Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ottawa stadium debate: Hunt talks USL

It sounds like the USL is on a par with the calibre of the MLS and if things don't work out in Kanata, it might be worth looking into. It certainly represents a way to test the waters of professional soccer in Ottawa at much less risk.
That's Jeff Hunt of Ottawa's CFL bid. Putting aside his absurd assertion that USL-1 is the same calibre as MLS (yes USL-1 fans, it's absurd. The soccer is fine, but it isn't on par with a league that spends roughly four times as much money on salaries), it is the first time that someone from that side of the stadium debate in Ottawa has actually articulated the USL-1 idea. It's been hinted at before, but no one has ever come out and said it.

Clearly MLS is the best option for Canadian soccer. And it would work in Ottawa. It would work in any Canadian city. The country is ready to embrace the sport at the club level. But, if MLS isn't an option another USL-1 team is (literally) the next best thing.

Soccer fans in the capital need to keep the pressure on Hunt et al. to live up to this promise if they win the day on April 22.

The win-loss stat provided in the linked article is misleading because it fails to take into consideration the squad rotation that most MLS teams use when playing USL-1 teams. Essentially, they play the scrubs against a team that is geared up to prove something. When it's best on best, USL wins teams over MLS teams are rare. If you look at the U.S. Open Cup competition (the only competition where the two leagues have met over a long enough period to gauge anything) you'll find that in the semi-finals or later (when MLS starts to take it seriously) of that tournament the USL has not won a game against MLS competition since 1999.

Famously Montreal won the Canadian championship last year against a weak TFC team. However, it is worth pointing out that they did so without actually defeating Toronto and it was Vancouver's win over TFC on Canada Day (combined with Montreal's mastery of Vancouver in the tournament) that handed the championship to the Impact. And the 'Caps win over Toronto was a case of a goaltender standing on his head during a second half onslaught by Toronto. The point being that, yes, upsets happen, but that it's unlikely that it will be a trend. MLS pays roughly four times more salary than USL-1 does. Clearly it's a better league. There is no debate here -- other than by USL-1 partisans in Canada that are as much influenced by wanting to knock big, bad Toronto down a notch than by the cold logic of the situation.

This isn't to say that USL wouldn't be a good fit in Ottawa. In many ways it does make more sense. MLS would have a better chance of capturing the imagination of the city than a league that is clearly minor league.

Getting their balls in a row; The stadium battle could be shaping up to include a faceoff between competing soccer leagues (Chris Stevenson, Sun Media)
Lansdowne doesn’t need a stadium, mayor says; O'Brien suggests updating Civic Centre, dealing with football/soccer issue separately (Mohamed Adam, Ottawa Citizen)
New plan combines soccer, football (Randall Denley, Ottawa Citizen)

(Cross-posted to The 24th Minute).


Anonymous said...

Interesting things seem to be happening behind the scenes in Ottawa the last couple of days. If one believes what is being "leaked" the landscape could look a lot different.The mayor has been talking to Team Hunt and Team Melnyk and appears to be trying to broker a compromise.
Randall Denley in the Citizen says that Team Hunt seems willing to compromise a lot.
Under the talked about scheme , city money would renovate or rebuild the arena that Hunt's 67's use. Team Hunt would get commercial development rights to part of Lansdowne, notably the part that fronts on Bank street, and some greenspace would be left, (Presumably they would put parking underground).Frank Clair would not be rebuilt. This project would go ahead soon.
The outdoor stadium issue would be delayed a while, but this scheme seems to assume a movement toward eventually building a stadium in Kanata which would house both soccer and football (I know!--we must have a soccer specific stadium?)
However, the main disagreement between both franchises sharing a stadium is how would the two teams share revenue from stadium advertising, and concerts and special events and the like.
Today it is said that Roger Greenberg of Team Hunt has put forth a formula that may be acceptable to Team Melnyk.

Interesting times ! We will see if these proposals see the light of day, or just blow up into a puff of smoke.


