Yahoo! multimillionaire part of Kerfoot-Nash bid to bring MLS here
NBA star Steve Nash may have provided the glitz for last week's Vancouver Whitecaps announcement of an official bid for a Major League Soccer Franchise, but another B.C.-born high achiever may turn out to the most valuable player.
Jeff Mallett, an icon of the Internet technology boom that lit up stock markets from the mid-to-late 1990s, was also introduced as being a member of the group supporting the Whitecaps' MLS bid. Mallett, 43, was one of the first 12 employees at Yahoo! Inc. in 1995 when the Internet was first becoming commercialized, and helped transform the fledgling company into a billion-dollar business with 4,000 workers as president and chief operating officer before he left in 2002.
Born in North Vancouver and moved to Victoria when he was 11, Mallett was also an elite soccer player, being selected to the national team pool in 1982 and 1983 as well as playing for University of Victoria.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Province on Tuesday, Mallett said he intends to put his considerable talents to work on behalf of the MLS bid and become part of the ownership group -- along with Nash and current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot -- if it is successful.
"We haven't put pen to paper on anything official," said Mallett, who resides in the San Francisco area. "But, yes, Greg and I and Steve are good friends. We've been thinking this through for a year-plus and I'll be contributing to this in a financial way."
Not only does Mallett have the wherewithal to help finance an expansion franchise -- his personal worth was estimated to be $142 million in 2002 -- his business connections, understanding of the professional sports world and heavyweight reputation should be invaluable to the Whitecaps' MLS bid.
Mallett is a part-owner of Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants and has close relationships with MLS management that dates back to his time with Yahoo!
"In 1997, Yahoo became one of the major sponsors of MLS," said Mallett. "So I got to know [MLS commissioner] Don Garber and [President] Mark Abbott. I've been in and out of their offices pretty consistently the last couple of years, helping them with their digital strategy."
Mallett got to know fellow Victoria native Nash through charity events over the years. The two, who share a passion for soccer, have become close friends. They announced earlier this year they will finance a U.S.-based women's professional league, which will begin play in 2009.
Mallett had been talking with Nash about investing in a British soccer club, but they got thinking about the Whitecaps -- a team they both followed.
"We were sitting around and we thought, 'Hey, what about the Caps?'" said Mallett. "We're always on the phone to Marty [Nash's brother Martin, a Whitecaps midfielder] to find out how they're doing. I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Greg, so I literally cold-called. I was on a plane a few days later, and was up there getting to know him and caught a Caps game. We've spent a year or so getting to know each other, our philosophies, background, common people we know."
Mallett, who's been a Whitecaps fan since he attended NASL games at Empire Stadium as a youngster, said he thinks the opportunity for an MLS franchise in Vancouver is good, but that competition for the two spots in 2011 will be high.
"There are some real business factors to go into it," Mallett said. "Adding Canadian clubs to the group is a little more complex than putting another team in the media footprint in the U.S.
"It's fantastic what the [Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment] group has done in Toronto. Their supporters and the financial model that's coming out of there is the best in MLS. With Greg's vision and the residency program building up, it's what I call MLS 2.0. They really want to see the next generation of owners have the financial means and the [fan] interest, but also have the desire to have world-class clubs.
"I like our chances of coming into the league because of what Toronto's done, and there's a West Coast equivalent in Vancouver. But there's only two slots, and there's eight or nine qualified people who are stepping forward."
© The Vancouver Province 2008