After months, perhaps even years of rumors, USL and the Orange County Blues announced on Thursday that the club has been sold to local businessman James Keston. Founding owner Ali Mansouri will remain as a minority investor in the club and will remain on hand to help in the transition.
Keston is the Chief Investment Officer for investment company LARO Properties and is based in Los Angeles.
“We are thrilled to welcome James Keston to the USL and reaffirm one of our key tenets of finding local and committed ownership,” said Alec Papadakis, the Chief Executive Officer of the USL, in a statement. “James is part of an established Los Angeles family who has passion for soccer and has some very exciting initiatives planned for the team.”
The news of the ownership change promises a rebrand with the input of the team’s fans, a new stadium and improved gameday experience, a “first-class soccer academy” and deeper ties to the overall Orange County community.
That’s an ambitious slate, but the kind of commitments the team needs. Despite fielding a pretty good, at times great, side the past couple seasons, attendance has been near the bottom of the league and despite a decent location, Anteater Stadium on the campus of UC Irvine can most charitably be called a spartan facility for players and spectators alike.
And given the challenges of finding a niche in a crowded sports market, including a popular MLS team just up the road, another MLS team in the area on the way, and a rival USL team nearby, it’s perhaps not surprising the Blues aren’t pulling in five figures in attendance. That said, the marketing of the team has been effectively non-existent, and it seems like there’s plenty of room to improve efforts to make inroads in the market.
“I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to take control of the OC Blues and transform the club into a world-class professional soccer organization,” said Keston in the statement. “This is truly the realization of a lifelong dream. It’s a chance to make the only professional soccer team in Orange County a truly local team focused on the fans, players and youth clubs of Orange County. We will put a winning team on the field full of exciting young talent, initiate a cutting-edge youth development academy and create a fan experience worthy of one of the largest and most dedicated soccer markets in the United States.”
Time will tell if the ownership change will fully transform the club for the better, but there’s considerable optimism a big step was taken on Thursday, and the future will be brighter for the Blues.