The State of RSL: Q&A With John Kimball

The 2021 Major League Soccer season is upon us, with Real Salt Lake’s first regular season match on Saturday at 6 p.m. MT against Minnesota United from Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.

To get ready for what to expect from RSL and update our supporters on the off-season changes, Samantha Yarock sat down with Interim President John Kimball.

Q: You were arguably the first employee Dave Checketts hired to help bring professional soccer to the state of Utah. What does RSL mean to you and why was it important to you to return and help the club transition into the next phase?

“I was working for Dave Checketts with a company called Sports West at that point and that’s when he had made the decision to bring Real Salt Lake to Utah. This club has my blood, sweat and tears all over it, I was a part of it from the very beginning and saw the vision that Dave had created.  I was part of the transition with Dell Loy Hansen and saw where his vision was going to take the club and so it means a lot to me.  It’s literally been the majority of my professional career and so to come back to it really feels like the capstone of my career and it’s an opportunity to finish something that I started. So coming back to that, it was giving me the opportunity to finish something that I’d started and something that I knew well and really, I love this club.  I absolutely love this club. The fans, the partners, the people believed in us from Day 1.  Quite honestly, it’s an honor for me to be here and to be a part of what we’re doing now.”

Q: Most people aren’t given the opportunity to return to where they were years ago and to ensure that the first mission statement, the foundation, the values are still existing and if they weren’t to help bring them back and kind of right the ship…

“One of the things that I thought was very important when I was invited back, I felt like I really just needed to listen.  And I knew from listening that I would really get an understanding of where the club was and what we needed to work on. And it was really employees like you and others that stepped up and shared their opinions and really shared their love for the club and how important it was for them to make sure that we built something that was going to last and that we could get back to those core values that maybe hadn’t been completely defined before. But we were going to work to define those now and that’s really where The RSL Way came from.  You and others like Tony Beltran were the architects of that document and I was just honored and privileged to be a part of making sure that got published and is out there as something that we’re really looking to attain.”

Q: You mentioned that when you first arrived you really just wanted to listen, be a fly on the wall to figure out what was going on the ground.  What did you learn? Specifically, what were some of the things that were lacking or missing or weren’t the same things that you felt when this place was truly electric? 

“People were tired. People needed to be recognized.  People needed to be able to do the things that they’d been hired to do and to really show their talents. Again, the fact that the RSL document was published really speaks to how people truly feel about the club and that came from the club. That was not something that was a mandate from management. It was something that came from the employees and again, not that we’ve attained it or arrived, but it is putting that flag in the ground and to say that this is where we want to go.”

Q: In addition to the RSL Way, what are some of the other things that give you optimism that things are moving in the right direction?

“I’ll start on the team side, our front office on the team side has just done a phenomenal job of bringing players here and getting them excited because when we see them excited, when we see the team playing well, when we see preseason, what’s happening on the field, that allows us to get excited.  it’s one thing to have a job in sports, it’s another thing to be very passionate about the job and the team that you’re working for.  We just needed something to believe in again and the passion is here. We have amazing employees, we have an amazing team.  We’ve always been that group that has a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and we want to work harder, we want to prove something and that chip is definitely there this year and we’ve got something to prove and just all of the hard work that’s gone through during Covid, we just closed a partnership with the University of Utah that we’re very proud of…we’re moving forward on the business side and we’re moving forward on the team side.”

Q: Were things as tough as you anticipated when you first arrived?  Did you anticipate as many challenges and roadblocks that you needed to help get this club over?

“Moving on in my career to the Jazz I’d certainly kept in touch and knew what was happening at Real Salt Lake.  I knew that there were some issues that needed to be addressed and so I came in with an open mind and I just knew that whatever the issues were, they were things we could overcome and so I was prepared for really whatever we needed to do because I knew that I was surrounded by good people.  And it’s with those good people that we’re going to be able to overcome any of those obstacles.”

Q: What will that look like on May 1st when we have ten thousand fans here at Rio Tinto?

“You know, it was interesting, last year when we had five thousand fans, I remember standing in the stadium and thinking, ‘Wow, our fans are so passionate, it actually feels like there are 20 thousand fans here.’  To be able to double that and really, I think everybody is just chomping at the bit to come out and celebrate and get out in the sun and be a part of the things that they love. We have nine thousand passionate season ticket holders that I know are just really excited to be here.  So, to be able to host at least our season ticket holders and then to be able to open that up to anybody else that wants to come. Again, we’re one of the few teams in the country that’s being able to do this and the Utah Department of Health has been fantastic to work with and so with their work and the work that’s happened here again, with our employees, we just can’t wait.  We’re so excited to be able to open to 10 thousand fans and we’re really bullish that things are going to move quickly because Utah is doing such a fantastic job with vaccines and doing the things that we need to do to get back to business as usual.”

Q: Logistically, what are some of the things that people need to know ahead of coming?

“We are going to require masks when people are seated in the stadium.  We’re not allowing food or drinks to go down to the seats, so we’re going to provide areas on the concourse and the America First Credit Union Pavilion that will allow social distancing of six feet and make sure that people can enjoy anything that they want to eat or drink in those areas and then come back down and enjoy the game.”

Q: Do you have any updates on a potential new ownership group?

“The league is working very hard and the one thing that really excites me is that they’re focused and dedicated to keeping this team in Utah.  We do have momentum and opportunity and that’s about as much as I can talk about it.  But the positive thing is there are a number of people that are interested in this team and are excited about our club and what this does for the state of Utah.  With Utah being one of the top economies in the country, with everything that’s happening that’s so positive in the state of Utah, this is a crown jewel and to have the opportunity to own this team. I think people see the long-term vision and the opportunity that exists to be a part of it. Dave Checketts did it right when we built this building.  I’ve had a number of comments about the sightlines and how there’s no bad seat in this building. Dan Farnes and all of the work that he does on the field, we’ve been recognized as one of the top fields in the country. This is just an amazing place.  You look at where it sits, against the mountains and as we all know, when you come to a game on a summer night, there’s just nothing better.  The one thing that I think has kind of been a secret is the Academy and that has been one of the things that people are just absolutely blown away with.  We have an opportunity with all of the different sports that we’re doing out there with the lacrosse league, the rugby team, with the basketball – not to mention all of the soccer that’s happening out there.  So, there is a great opportunity and great potential and it’s a world renown facility.”

Q: What would you like to say to the fans & entire RSL community that feel they’ve been let down in recent years? 

“I appreciate that question and it’s literally one of those things that I’ve had to say to myself because the love, the blood, the sweat and the tears that I mentioned earlier, it was disheartening to see it kind of slip and what I’m asking people to do is to give us a chance.  We want to earn your respect, we know that we have to deliver and we’re working diligently and very hard and we have a number of people both on the front office and the team side that believe in this club and want to see it succeed. We want to be competitive and that’s our goal. We want to be an amazing place to entertain our fans and, like I mentioned earlier, to be competitive. I’m telling you, we’re going to have a phenomenal year this year and I just would ask all of those people that used to come and we would sell out the building… we want to get you back. We want to earn that respect again and we’re just asking to give us a chance. Come out to a game. Come out and support us. We’re really excited about what we’re going to deliver.”