PS-It would be nice to see this mayor get something done. It could be his legacy project in case he does not get re-elected. If you were making odds today, the odds would be heavily in favour of him not being re-elected I think.

kinger said...

So how much more does MLS spend on salaries? I missed it.

Anonymous said...

Guess MLS will go broke 4 times as fast?

Dennis Prouse said...

I'm not sure that spending four times more on salaries for a product that is, at best, only somewhat better, is a selling point. In fact, it sounds to me like a prescription for eventual financial ruin. The CFL had a variation of this problem when they were bidding against themselves for players who had no shot at playing in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense to combine the teams into one stadium, though I believe they've picked the wrong one. People make the 30km trek for hockey, but it will affect the other sports for sure. CFL is a good national package right now with established coverage and rivalries, it may do okay. Soccer? Financial disaster. If I were Melnyk, I'd be grabbing the CFL club fast as I could as a way to subsidize the soccer fetish. Rather do 'em both at Lansdowne though, why, oh why, do they never want the fans from across the river? Those dollars count the same, last I checked.

Anonymous said...

"Clearly" MLS is best for Ottawa? Let's think financing. How is $40million US (to own a share of a proven money losing league instead of your own team) versus $750K for roughly competitive (despite all the excuses from MLS when they lose) brand of soccer and likely similar levels of fan support "best"? Is it MLS' media penetration that puts it "over the top"? Well, there is none, so it can't be that. NASL, CSL, MLS.........seems like USL is the only one that ever did have economic viability.

Anonymous said...

Did the Mayor of this fair city not suggest in a front page story in the local paper (OK the one with the bigger circulation -- not the one with the pretty girls) that he's not interested in the stadium where the football team played?

Where does that leave the Hunt group?

Anonymous said...

Anon-see the first post in this comments section ---it explains where it leaves the Hunt group under the mayor's scenario.

Anonymous said...

For the 1,234,876 time MLS DOES NOT LOSE MONEY.

EVERY team in MLS makes money. EVERY LAST ONE. Why? Soccer United Marketing. Each MLS ownership group is an equal partner in SUM. Last year TFC received a cheque for about $7 million US from SUM. This is money that is not reported in the team's operating budget. Also not reported in the team's income is auxiliary stadium revenue (thus the importance of controlling the stadium).

Dennis et al, could you please back up your constant assertion that MLS is going to go broke with actual, you know, facts?


Dennis Prouse said...

Duane, have you seen average attendance numbers for MLS so far this season?

"Cratering" might be an apt term. Outside of Seattle and Toronto, this league's attendance numbers are nosediving badly. Blame the economic downturn if you like, but people still seem to have disposable income for movies and the like, so the world's game, booming as it allegedly is in North America, should be able to overcome that easily.

MLS boosters love quoting 2007 attendance and profit numbers, but now that Pele, err, I mean Beckham has gone back to Europe, the water appears to be draining from the tub quite quickly. Even the NASL had a few strong franchises when it folded up. Hey, if MLS can make money with their New York franchise drawing 12,000 fans, God bless 'em, but I'll bet you a nickel that is not sustainable long term.

Anonymous said...


Never knew you could extrapolate a season's worth of attendance from one or two home matches per team.

MLS teams can make money with 12,000 attendance or even lower. If you don't believe me just look at Portland's bid submitted to their city council for the financial viability of the team.

To those that think this league is going the way of the NASL you are seriously mistaken.

Look at things such as stadium ownership, broadcast rights, sponsorships deals (MLS renewed all it's major sponsors this year after the economic collapse and even expanded some deals like with VW and San Jose got a shirt sponsor after the economic collapse)

Anonymous said...

Forgive us Dennis, but it gets a bit much top constantly have to defend the league to people, frankly, that don't seem willing to listen to you. If MLS was going to go bankrupt it would have about eight years ago.

Remember that A) the clubs are partners -- they protect each other against loss; B) Soccer United Marketing puts about $7 million into every ownership group's bottom line (which, based on independent assessments would mean that the lowest earnings for any MLS team was about $3 million in 2007; C) People that, unlike either of us, have actually seen the books are willing to pay $35 million expansion fees. Rich men don't get that way by throwing money down black holes and all of the men involved in the expansion process now are very rich men.

