Thursday, June 19, 2008

Soccer? Ottawa?!? Is this a Glieberman thing?

I don't know whether to laugh or cry with the news that yet another Canadian city wants in on this whole MLS thing. For years Canadian soccer fans dreamed of a pan-Canadian professional league to take the place of the departed (and underrated from a sport development standpoint) Canadian Soccer League. Studies were conducted. Soccer geeks spent hours devising elaborate league set-ups on Internet discussion forums (Do you think Charlottetown can support a team? What about Summerside?).

But, it was hopeless. Canadians won't support soccer, we were told time and time again.

Then, TFC happened. Suddenly, soccer seemed feasible, even profitable. When MLS commissioner Don Garber asked Richard Peddie midway through last year if there was anything the league could do to assist Toronto Peddie's response was "yeah, give us two more teams."

The sad truth to all of this is that it took inclusion in an American league for the untapped soccer market to emerge in Toronto. And, it's the sight of 20,000 beer swilling nuts at BMO Field that makes other Canadian investors eyes light up.

Why is it that we as Canadians continually bash our neighbours to the south while at the same time we desperately want to be included in the fun things they do? In the wonderful book Why I hate Canadians author Will Ferguson sums up the typical Canadian's attitude towards America as this: "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you; why won't you pay attention to me?"

To put a soccer spin on things: "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it; Oh, wait, the Americans are doing it?

Perhaps that's a battle for another day (however, if you love this country and you haven't read Ferguson's book, pull out your VISA and follow the link above...).

But Ottawa? Seriously?

I'm not an Ottawa basher. My financée lived in the city for 16-months during our long and winding courtship and we both found the city to have its charms. If it wasn't so damn cold in February (and I was richer than I am--why didn't I go to business school again?) I'd get myself a nice little place in the Glebe and be perfectly happy. So, in summary: Don't hate Ottawa.

However, I gotta question the logic of putting a professional soccer team in the city. Especially at the MLS level. To succeed in MLS you would need about 15,000 people per game in attendance. Ottawa's sports history woulds suggest that 15k over the long haul would be a stretch. I'm not sure Ottawa has the population base to find 15k soccer diehards. Especially if, as they suggested yesterday, they were to build the stadium in Kanata (one of the biggest issues in the U.S. with attendance is that most of the stadiums have been built in the suburbs. Toronto bucked the trend and BMO's location is widely pointed at as a key to TFC's success).

A more reasonable goal for Ottawa might be a USL franchise. There, crowds of 5,000 would make the thing profitable and a USL team would still provide the city with a great deal of value and benefit to the soccer community. And, there is little doubt that the city could get a team. If they put the money down today, there is a good chance they would be kicking a ball by next spring.

Then again, maybe Ottawa is sick of being considered a minor league town. Maybe the soccer equivalent of the Lynx isn't good enough and the city's sports fans want the (relatively speaking) major leagues or nothing at all. Those closer to the scene might have a better idea of that than I.

It is worth remembering how much Ottawa embraced the FIFA u-20s last summer. Many people, myself included, were taken by surprise at how successful the games were in the capital. I remember thinking at the time that a team might just work there. Of course, as already outlined, I was thinking of a USL team.

Regardless, it is a long shot. Ottawa is late into this game and there are a few American cities that would appear to be ahead. However, MLS is a funny animal. Talk of Toronto didn't really heat up until a couple months before the team was actually awarded. If a city can line up solid investors and put a shovel in the ground for a soccer specific stadium, it will jump to the front of the line.

In short, Ottawa in MLS seems crazy. But MLS is a little crazy sometimes.


Anonymous said...

The good news is who is talking about it. Melnyk and his Capital Sports marketing group should have the money and the marketing expertise to make it happen.They do seem to want to expand beyond owning and operating the Senators.
They got involved with university basketball (MBNA Hoops Classic, partnering with Carleton to get the BBall Championships). They got involved with bringing The World Junior Hockey championship to Ottawa,which is already a sell out.
Three years or so ago it was said that Melnyk put out feelers to bring CFL football back to Ottawa, but wanted ownership or complete management control of Lansdowne Park to do so. The City was not keen to jump on board with what he wanted, so that quickly died.
So, it looks like he is still searching out ways to expand his sport empire in Ottawa, but with something ongoing, not just a one time event.
Where would they play? Well they could build their own stadium near Scotiabank Place, as Mr Melnyk seems to like controlling the venue where his teams play. The Jeff Hunt lead CFL consortium, and Melnyk owned MLS franchise operating out of Frank Clair Stadium, would give an awesone boost to those in favour of refurbishing the old derelict.
During the ongoing FCS debate the most oft mentioned site for a completely new stadium was the lands adjacent to the Hurdman bus station, a very central site.
Finally , uOttawa still hopes to build a stadium adjacent to the Queensway near the Sandy Hill campus; if they can ever get through the politics of assembling the land Ottawa's central core. Never an easy task. However, Mr Melnyk might consider combining his resources with the univerity's resources to build a downtown stadium suitable for the university's needs and his MLS team.
There are some exciting possibities for sports in Ottawa, what with the possible return of the CFL , this MLS possibity,and new stadiums and /or a refurbished one. It will take a few more seasons to see how it all plays out, and what flies and what does not


sager said...

Cynic's response: A soccer team? Finally, a way to make Jason Spezza look tough.

Kidding, of course. About Melnyk, not so much about Spezza and some of the other Sennies.

When the conditional CFL franchise was awarded, I did say to people, "I wonder if we're going after the wrong kind of football team."

Melnyk might be a little late to the game. Hasn't the MLS also said they want to cap expansion at about 16 teams? After Seattle begins play for the 2009 season, they would only have one spot left for a second franchise in Canada -- Ottawa might be outgunned going up against Montreal or Vancouver. Those cities have a track record with the MLS, they're more known to Americans and hasn't Montreal already opened Saputo Stadium?

