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Major League Soccer owners own a share in the league and are granted right to operate a team. Major League Soccer (MLS) operates under a single-entity structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned by the league. Each MLS team has an investor-operator that is a shareholder in the league. In order to control costs, the league shares revenues and holds players contracts instead of players contracting with individual teams.
The league has 30 investor-operators for its 28 current and 1 future team. AEG, which at one time invested in six clubs, solely operates one team (LA Galaxy). Lamar Hunt used to operate multiple teams, but now Hunt Sports only operates one team (FC Dallas). Two of the league's teams are operated, at least in part, by neither Americans nor Canadians — Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz (New York Red Bulls), and Indonesian Erick Thohir (D.C. United).
Having multiple clubs operated by a single investor was a necessity in the league's first ten years. At one time Phil Anschutz's AEG operated six MLS clubs, and Lamar Hunt's Hunt Sports operated three teams. In order to attract additional investors, in 2002 the league announced changes to the operating agreement between the league and its teams to improve team revenues and increase the incentives to be an individual team operator. These changes included granting operators the rights to a certain number of players they develop through their teams's academy system each year, sharing the profits of Soccer United Marketing, and being able to sell individual team jersey sponsorships.
As MLS appeared to be on the brink of overall profitability in 2006 and developed significant expansion plans, MLS announced that it wanted each team to have a distinct operator. The league has attracted new investors that have injected more money into the operation. Examples include Red Bull's purchase of the operation rights of the MetroStars from AEG in 2006 for over $100 million.
In Fraser v. Major League Soccer, a lawsuit filed in 1996 and decided in 2002, the league won a legal battle with its players in which the court ruled that MLS was a single entity that can lawfully centrally contract for player services. The court also ruled that even absent their collective bargaining agreement, players could opt to play in other leagues if they were unsatisfied.
List of MLS operators by team
- Anthony Precourt (Two Oak Ventures LLC) (2018–present)
- Arthur Blank (2014–present)
- David Tepper (2019–present)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (1997–2007)
- Andrew Hauptman (Andell Holdings) (2007–2019)
- Joe Mansueto (2019–present)
- Lamar Hunt (1995–2006)
- Clark Hunt (2006–2013)
- Anthony Precourt (Precourt Sports Ventures LLC) (2013–2018)
- Jimmy Haslam, Dee Haslam, Peter H. Edwards Jr., and other investors (Columbus Partnership) (2018–present)
- Washington Soccer, LP (1995–2000)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (2001–2006)
- William Chang (D.C. United Holdings) (2006–2012)
- William Chang, Erick Thohir and Jason Levien (2012–2018)
- Jason Levien and Steven Kaplan (2018–present)
- Carl Lindner III, Chris Lindner, David L. Thompson, Jeff Berding, Scott Farmer, Steve Hightower, George Joseph, Mike Mossel, Jack Wyant (2018–present)
- Meg Whitman, Griff Harsh (minority) (2019–present)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (2005–2008)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group, Oscar De La Hoya (through Golden Boy Promotions) and Gabriel Brener (2008–2015)
- Gabriel Brener, Oscar De La Hoya, Jake Silverstein, Ben Guill (2015–2021)
- Ted Segal (2021–present)
- L.A. Soccer Partners, LP (1995–1997)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (1998–present)
- Peter Guber (Executive Chairman), Henry Nguyen, Tom Penn, Ruben Gnanalingam, Vincent Tan, Brandon Beck, Larry Berg, Will Ferrell, Nomar Garciaparra, Mia Hamm, Chad Hurley, Magic Johnson, Tucker Kain, Kirk Lacob, Mark Leschly, Mike Mahan, Irwin Raij, Tony Robbins, Lon Rosen, Bennett Rosenthal, Paul Schaeffer, Brandon Schneider, Mark Shapiro, Allen Shapiro, Jason Sugarman, Harry Tsao (2014–present)
- Larry Berg, Brandon Beck, and Bennett Rosenthal are managing operators