NO ONE is suggesting that soccer is going to become the next big thing -- you're the one that keeps brining that up. But that it will continue along the sustainable path it's don't follow it Dennis. You can't possibly have any insight into the business model. You're basing your opinion on assumptions. This league was built with a conservative model that was meant for the current climate.

A lot of the readers of this blog are baseball fans. If I were to make a baseball argument using the same type of logic that most of you in the "MLS is gonna fold" side of things do I'd be attacked from 10 different sides. Why? Because you're basing your entire argument on a feeling. It's the intellectual equivalent of suggesting that Alex Rios is going to have a big year because he's a clutch hitter -- you can't back up your opinion without anything more than anecdotal nothingness.

In the eight years since MLS has contracted, it’s brought in five new teams (with three more to come). It’s instituted the Beckham rule, which has allowed star attractions to join the league in several cities (Beckham is a bust, but Angel in New York and Blanco in Chicago have been wonderfully successful) , it’s started the highly successful subsidiary company Soccer United Marketing (which has the US World Cup rights and the exclusive right to stage exhibitions involving Mexican teams, including the Mexican national team, in the U.S.) and it’s moved to a point where more than 80 per cent of the league’s teams control all the auxiliary revenue in their stadiums.

Can you please tell me how that’s evidence of a league that is dying?

sager said...

Soccer is not as big a threat to the CFL bid as Ottawa city council, let's make that perfectly clear.

There will be a football team here if a stadium gets built, pure and simple. The case for it can be made without casting aspersions on soccer.

It's always a trip to see the latest from the respective echo chambers ... there's insufficient respect being shown all around, but I feel compelled to respond to the misinformation being spread by the pro-CFL one, since the local media panders to them. (Why? It's as simple as which demo buys newspapers, and which demo has the conch at those newspapers. Quick, between the two Ottawa dailies, does either have someone writing about this who's in the 25-to-34 demo?)

Anyway, to second the last commenter,
MLS is not going away ... the people who seem sure it will remind me of when I was in Simcoe and the people in minor baseball who were losing children to soccer would say stuff like, "At some point, you have to figure they'll all get bored of soccer and come back." That was pretty narrow-minded. I'm not saying it's the same thing, it's just a reminder.

MLS seems to espouse similar principles to the CFL ... relatively low player salaries (quick, name the second-highest biggest contract after Mr. Posh) and not a ton of overhead.

Even so, it's all relative. For pete's sake, I read today that the Manitoba Moose in the AHL have 3 guys making more than a $1 million a season. I don't see anyone saying the AHL is going to go the way of the World Hockey Association, do you?

I think I suggested in the newsroom in November that Lansdowne Live partner with the Ottawa Fury. The Fury have a special expertise and good brand recognition (although it's not necessarily true that a USL team would draw heavily on local talent ... the W-League team recruits international players. It's telling that former Fury youth players such as Christina Julien and Amanda Robinson are now playing for the Laval Comets.)

Dennis Prouse said...

This is a great business model! You mean that even in the face of declining attendance and ratings, MLS teams keep getting $7 million cheques and increased broadcasting fees? Cool! Clearly, MLS took the plunge and actually clicked on one of those Google ads. (Interestingly, Wiki has a warning on Soccer United Marketing's page that states, "This is written like an advertisement".)

And yeah, you can pretty accurately predict how the season is going to go based on attendance from the first few games, especially when it is down sharply from the same period last year and the year before. Opening day is opening day, and when your numbers are down sharply at the dawn of a new season, you should be deeply concerned.

But hey, don't let me ruin the fun. You guys keep partying like it's 2007.

sager said...

@ Ottawa Fan: Mayor Lare has accomplished lots ... criminal charges, nine-figure lawsuits (seriously, Siemens is going to own the City of Ottawa), two-month-long transit strikes.

