The Union have a new minority owner: Richard Leibovitch, founder of New York-based real estate investment firm Arel Capital.
Majority owner Jay Sugarman told the Inquirer and Daily News that Leibovitch purchased a part of the stake owned by another owner in the team who wanted to reduce his investment. Sugarman would not name the selling owner, saying he has been an investor in the team from the start who has been anonymous all along and “was just a capital provider.”
But Leibovitch’s arrival is meant to be public.
“He spent a long time studying the league first, and then studying the Union,” Sugarman said. “He’s a smart guy who thinks he can really contribute in some interesting ways in terms of corporate relationships, and we’re hoping to have him as a long-term part of the Union family.”
Leibovitch’s background is in finance, including derivatives trading. He has family ties to Philadelphia through his wife, a Northeast High graduate who has relatives in Huntingdon Valley. And he is a sports fan, Sugarman said, albeit one who has come to soccer relatively recently. He has quietly been at a few Union events in recent weeks, including a fan welcome for David Accam when the Ghanaian winger was traded here in mid-January.
“I think he has begun to appreciate how great the game is and some of the nuances that make it special,” Sugarman said.
In addition to that transaction, prominent minority owner Richie Graham and his family have boosted their financial investment in the Union’s youth academy. The academy is run out of YSC Sports in Wayne, a facility that Graham owns, and includes a full-time high school that Graham funds. The Union have signed five academy products to MLS deals in the last two seasons, and played three — Anthony Fontana, Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones — in this year’s season opener.
The Grahams have also increased their stake in the entity that owns the Union, Keystone Sports and Entertainment, by buying a further part of the aforementioned anonymous owner’s stake. Sugarman said that owner still remains part of the ownership group.
Graham said in a statement that he’s pleased to have “for the opportunity to further my commitment to this organization, to soccer in Philadelphia, and to development of the American player.”
His investment is only in the Union’s youth academy, not its senior team or its minor-league USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel. But Sugarman has put more money in the pot for the senior team, backing up his offseason promise to give sporting director Earnie Stewart “significantly more resources” to work with “than he’s ever had.”
Sugarman said the Union bought the full available allotment of funds from Major League Soccer’s discretionary targeted allocation money pool. Those funds are essentially extra salary-cap space that teams can purchase to buy down big-ticket players’ cap hits. Teams can buy up to $2.8 million this year and $2.8 million next year.
“Ownership gave [the front office] the full amount to play with,” Sugarman said “They have proven to us that this is a year when spending it should have a sizable payoff, and I think all parts of the team were ready to bring in the kind of talent you’ve seen us bring in.”
That was a reference to this year’s two big additions, Accam and Czech playmaker Borek Dockal.
“You’re seeing a team that I think is fundamentally better, more confident, and more skilled than we’ve ever had before,” Sugarman said. “I think a lot of these investments will pay off over a long period of time, but I am pretty excited that we’ll see the beginning of the fruits of the labor this year. I think this is a big year for us, because the fans deserve it and certainly ownership wants to deliver a winning team.”