Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If you build it they will come. I think. Maybe.

The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon (or, more accurately, his copy editors) asks the question of the day. In the 2008 sporting landscape, what’s the better bet? The CFL, with its made in Canada stamp of approval and place in your grandfather's heart? Or MLS, a “foreign” sport with a place in the heart of a lot of drunk 20-somethings in Toronto?

The answer might depend on whether the seminal album of your youth was Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or Nevermind. Or maybe whether you grew up watching Eurovision on TV, or The Dukes of Hazzard.

Eugene Melnyk is betting on the Euro youngsters. Jeff Hunt prefers his maple syrup nicely aged. The question, as outlined by Gordon, is what do Ottawa’s politicians and citizenry want.

There is no clear answer. Or, perhaps, based on Ottawa’s, um, checkered, sports past the answer is neither. That most people in Ottawa just want to put their 9 to 5 in while cheering for the Leafs/Habs on the tube and saving for their annual trip home to St. John’s.

Melnyk was trotting out the tired old example of youth soccer enrolment to back up his position that Ottawa is just dying to come out and support Capital City FC (can I trademark that now?). On the Fan590 he said that soccer in Ottawa would provide families with an opportunity to get out and “get fresh air” in the summer. That’s all fine and good, but the Family Fun Fridays approach to marketing MLS has never worked. Ever. Anywhere. L.A. aside (and I think we all know why the Galaxy draw) the most successful MLS teams at the box office (Houston, Chicago, Washington and Toronto) are the clubs that have best provided an environment that allows an organic supporters’ culture to develop.

It should be obvious, but the way to sell MLS is to market it to actual soccer fans. Very few of the 85,000 youth soccer players that Melynk spoke of yesterday are actually soccer fans—they like to chase a ball around once a week at the Y, but get up early on Saturday to watch the EPL? No.

What Melnyk should be doing is getting out to every faux British pub in the region to see just how many guys are clutching a Smithwick's while watching the Champions League on a Tuesday afternoon. If you can find more of those guys than you can find watching Friday Night Football on TSN, then you might just be onto something.

In Toronto (Ok, downtown Toronto) there really are more people tuned into the AC Milan - Fenerbahçe game than the Ti-Cats – Eskimos one. It isn’t clear whether the same thing is happening in Ottawa.

The Ottawa MLS bid is solid. It has a better chance to succeed than most people are suggesting. However, it just might not be a good idea.


Anonymous said...

It is a great idea if it leaves Ottawa with a wonderful modern stadium for multi-uses, even if soccer fails. Heck a city like Ottawa needs ons and we will find uses for it over the coming decades.

It is a great idea if Mr Melnyk and his associates take all the financial risk, and not we property taxpayers. Okay we can give him the snow dump to build on,as we can dump the snow at Lansdowne Park seeing as we do not need two large stadiums.

Irony--Melnyk's grandpa ran a soccer club in Toronto and Mr. M's parents met at one of the games.I guess he owes soccer something.

Irony--Mr. Shenkman . one of the members of the CFL franchise group owns a soccer team in England, but his plans for Lansdowne park may be derailed by a soccer team in Ottawa.

DR said...

If Sgt. Pepper was the seminal album of your youth, you aren't a drunk 20-something in Toronto, you are a 57-year-old man. And if Nevermind was the seminal album of your youth, you hate jocks. (Which doesn't necessarily mean that you hate sports.)

Duane Rollins said...

Actually I'd argue that a lot of the Nevermind folks would choose to pick soccer as their sport because it's the anti-jock sport in North America.

But I was really just trying to evoke my inner Nick Hornby with the music/sports cross pop culture referencing. I should have really worked a Simpson's reference in there too

Mike said...

I think the Ottawa bid has legs, but the last line of Duane's article is what I side with - it just might not be a good idea. You're right the MLS fails continuously with the "family first" approach, so for every Ottawa fan who wants the BMO atmosphere they won't get it. And then there's also the question about how many are actually going to drive out to Kanata to catch a game, when it took how many seasons for the Sens to build a stable attendance base?

I wish the MLS would start a 2nd division, put Ottawa in the USL for now, let them start and grow and prove their rabid fanbase there (as Van City and Montreal have), and then maybe move them up eventually if there's an opening. If the crowd would be that great for soccer in Ottawa they should come out for a USL team too, right?

Mikey said...

Bang on analysis D-Ro.

I like the shots at Ottawa too!

I think Melnyk is making this play last-minute now to help secure a franchise next time MLS expands.

But for that 'next time' to be successful, I think the stadium will have to be at Landsdowne to build that 'organic' soccer supporting culture and get enough fans. I can't stand the Palladium because it's so far and you can't have a pre/post game party. These drawbacks are obvious I know.

The passion for hockey in this town overcomes the geography of Scotiabank. For soccer, especially for support north of 25 000 (!?!) it is essential to off Bank Street.

Which brings us to the question of the day. How will the CFL and MLS groups come together or push each other towards failure?