He said he would raise the profile of the office ... well, thanks to him, my friends in Toronto have a ready answer if asked who is the single worst mayor in Ottawa in the last 40 years.

Anonymous said...

The MLS itself has stated that it's losses are $350 million in the time it has existed. Attendance is declining and TV coverage (let alone highlights on Sportscentre) don't exist. To answer these challenges, the league has cranked up expansion fees and placing teams just about anywhere. Forgive me, but this is desperation. Forget what the game itself is, the numbers don't lie, guaranteed the balance sheet is NOT healthy. A relatively close approximation at less than 1/40th of the price (USL - that is still allowed to compete internationally, which I like, too bad our own "North American" sports didn't do that) at Lansdowne along with CFL is the way to do this, which is precisely why I expect them to do the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Dennis -- The average attendance through five weeks is 15,385. Through five weeks in 2008 it was 15,437. So, yes, it’s down. You got me there. On average MLS attendance goes up about 10 per cent from the first quarter to the last (it’s a walk up league).


You’re a CFL fan. Does it piss you off when people stupidly suggest that it’s going to fold? People that don’t have a damn clue what they are talking about?

Just checking.

Anonymous said...

"You mean that even in the face of declining attendance and ratings, MLS teams keep getting $7 million cheques and increased broadcasting fees?"

SUM has the World Cup TV rights, not MLS. And Mexico and the US played a friendly in Houston last year with more than 50,000 in attendance. That was a SUM initiative

Those tours where big name Euro teams play one off exhibitions in NFL stadiums and charge $50 a ticket? SUM.

You're not trying very hard to actually read what I'm writing.

Anonymous said...

Neate, it would be be nice if Mayor Larry did accomplish something positive before he goes out the door, instead of just the negatives you list.Getting the stadium and Lansdowne issues moving in a positive direction would be great. I say moving, because he is not likely to be in office when any such project is completed. Heck he might not be in office in two months time.

Personally I just want to see Ottawa have a decent multi-use stadium for the future--and to see Lansdowne Park cleaned up and become something other than an eyesore. I favour a central location for a stadium, but a stadium anywhere is better than no stadium at all.

I would like to see the CFL return, but it will not ruin my life if it does not.

I can take or leave soccer, but think that Ottawa is a better place when there is a variety of sport and entertainment. Whether I am interested in a particular entertainment is of no importance. Whether it makes Ottawa a more interesting place is. It seems logical that two pro sports sharing a modern multi-purpose stadium would make a stadium project more viable.
Is the CFL financially viable? Is the MSL? The USL?
Who cares at this point? Let us get a damn stadium built,than and get some tenants in it If the tenants fail, they fail! It won't be the end of the world. We just move on and find other uses.

Bottom line -Ottawa will be a lesser place without

1) a great Lansdowne Park ---
2) and a fine outdoor stadium in the city.

Let's not continue bickering and instead pull together to get these projects done.


sager said...

@ OttawaFan. I'm not bickering; some good, robust debate is necessary. Anything I say about the mayor comes with the territory for him.

Like you say, we need a stadium and you need to revitalize Lansdowne.

I'm praying council will make the most informed decision one week from tonight, but they haven't offered reassurance. We need a multi-use stadium, period full stop.

Anonymous said...

Neate, the Siemens lawsuit is serious matter. I think it has our city admin. petrified. It is the elephant in the room that hampers the city's flexibility to approve spending on any knew project. They are waiting for this shoe to drop before doing anything.

I would not even be surprised if they find they are forced to go back to the Chiarelli light rail plan--that is, honour the contract with Siemens.It could be the only solution to the alternative of swallowing a $200 million plus payment to Siemen's and the other companies that are suing. I have no particular insight on this--I am only saying.


Anonymous said...

Not saying you are bickering Neate. I too have litle confidence in city Council and the mayor.

"We need a multi-use stadium, period full stop."

We are in full agreement on that.

sager said...

The crazy part about the light-rail cancellation was how poorly the city managed the message.

Everyone kept saying it was dumb they were building a north-south line instead of east-west. As my sister (whose firm submitted a tender) noted when we were talking recently, the N-S line was just a first phase. It was designed with the addition of an E-W line in mind.