Like OttawaFan says, though, it would be a dream to have that Queensway stadium, 18,000 seats, with the Ottawa MLS team, John Pugh's Fury system and the Gee-Gees football and soccer teams each playing out of there. A city of this size can't not have a stadium.

Mike said...

I too have not been impressed with turnouts for Ottawa Sports at various levels over the years - they are starting to bring more events into the City and are responding well, so that's a good sign, but hopefully the interest remains. It IS a great City, which is why it's weird they don't always bring out the best numbers - Sens excluding (rink out in the middle of nowhere!).

But an MLS team? It seems that the natural progression for Canadian teams in the MLS it seems it's one of either Vancouver or Montreal (hopefully both get in though!). I agree with Duane Ottawa should start with a USL team, not the hardest to land a franchise and the City can prove its fanbase there first.

As much as Ottawa may want to show they're a professional league city I guarantee Montreal and Vancouver want to as well, and they've already got the leg up by showing how soccer succeeds in their towns, - and they've been proving that point for a while now.

Anonymous said...

Neate's closing line is correct. The National Capital Region needs to have a stadium. We need to dream a little and try to turn dreams into reality. As those great philosophers--The Rolling Stones sang---You can't always get what you want,but if you try, you will find, that you get what you need.

The key , in my mind to get what we need, is partnerships and coalitions among sports groups, business, the City, universities; you name it. Through coalitions that dream of a Queensway stadium might just happen.

We need a good venue for track and field national and international events as well. Ottawa now has a good indoor track training facility in the Louis Riel Dome. Good facilities foster good results. In its first season of existence, and training at Louis Riel,uOttawa's fledgling track team captured 4 silver and 1 bronze at the CIS National Championships March 6-9, 2008. A good start.
So while football and soccer people hate tracks around their fields, Ottawa does need a good stadium/s for all these outdoor sports.
I do not know much about MLS, but if we dream--and if we try to get what we want, we might find, that we get what we need.


sager said...

That's like my second-favourite Stones song after Paint It Black (which only became No. 1 because it was the theme song to the old TV show Tour Of Duty).

Melnyk would probably be the one to get it done. I like to bag on the Senators, but they do make an effort to support the other sports interests in the city (perhaps it's guilt for the fact the media only covers them). They've supported to start-up hockey programs at Carleton, they've supported minor hockey and I also believe our Canadian Women's Hockey League entry will use the Senators names and colours this season.

sager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duane Rollins said...

MLS is looking to cap teams at 18 (so they say anyway). Currently, there is 14 teams, with Seattle and Philly the next two in.

Garber has indicated on several occasions that St. Louis is likely the next city in after that.

If Vancouver can get its stadium built I suspect you will see them grab the 18th spot. If not, I think it's Montreal's (although Miami will have something to say about it).

What I really think is that they won't cap it at 18.

Dennis Prouse said...

I would see Melnyk's play for an MLS team as further momentum towards a renovation of Frank Clair Stadium. Sure, they could consider a new facility, but why go that route when you have a stadium already there? The cost of steel, concrete and labour has climbed considerably in recent years. BMO Field, for instance, cost $60 million to build, and that didn't get them many whistles and bells.

I know the Glebeites would like all of Lansdowne turned into a giant dog walking park, but Clive Doucet's attempts to paint Frank Clair Stadium as decrepit are grossly misleading. The southside lower deck at Frank Clair can be replaced for about $6 million. Add another $6 million for some basic renovations and a new scoreboard, and you have a perfectly good stadium at a fraction of what a new one would cost. (Funny how it seemed to work just fine for the Rolling Stones and the FIFA U-20.) Ripping down existing infrastructure makes very little sense.

I get the sense that Melnyk and Jeff Hunt have each other's cell phone numbers. One way or another, some coordination will have taken place behind the scenes here, and the details will soon emerge.

Finally, does anyone really think that the MLS is going to turn down Melnyk's money? "Sorry, Mr. Melnyk, but we have capped our team numbers. We will just have to turn down your money." Hardly. Expansion fees are like manna from heaven for sports leagues. Like junior hockey in the last number of years, they'll find room for one more team.

Mike said...

Question for Duane - does the whole delegation/relegation system just not work over here in North America? Why not cap it but create a Second Division as well? Is it that North American fans won't come out and watch a product they feel is deemed inferior? (2nd Division as opposed to 1st)

Very good point about the stadium concerns, that clearly the #1 issue for Ottawa and what has to be resolved first and foremost before any serious looks into the MLS can be given.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that DP is right in saying that Hunt and Melnyk have each others cell phone numbers. After all, they worked pretty well together to get the 2009 WJHC into Ottawa.
DP's take on bringing the FCS up to snuff is probaly correct as well. So let us hope they can convince the City that it is the way to go.
( By the way, was not the City supposed to demolish the lower south side stands this spring? Tomorrow is the first day of summer, and this week I went by there and there are no signs of any demolition taking place.)

So if Jeff and Eugene save FCS, that leaves uOttawa to build its own Queensway stadium , and to partner with the Ottawa Lions Track Club to raise money to include fine track and field facilities as well.

P.S--maybe Melnyk should build a major race track in Ottawa, so he can showcase his stable of thoroughbreds to the Senators' faithful.


Duane Rollins said...

Pro/rel in NA is a bit dicey for one major reason--the teams are franchises, rather than clubs in an association.

To institute a pro/rel system, you would need to have every single franchise sign off on it. Otherwise the league would be in breach of its franchise agreement with teams if it tried to relegate.

It's possible, I suppose, but it's far more likely that European leagues will eliminate pro/rel than MLS bringing it in.