Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Ottawa soccer question: Part 3

Part three of four of the Ottawa soccer question below the jump.

Football Vs. football

The history of Canadian football (gridiron) pre-dates the history of Canada. In 1861, at the University of Toronto, the first documented game took place. It’s been a part of the Canadian sports fabric ever since. At times it’s been at the forefront of Canadian culture, at others it’s been close to extinction. But, no one can deny that it’s a part of us and has been for a long time.

The history of soccer in Canada is two years older. Yet it’s never talked about in the same way that Canadian football is. Even though there has been periods of high popularity (like the CFL) and pockets of strong support – and areas of indifference -- (like the CFL) soccer is forever dismissed as being “illegitimate” in the eyes of many Canadian sports fans, particularly those of a certain age.

However, it’s important to remember that soccer has a history every bit as long as Canadian football when framing the current stadium debate in Ottawa. Canadian football fans will pull the heritage card out at all opportunities. Canadian soccer fans will slowly burn as they have their patriotism called into question.

Allow me a moment of personal disclosure here. This debate makes me uncomfortable. You see, I love both sports. Long before I was soccer blogger boy I was CIS football blogger boy. Being in the stands watching my Alma matter (Wilfrid Laurier University. GO HAWKS!) win the 2005 Canadian university football championship is a memory I will take to my grave. I follow the CFL. I would be devastated if the game were to ever disappear from the sporting landscape in Canada.

But make no mistake. It is a debate. Ottawa has a choice to make and that choice is between our football and their football. Sadly both can’t win. The Hunt group may say that its Lansdowne Live project could host soccer, but there is literally no way that MLS will come into Ottawa without a soccer specific stadium. The league may make allowances with a Seattle, but Ottawa’s bid needs to be perfect to have a chance. So, it’s Kanata or bust for Capital City FC.

Here is where the debate needs to turn local. I can sit in my den in Toronto and tell people in Ottawa what’s best for them (it would certainly feed a stereotype), but the truth is Ottawa needs to answer this question for itself. What sport does it want more?

Speculating, it’s difficult to think that soccer can win the day. As stated above, the sport is still viewed as being outside of the mainstream, in spite of having a history just as long as Canadian football. One of the reasons for that is that soccer experienced a dead period in its popularity that ran from about 1945 to 1970 – the baby boomers formative years. The boomers -- God love ‘em – still hold most of the influence in the country. They hold the money and they are in positions of power in the media. And to this generation, soccer is a non-starter.

There are exceptions to that, of course, but those exceptions usually have accents. And, as much as people don’t want to talk about this topic, that makes a difference. Accent bombers don’t need a soccer team because they already have one. In Manchester. Or Glasgow. Or Milan. Or...

As those of us in Toronto heard for years, those fans won’t turn out to watch MLS. Except some did. And it turned out that we didn’t need them to turn out anyway. Boomers have little to do with TFC’s success. That’s mostly on the Xers and Yers, fans that grew up expecting soccer on TV, hanging out in pubs watching the Champions League and wishing that they had a team of their own. One they could see in person and not just on the tube.

And here’s the thing. Just as soccer had a dark period that ran from ‘45ish to ‘70ish, the CFL had its own black period. It ran from about 1970 to 1995, when it was next to impossible to find the CFL on TV and a generation – about the same generation most likely to look at soccer as a legitimate sporting option in Canada – was lost.

So the debate in Ottawa can almost been seen as a battle of the generations. The old versus the new. What’s the best bet for the city moving forward?

As stated, I love the CFL. But, is it really the better bet for Ottawa. Really? In 2025 will there be more CFL fans in Ottawa than soccer fans? I know what my money is on.

But I don’t matter. The question is what Ottawa wants to bet on. Maybe after watching the CFL fail twice before (and I fully acknowledge that the last failure had everything to do with ownership. I just don’t think that matters when you are talking about people’s perceptions), Ottawa’s about done with Canadian football.

Maybe it’s time to embrace a new, old thing.

Type rest of the post here


Anonymous said...

"I can sit in my den in Toronto and tell people in Ottawa what’s best for them (it would certainly feed a stereotype), but the truth is Ottawa needs to answer this question for itself."

Thank you!

"The boomers -- God love ‘em – still hold most of the influence in the country."

Eugene Melnyk (born May 27, 1959 in Toronto, Ontario)

"...the CFL had its own black period. It ran from about 1970 to 1995, when it was next to impossible to find the CFL on TV and a generation – about the same generation most likely to look at soccer as a legitimate sporting option in Canada – was lost."

That was a southern Ontario thing. Ottawa didn't have the same kind of blackout issue. The people I know from this age group who left the CFL fold didn't gravitate towards soccer. They became NFL-first fans.

"As stated, I love the CFL. But, is it really the better bet for Ottawa. Really? In 2025 will there be more CFL fans in Ottawa than soccer fans?"

Unlike the glory days of the 60s and 70s, football is now huge on the Quebec side. Brad Watters, a Torontonian, wrote off trying to market the Renegades to Gatineau or French-speaking Ottawa, for that matter. I'm anglo as they come, and even I was infuriated at the lack of French. Anyone with any understanding of the Ottawa-Gatineau market could tap into that new block of football fans.

As for new Canadians, Ottawa has been the been getting them since about 1834. None of them came from countries playing three-down football, yet Ottawa has been a football town for over a century. I don't get that "immigrants will choose soccer at the expense of the CFL" argument.