Duane Rollins said...

""We worked hard to develop the sport of soccer in Quebec and we have to start being more aggressive because infrastructure money is available and we can't be shy to take a look at potentially getting some of that money so we can bring the next level of soccer here, which would be the MLS."-- Joey Saputo

Can we please end this silly debate about the USL being as good as MLS now?

Anonymous said...

Us the sports fans have to take a stand vs the arts community.There are many that want landsdown to be a central park type set up with no sports at all.Thats not all some are still pushing for a massive threater a new library and the list goes on.Even some want a back up convention centre built.

Anonymous said...

I know Neate. the Chiarelli plan did call for an E-W line as phase two, but it was not sold properly to the populace,

What I did not like about the Chiarelli plan was that it would have run surface rail through downtown, and that was a mistake. If they had only decided back then to run the Chiarelli train through a tunnel! Now we have a new plan with a tunnel and a possible $200 million penalty to pay Siemens and their sub-contractors.

Council really screwed up by their dithering and it looks like they may dither and screw up again re the issues of a stadium and rebuilding Lansdowne Park.


Dennis Prouse said...

If you take out Seattle, who are getting close to 30,000 a game, MLS attendance is down sharply this year. You know it and I know it, but presenting the average with Seattle included obscures those sub-10,000 crowds that many MLS cities are seeing.

I didn't say that MLS was going to fold tomorrow. What I am saying is that it will fold if it continues to try to act like a top tier pro sports league. It's not -- pro soccer is a niche sport in North America, similar to pro lacrosse, and will continue to be for the forseeable future. That's fine as long as the MLS does in fact follow a "conservative business model", but aggressive expansion plans and $40 million expansion fees don't really say conservative business plan to me. Rather, they suggest a bit of a Ponzi scheme. And for every Seattle and Toronto FC, there is a Kansas City, San Jose, and New England.

Why am I so hostile towards MLS? Well, in the words of John Rambo, they started this war. MLS supporters have been unbelievably obnoxious in the context of the Ottawa debate. They have adopted a deliberate strategy of peeing all over football, calling it a dying sport and calling into question the future of the CFL. To add insult to injury, they bring in their goons from Toronto to take over message boards and freep online polls. Well, guess what? This CFL fan is fighting back, and fighting back hard. Want to pee all over my sport? Cool, I'll dump all over yours. Want to try to torpedo the return of CFL to Ottawa? I will come after your expansion bid, and work twice as hard at it as you will. Had a group of soccer fans come in and wanted to cooperate with the Lansdowne Live bid, I would have been fine with that. I am still fine with the notion of a multi-use facility at Lansdowne that accomodates both sports. Soccerheads, though, led by Melnyk, decided that they had to take dead aim at the CFL in order to achieve their goal. You will have to excuse me if this CFL fan refuses to roll on my back like a submissive puppy.

Anonymous said...

While i agree some mls supporters have been a bit obnoxious.However some cfl supporters have aslo been obnoxis.Some commens such as there if very limited teams for any over 17 years olds to play on.While in fact that not true ottawa has a very strong local soccer community.Then some bring up the fury say they only draw 300 not i have found some seem to be a bit confused about the level of play.When some find out its about the same level is as junior a hockey some are shocked.

Anonymous said...

When adults plug their ears, close their eyes, yell "lalalalalalala" and attempt to promote their position by belittling the other side is called FASCISM. Historically, it's the left that is best at it (and why we're so good at it in Canada). To hear "soccer people" belittle baseball or "seamheads" return the favour is pointless. The reality is both, soccer has been the flavour of the month and is now being destroyed by politics, rep teams and amalgamations just like hockey did. Some will migrate back to baseball, soccer will decline like all sports do and sadly some kids will realize that there's just no sport that's worth all the BS that we adults can provide.

