the best.
MiB: What lessons do you take from this past MLS season, in which the final was comprised of two teams without big, marquee global names?
Penn: There are many ways to build a championship team… no set formula is guaranteed. In 2014, the team with the big names won it all. In 2015, teams built through a different process prevailed. We will seek the best talent at all levels of our soccer operations, especially on the pitch.