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“We want Mallorca to be the best club in Spain” says American club president

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New Yorker and President of Real Mallorca, Andy Kohlberg, made it clear this week during an interview with the Bulletin that neither he nor his business partner Robert Sarver, have any interests whatsoever in selling the club, that they have big plans for the future and that they have invested in the club for the long haul.

This said, he did admit that it has been a “roller coaster” six-and-a half years since the takeover by the US investment group led by Phoenix Suns NBA team owners Kohlberg and Sarver, but his passion for the club and its future is stronger than ever.

“Yes, when we arrived, there were a number of challenges we had to face on and off the pitch. For a start, the club was 28 million euros in debt. But over the years, we’ve cleared the debt and invested a ballpark figure of around 50 million euros in the club and the infrastructure of the ground and its training facilities.

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“We’re extremely excited about the new extra seating, having got rid of the athletics track, and that’s going to help create a whole new and unique experience.

“It’s psychological. It’s great for the players to be nearer the fans but it’s also a new sensation for the fans being much closer to the pitch.

“The work has been carried out in record time, we’re very pleased with the contractors and this is only phase one. We are going to put a restaurant on top of the North Stand with decks and views of the pitch and the glorious Tramuntana mountains while also expanding the commercial and entertainment offer of the ground. We want to remove the barriers, make it more open to the city and the general public. We want the ground to operate 365 days as we move forward with our plans to transform the ground and the club into one of the best in Spain.

“Before we embarked on the renovations and improvements, we toured Spain, visited other clubs, spoke with directors so we could get the project right. Plus, having owned the Suns for the best part of 19 years, Robert and I have a great deal of experience in managing top flight sport in the United States, and some of the things we’ve done with the Suns will be introduced here eventually. However, while we’re building for the future, we are being very careful to protect, preserve and honour the great history of Real Mallorca and respect the wishes of the fans and the island,” he said.

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And since arriving in Mallorca, his love and passion for the club and the island has grown. He and his wife live in the centre of Palma and he says that while he may spend 30 days a year in Phoenix – home is San Diego – they spend at least 90 days a year in Mallorca.

Every time we have to leave and fly back to the States my wife Anika cries,” he added. “She loves it here, we all do.”

“But when we took over the club, we were not expecting the first few years to be up and down in the leagues. We wanted to get the club back in the top flight and stay there, but that’s sport, the nature of the beast.”

The concept of promotion and relegation, which doesn’t exist in the top US sports leagues, was something the investors had to quickly get their heads around.

In Spanish soccer, the financial difference between one level and the next can be vast. For the 2019/20 season, for instance, Mallorca played in the top flight and the broadcast income was about €45 million. In Segunda, it was about €6 million.

“So I guess that relegations and promotions did make running the club more difficult than we had expected, but I am confident that we’ve got things right now. With regard to the board, providing you have the right people, nothing else matters and I know that we have and that together we’re going to make Real Mallorca one of the top ten teams in Spain. It is what Mallorca deserves, and the club as an entity will eventually be transformed into one of the best in Spain.

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“We have an excellent board of directors and a great back team staff from the very top to the bottom and they are doing a great job.

“The club is now financially solid and I’m proud of the fact that every year we’ve come under the player fair play wage cap, which does complicated life but, just like with the Suns, we’ve never taken any money out of the club. On the contrary, it all goes back into the club and I think this year we have a good team and that the trajectory is certainly on the up. We’ve improved the Son Bibiloni training ground, invested in the academy and built a solid team, both on and off the pitch, so I am very confident about this season.

“I haven’t got a clue if we’ve had any interest from people wanting to buy the club, certainly not directly, but to be honest we’re not interested in selling. Like I said, we’ve had the Suns for nearly 20 years and when the we took over the team we didn’t set out a time frame. The same goes for Real Mallorca, we’re here for the long haul,” Kohlberg stressed.

But the big question is why did a group of American investors choose football and Spain?
“Both Robert and I love football but in the States it’s not that popular, it’s about the fourth or fifth most popular sport, in some states its sixth or seventh. We did look at the MSL league, but it didn’t grab us to be honest. So we turned our focus to Spain and Europe where football is the number one sport in nearly every country. We wanted a new challenge and we could see great potential in Mallorca, where football is very much the top sport. Plus, we wanted to share the experience we’ve gained from the Suns. We wanted to make going to see Real Mallorca play much more that a 90 minute experience. We want the fans and visitors to enjoy all the attractions the club is going to offer. It is eventually going to offer a unique experience to both the fans and visitors to the stadium throughout the year.”

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Kohlberg says the strategy requires becoming “best in class” in three areas: player acquisition, developing academy players and fan experience.

But this will not arrive by spending unsustainably. The promotions have been achieved through careful investing and Kohlberg knows the “winning culture” he wants to nurture does not happen overnight.
It is hoped the option of a more entertainment-focused experience may lure more fans, including some of the roughly 14 million tourists who visit the island each year.

“Plus, ever since ESPN bought the US rights to La Liga last year for eight years, interest in the Spanish league is steadily growing in the States. Before it was a nightmare trying to find a channel showing the games, but now even the likes of ABC are showing matches and CNN and NBC and other big networks are showing highlights and following La Liga. So its following in the States is growing and that’s great for us. Plus, we have some shared sponsors and we’re in talks with Mallorcan companies with regard to sponsoring the Suns, while we’re also looking to attract Americans to sponsor Real Mallorca.

“To push that along, we’re talking about taking Real Mallorca on an exhibition tour of the United States next summer. We had a team interested last summer but Covid put an end to that, and we’d like to bring the Suns over to Spain and Mallorca for an exhibition tour as well, so there’s plenty going on,” said Kohlberg, who grew up with and played against John McEnroe some 15 times when he was a budding professional tennis player.

The new La Liga season has just begun and Real Mallorca’s American owners have no intention of taking their eye off the ball – there’s plenty more excitement to come on and off the pitch.

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