LAFC’s Larry Freedman named MLS executive of the year
The season ended a month ago, but the winning continues for LAFC. The team will accept its third major award of the fall Monday when Larry Freedman, chief business officer, is named MLS executive of the year.
Bob Bradley was named MLS coach of the year in October, and last month captain Carlos Vela was voted the league’s most valuable player.
Freedman, who came to LAFC from Mandalay Entertainment Group, where he ran the minor league baseball properties, helped set the foundation for all that winning. Since 2014, he has managed the team’s commercial dealings, including ticket and merchandise sales as well as sponsorship agreements, taking LAFC from a concept — a team without a stadium, players or uniforms — to the third most valuable franchise in the league.
Forbes’ yearly valuation of MLS teams puts LAFC’s worth at $475 million, trailing only Atlanta United ($500 million) and the neighborhood-rival Galaxy ($480 million). LAFC’s estimated annual revenue of $50 million is also third-best.
Those aren’t the only measures of the team’s success. LAFC posted the best regular-season record in league history this season and has sold out all 37 MLS games, including playoffs, at its $350-million stadium, the most expensive soccer-specific venue in the country. The team also has 17,500 season-ticket holders and a waiting list of others who want to join, and recently it became the first MLS team to sign a jersey-sleeve partner when it reached a sponsorship with Target.
This season, the Italian Serie A has seen a match suspended because of racist chants, a TV commentator dismissed over derogatory comments and a fan banned for life for attacking a player on social media because of his race.
Freedman says selling soccer isn’t that different from selling minor league baseball, where the final score isn’t always the thing fans remember most.
“What was driving the fan base in MLS struck me as very similar,” Freedman said. “There’s a real trophy or trophies at the end of the rainbow, so winning and losing does matter. But what is equally, if not more, important for some segments of the fan base is the experience. As a supporter, you can be a doctor by day or a preacher by day or a law-enforcement officer by day, but 17 times a season you go into the supporter section for your club and you paint your face or you wear a Lucha mask and you become somebody else for 90 minutes.
“That holds true at Banc of California Stadium regardless of where you’re sitting. You’re there for the experience.”
Still, Freedman gives the team’s performance a B grade after two seasons in which LAFC has won a Supporters’ Shield and has lost two of its three playoff games.
“A lot of things we did really well,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. And there are other things we need to do better. Some of the things that improved need to improve more.”
The Galaxy will open the 2020 MLS season in Houston against the Dynamo on Feb. 29; LAFC hosts David Beckham’s Miami expansion team the next day.
“There are still people who don’t know who we are,” he continued. “The great thing is what we have with the Galaxy is incredible. And together, through that rivalry, there’s no question we’ve already grown the game in Southern California.
“I think it only gets better.”