For the first time in their history, the Houston Dynamo have independent ownership – and it's led by a familiar face.
The club announced on Tuesday that a group led by Gabriel Brener – a minority owner for eight years, and a regular at Dynamo home games – has purchased controlling interest. Brener & Co. take over from former majority owners AEG, which once oversaw as many as six MLS teams but now manage only the LA Galaxy.
MLSsoccer.com spoke with Brener by phone to learn more about his feelings on the club, what prompted him to step up his investment and what the fans can expect on and off the field under his stewardship.
MLSsoccer.com: You have been an investor in the club for eight years. What led to you increasing your interest to take control of the club?
Gabriel Brener: I am a true believer in MLS and the league has a lot of room to grow still … Mr. [Phillip] Anschutz, as the only owner with more than one team, it was the right thing for him to do to sell his 60-percent ownership. And it was a case of good timing – I was able to move fast and get the deal done. I’m a true believer in MLS and the future of the league, and the opportunity arose and I took it.
MLSsoccer.com: What changes might we see to the team with you as the principal owner?
Brener: There’s a great number of good ideas we plan to implement going forward, but the No. 1 thing is now there is a true person, some family behind the name of the team like in other markets, and not just a corporate logo. I hope that will resonate in a very positive way with our fan base and sponsors.
MLSsoccer.com: You are already a regular at BBVA Compass Stadium. Can we expect to see you at the BBVA more in the coming year and more around Houston?
Brener: That’s for sure. I’ll be attending many, many games. I’m not foreign to Houston. My history with Houston goes over 40 years: My sister’s been there for 40 years, I have two sisters in Houston, and I have nieces and nephews in Houston; I got married in Houston; my grandparents used to live in Houston and they are buried in Houston. There’s a huge space in my heart for the city of Houston.
I don’t really live anywhere to speak of. Unfortunately, I live on an airplane. So am I a Houstonian? It depends on how you want to see it.
MLSsoccer.com: You seem to have that connection to the city; how have you been involved in the daily goings-on of the club over the years?
Brener: One of the things that made me go for buying the other 50 percent of the team, together with a true local Houstonians in Ben Guill and Mr. [Jake] Silverstein, is that I was spending so much time on the day-to-day decisions of the team and being up to date on what was going on all the time. If not being at every game, then watching every game and texting and emailing with [Dynamo president] Chris [Canetti] and with the training staff and coaching staff about the game before or after. My involvement’s been, not 100 percent, but a good 80 percent and for me to include that other 20 percent is going to be very easy. This is now my responsibility to my investors and I’m going to be there for them.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you feel a connection to Houston's Mexican-American and Hispanic population and a need to connect with that fan base?
Brener: Clearly, there’s that connection and it’s something we’ll work on. But at the same time we will not ignore the other communities in the city of Houston. In my opinion, we are all immigrants in this country; it’s a great country and we do not want to insult anybody. Houston, from what I understand, is more diverse in its minority component than even New York City. So I think we have to face the reality and go forward that way.
MLSsoccer.com: The last two years have not gone the way anyone with the Dynamo would have wanted. What is your message to the club brass as to what you want to see moving forward?
Brener: Last year was truly a transition year for the team in many aspects, [with] a new coaching staff and a head coach that came from overseas and had to get used to the way MLS works and the American way of life. We also changed a lot of the players, so it was a truly transition year that I think was a good working lesson for everybody to cement a good foundation for the coming years and make the team much better. I’m confident we’re going to go back to the Houston Dynamo of three seasons ago and we have a very good future ahead of us, as far as putting good results on the scoreboard and having a good fan experience at the stadium and a winning team.
MLSsoccer.com: What is your idea of the optimal fan experience?
Brener: I think everybody wants to have a winning team, that’s for sure. But a good connection between the team and the fans, and having the right player mix that identifies with everybody, and the children coming and being in a safe environment and having a fun day. It’s what we want to create.
MLSsoccer.com: The Dynamo have dipped into the transfer market somewhat aggressively the past few years. What should fans expect about the spending practices of the club under your direction, as far as players are concerned?
Brener: We’ll continue with the philosophy of trying to find the right players for the market and for the team. [Players who] will be a good mix in the locker room with the rest of the players and the right fit for our team. We’ll continue to look for different opportunities, and when it’s the right one we’ll pull the trigger. If we don’t feel that way, then we’ll wait for the next one.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.