- Joey Saputo (2010–present)
- John Ingram (2017–present)
- Robert Kraft and family (1995–present)
- John Kluge and Stuart Subotnick (1995–01)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (2001–06)
- Red Bull GmbH (2006–present)
- Jay Sugarman (Keystone Sports & Entertainment, LLC) (2008–present)
- Merritt Paulson (2009–present)
- Dave Checketts (SCP Worldwide) (2004–12)
- Dell Loy Hansen (2012–2021)
- David Blitzer and Ryan Smith (2022–present)
- Major League Soccer (1996–1998)
- Robert Kraft (1999–2000)
- Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (2001–2002)
- Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment and Anschutz Entertainment Group (2002–2003)
- Anschutz Entertainment Group (2003–2005)
- Lewis Wolff and John J. Fisher (Earthquakes Soccer, LLC) (2007–present)
- Joe Roth (2007–2015)
- Adrian Hanauer (2015–2018)
- Adrian Hanauer (2018–2019)
- Adrian Hanauer, Jody Allen, Drew Carey, Peter Tomozawa, Terry Myerson and Katie Myerson, Russell Wilson and Ciara, Macklemore and Tricia Davis, Satya Nadella and Anu Nadella, Amy Hood and Max Kleinman, Joe Belfiore and Kristina Belfiore, S. Somasegar and Akila Somasegar, Chee Chew and Christine Chew, David Nathanson and Sabina Nathanson, Brian McAndrews and Elise Holschuh, Mark Agne and Tomoko Agne (2019–present)
- The Taylor family led by Carolyn Kindle (2019–present)
- Jim Kavanaugh (2019–present)
- Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (2006–present)
Future MLS teams
List of defunct MLS teams
- Jorge Vergara and Antonio Cué Sánchez-Navarro (2004–2012)
- Jorge Vergara (2012–2014)
- Major League Soccer (2014)
- Ken Horowitz (1997–2001)
- Major League Soccer (1995–2001)
- Fraser v. Major League Soccer, 01 F.3d 1296 (1st Cir. 2002).
- "Red Bull Is New Owner, and Name, of MetroStars", New York Times, March 10, 2006.
- "Roundtable: Is MLS Single Entity Here To Stay?", SB Nation, February 28, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
- "Dempsey Transfer Highlights Influence of MLS Single-Entity Economic Structure", Business of Soccer, August 26, 2013. Retrieved June 4, 2014. ("Under MLS’s current structure, MLS owns all teams in the league but contracts with operator-investors (more frequently and inaccurately referred to in conversations as team “owners”) who manage teams and are entitled to certain potential benefits from running the teams. That is, the team “owners” in MLS, including AEG, the Kraft family, and others, are really operator-investors in MLS’s structure.")
- "About Major League Soccer | PRESS BOX". Pressbox.mlssoccer.com. Retrieved June 2, 2014.
Major League Soccer is structured as a single, limited liability company (single-entity). In the single-entity business structure, club operators own a financial stake in the League, not just their individual team.
- Forbes, "Major League Soccer's Billionaire Owners", November 20, 2013.
- Los Angeles Times, "MLS Looks Way Down the Field", March 29, 2006.
- Sports Illustrated, "Garber, Horowitz discuss MLS contraction", January 9, 2002.
- Sports Business Daily, "MLS’ Don Garber Talks State Of The League With The Daily", April 5, 2007.
- New York Times, "Red Bull Is New Owner, and Name, of MetroStars", March 10, 2006.
- "MLS team owners: Charlotte's David Tepper joins burgeoning list". MLSsoccer.com. MLS Digital. December 17, 2019. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
- "Sacramento Major League Soccer expansion deal collapses. Key investor backs out". sacbee.com. Sacramento Bee. February 28, 2021. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
- Foltman, Bob (December 24, 2001). "In 6th year, MLS strains for foothold". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
- Carlisle, Jeff (July 18, 2019). "NBA star Harden buys stake in MLS' Dynamo". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
- "MBaseball Hall of Famer and Seattle icon Ken Griffey Jr. and family join Sounders FC Ownership Group". MLSsoccer.comSounders FC Communications. November 17, 2020. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
- Zeigler, Mark (May 18, 2023). "San Diego becomes Major League Soccer's 30th franchise in landmark moment for sport's hotbed". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2023.