Duane, I know a lot of Xers and Yers. In fact, I'm related to some. True, they're more receptive to soccer than I am, but the CFL brand resonates with them. I honestly think it's an Ottawa thing.

Doesn't OOLF have an Ottawan who could chime in on this?


KML said...

I'm just a lowly reader, but I am an Ottawan that can chime in.

My thesis: Soccer in Ottawa would work wonderfully if they could put the team downtown in a new stadium, but will fail miserably in Kanata.

I agree with the above-point that the CFL failed in part because it wasn't marketed to Gatineau. Similarly, putting a team in Kanata (as from Gatineau as possible in the NCR) would essentially dismiss that portion of the market.

More importantly, they would lose the 20-something walk-up crowd - the same crowd that first flooded TFC games and spends an awful lot of money on concessions. The Renegades failed in this area too by overcharging, but I honestly believe (as an Ottawa 20-something) that the CFL just didn't appeal to young people.

MLS would have appeal because it is new and we've all seen the success of TFC. However, as blunt as this sounds, many fans won't want to have to drive home after the game. If Melnyk thinks he can succeed by going after "boomers" in Kanata, he's either fooling himself or an idiot.

Dennis Prouse said...

Someone pointed out yesterday that this debate is similar to the one Toronto saw in the mid-90s. At that time, both the Leafs and Raptors swore they could never work together on an arena project, and both teams were pursuing separate ventures. The shovels were in the ground at the ACC, in fact, when common sense prevailed and the two sides united behind one proposal. I expect that the same thing will happen here.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny people say the team would fail in kanata.Lets not forget people said the same thing about the senators.

Anonymous said...

Much as I try to like it, you may as well go to a park and watch 22 youngsters with nets try to catch butterflies. (Score would be the same, NIL-NIL.)

The rural citizens of Perth/Smiths Falls/Carleton Place/Stittsville may find it easy to get to Kanata, but that doesn't mean they will. A soccer-only venue in Kanata? Why in heck wouldn't you play at a revitalized Lansdowne alongside the CFL? It's the same sized rectangle basically.

MLS is a financial disaster attempting to float itself on outrageous expansion fees. Whether or not you like soccer, there is no way this market remotely approximates Toronto (one of the only teams "breaking even", though of course, you don't own teams in the MLS, only shares in the league, which means you lose money). I wish we were a sporting nation that supported all sports, college-pro-ladies-mens in every season. But we barely support hockey below NHL. I hope we get there, but we're not there yet.

I suppose if Melnyk can prop up a small-market hockey team, he's free to burn his cash on this too, which for the money-losing MLS, makes this a GREAT market.

Anonymous said...

Professional Poll done by Ekos Research Associates published in today's Ottawa Citizen.

Almost a dead tie between those who want CFL and those who want MLS.

Ottawans overwhelmingly want Lansdowne revitalized and reject putting a stadium in Kanata. Many of the soccer supporters select LP over Kanata.

Pretty much what I expected that Ottawans want. I am sure there will be more polls done before this is over.


sager said...

Hi y'all,

We would be remiss not to point out the highlights of the story in the Paper of Record today. Briefly.

Forty-four per cent of 871 surveyed (not a scientific sample; you need at least 1,000) want MLS, 43% want CFL, 13% are undecided.

"When asked their preferred location for a multi-purpose sports complex, 79 per cent named Lansdowne Park. Fifteen per cent chose Kanata.

"... Ekos president Frank Graves cautioned that some of that support is driven by cynicism sharpened by years of indecision over how to deal with Lansdowne’s deteriorating condition.

" 'A lot of people have trouble believing anything will ever get done to fix what they consider to be an embarrassment,' Mr. Graves said Friday. 'They think we’ve packed our bags for a trip that will never happen.' " (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, you can't say Ottawans want it so much as it's better than nothing.

Meantime, the Citizen's Richard Starnes is saying MLS and CFL could share a stadium.

I would say that the Ottawa media have really dropped the ball in terms of pointing out MLS (not the MLS) has suffered some setbacks, in particular the loss of its Thursday night game on ESPN2. One paper ran two columns which were favourable to bringing back the CFL, but has not given any voice to someone in favour of the MLS.

Anonymous said...

To achieve a margin of error of -/+ 4% , with a confidence level of 95%(19/20 times) with a population of 850,000, such as Ottawa, your sample size need only be 600.

The Ekos people say that:"The poll is considered accurate to within 3.3 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times in 20."
This is a confidence level and confidence interval consistent with any professional public opinion poll I have seen.

I agree Ottawans are cynical about anything getting done with LP soon. Our city council is not known for its decisiveness. Hence, the cynicism.


sager said...

Thanks for the explanation, OF ... I was going off the one stats class I took (which I lost interest in after 3 weeks since it was so poorly organized) that said 1,000 was a good benchmark for a survey. If 600 is enough to get the desired margin of error, I stand corrected.

Bottom line, people could argue that the media in Ottawa has not done very well getting the opinion of the 44% who want MLS. I'm cool with either league coming to town.

Anonymous said...

I would like both at LP. I hope the media does do a better job of explaining all the issues from now on.
Richard Starnes, a soccer writer for The Citizen has an article today--Feb 14---that indicates that LP could host both.

To get a confidence level of 99%, the poll needed a sample size of 1039. Most public opinion polls settle for the 95% level because it is cheaper and accurate enough to satisfy most clients of polling companies.


Anonymous said...

To the comment we barely support anything below the nhlThat is not tru at all yes citys like toronto that is true.But take ottawa they 67s avg 7,000 a game.