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.
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