That said, I think Ottawa needs a stadium (2 actually, one rectangle and one baseball), it should be central, and I honestly do see MLS as a failing Ponzi. Even if it's not, I can't see how Ottawa makes it. I see the support level, after perhaps a honeymoon period, being similar to baseball. Maybe less 30km away. I don't see a harm in trying it, but if a multicultural city like NY can't draw 30,000, why would Ottawa? Why don't they try USL and see what happens?

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget toronto before mls was not really seen as a good market to go in to.They really had poor support for ther eusl team and when i say poor i mean they were close to beeing worst in north america.So you can't alwas judge attendance in the usl and say yes if they do well then they should do well in ls.I really can not see soccer declining any time soon its just to strong all over.Back to toronto when they were granted the team people said this won't work they will be gone within 4 years.Now yes ottawa is not like toronto but its still possible and no i would not call soccer the flaovr of the month.

Anonymous said...

For children, yes, soccer is the flavour of the month, riding the crest of being the "new thing", just like hockey was, baseball was. Sooner or later, numbers settle in to where they will be. I don't think some of you were around when NASL was around. It was HUGE. They ran all kinds of promotions purists would cringe at. There are scenes of delerious fans at the championship game at Comiskey Park, can't recall the year. Point is, it was entertaining. But it ran into the same problems all these gate-driven leagues do. They had to pay big salaries to lure some names in, never captured the imagination of the general public (or television audiences) despite good fan turnout at the games, at which time they tried to expand while increasing the franchise fee. A Ponzi scheme. All leagues other than NFL, MLB, NBA are gate-driven leagues operating in this precarious state. We'll see what happens.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest loook at the ottawa fury youths teams.They have had massive amount of success and its getting stronger and stronger.

BT said...

Dennis, great post. I think it would be awesome for USL and CFL to share a stadium (MLS could be a long shot, if bigger places like Montreal and Vancouver are having trouble landing a team).

CFL has nothing to be ashamed about. They have learned lessons and have become a much better operated league. With the possible exception of MLB, the rich history of the league is second to none - and that includes the NFL. It's well-known that CFL often paid players better than NFL well into the 1960s. And up to that point, American college football was a way bigger deal than NFL.

Don’t forget the lucrative TV contract with TSN - and the stellar attendance figures. If you guffaw about that latter point, just read this blurb from WikiPedia (

“(In 2006 the) average per-game attendance (was) 29,343. This is the third highest per-game attendance of any North American sports league and the sixth highest per-game attendance of any sports league worldwide.”

Anonymous said...

The MLS lost 280 million in it's first 10 years. The reason the Ottawa Fury survives is that it's 12 youth teams bring 500K in revenue to the club by charging it's players 275 dollars a month, every month of the year.

Without that surcharge on kids the PDL and W-League don`t exist. Both teams draw about 300 people a game.

Hell the New York Insert Beverage Drinks draw 6 000 some games in a market of 17 million.

And to think for a moment that people in this city are going to pay 20 to 100 bucks to see the Kansas City Wizards play is dreaming in technicolor.

The USL runs 5 for kids to about 30 bucks. It's a better fit for this town.

Anonymous said...

And until MLS teams start beating USL teams every single time.

The quality of play is equal.

Anonymous said...

"Hell the New York Insert Beverage Drinks draw 6 000 some games in a market of 17 million."

Dude, the US market is very different than here in Canada. Yeah NY has 17 million people, but look in your own backyard (Canada).

Toronto (GTA) is a market of roughly half of NYC (8 million)... They can sell out the BMO. Heck, they have a long enough waiting list deposites to sell out 30 000.

Montreal can sell 13 000 seats regularly, probably more if they enter MLS.

Stop comparing with American cities to make your point. We have a different culture in Canada, where soccer is much more appreciated.

If we are going to compare ourselves with American cities... we can easily do the same for football.

Why is it that Ottawa has failed to keep a CFL team on numerous occasions...while Greenbay, a smaller market than Ottawa, can support an NFL team with an NFL size stadium? What does that say about the fate of football in this city?

(For the record, I intend to buy seasons tickets for the new CFL team, so I'm definetely NOT a CFL basher)