De La Hoya brings heavyweight class to Houston

Martin Rogers

MANCHESTER, England – Needing to catch a flight back to the United States, Oscar De La Hoya had been bombarded by dozens of repetitive questions, and he was starting to get slightly irked by constantly having to spell out details of a November fight involving one of his boxers, British light welterweight Ricky Hatton.

The creases immediately dropped from De La Hoya's brow when the subject switched to the Houston Dynamo.

In another step in the expansion of his burgeoning business, De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions acquired a significant stake in the two-time defending MLS Cup champions earlier this year. He could not wait to share some of his soccer philosophy.

"MLS is growing at such a rapid pace and it is only the beginning," De La Hoya said. "To be involved with the Houston Dynamo, the back-to-back national champions, is a tremendous opportunity for us within the sport.

"We want to create the best team in MLS. You have David Beckham and Landon Donovan who are great for the Los Angeles Galaxy. But we want to create the New York Yankees of soccer – that is the idea."

De La Hoya already has a franchise with a steep championship tradition. Under highly regarded coach Dominic Kinnear, the Dynamo have won four of the past seven league titles (the first two in San Jose as the Earthquakes).

Given the fluid and unpredictable nature of boxing and its politics, the Dynamo might be the department that has the most clearly defined blueprint at Golden Boy. Despite ongoing negotiations for a new stadium, the team's future lies in Houston.

De La Hoya's understanding and interest in the Dynamo reaches far deeper than simply wearing their colors (which he did for his recent victory over Steve Forbes). He spoke with knowledge about the club's Argentinean striker Franco Caraccio and talked about his desire to increase the number of Hispanic players in the squad in order to appeal to a wider market.

"Right now, the majority of our players are Caucasian," De La Hoya said. "We are looking at different options to bring in the best players from Mexico because of Houston having such a large Latino population. We want to maybe bring in a couple of players from Mexico and mix it up a little."

Houston's return of just 11 points from its first 10 games of the MLS campaign is a surprisingly poor tally, but Kinnear and his players showed last year that they can be slow starters and still drag themselves up off the canvas later in the season.

As for Golden Boy, its sights are focused firmly on the bigger and longer-term picture. CEO Richard Schaefer believes the company's expertise in pugilistic promotion can be invaluable in MLS.

"If you look at boxing and soccer, they have a very similar fanbase," Schaefer said. "In the United States, the Hispanics love both and there is tremendous room for growth.

"Everything we have a best-of-class approach. And when it comes to soccer in the U.S. it is clear that Houston is the best-managed and best-run team. It is in a great market, it is a defending champion, so we are very excited to be owners and we think there will be opportunities to really combine soccer and boxing together.

"If I had to pick one sport and say which one will be 'it' 10 years from now, I would say it is going to be soccer. You really see the grassroots taking hold and I really like the shift that is taking place."

Don't expect Golden Boy's involvement with soccer to remain restricted to the United States. De La Hoya and Schaefer have already looked into the possibility of buying into the British market, where the English Premier League is a monstrous cash machine and an exclusive meeting point for some of the world's leading businessmen.

When a journalist joked that the ongoing expansion might cause a name change from Golden Boy to Global Boy, Schaefer just smiled. "I like the sound of that," he said.

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