Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Canadian Clubs to the MLS

Joey Saputo recently went on record saying that "Montreal's entry into MLS is no longer a question of if, but when." Vancouver already has a guaranteed spot in the 2011 MLS season. Toronto is currently the home to a financially successful MLS team for a third season. Eugene Melnyk has been quoted as saying that getting an MLS team to Ottawa is "a no-brainer". Most recently Edmonton has been throwing around the idea of an MLS bid.

The idea of whether or not the MLS is the best way forward for Canadian clubs to develop is up for debate, but what is not up for debate is that the MLS is the future of the sport in this country. The MLS is bringing in the money, is catching audiences from across Canada, and is "the only league" in many people's eyes.

You could go on debating the quality of the MLS compared to the USL for hours, and believe me its been done. The simple fact is for Canadian teams to gain the national recognition they need from a mainstream audience they need to be competing in the MLS. The USL just doesn't have the exposure and as long as the MLS continues to maintain its status as the top league financially the USL will always be a second option to the MLS.

With all that in mind getting as many Canadian clubs into the league has to be the top priority. With Toronto and Vancouver already there the obvious next step is Montreal.

For a USL team Montreal has a solid fan base getting a sell out of over 12,000 out to their home opener last weekend and of course bringing 55,000 people out to the Big O for a CONCACAF Champions League game. The fans want the MLS, the organization is ready to make the jump and the only thing that stopped them in their 2011 bid was Joey Saputo's arrogance, refusing to pay the $40 million entry fee.

What needs to happen in order to get Montreal to the MLS is to get back on commissioner Don Garber's good side and for Joey Saputo to get off his high horse. According to Saputo these things are going well, they are in talks with MLS and a franchise looks inevitable in the near future.

The next prospective site is Ottawa. I think for Ottawa it's a case of "If you build it they will come". Getting an agreement with the city to build a 20-30,000 seat soccer specific stadium in downtown Ottawa is the only way this bid is going to get going. Melnyk is convinced that building a stadium near the Scotiabank Place (home to the Ottawa Senators) would work, but I doubt the city would allow this considering the mess that the location of the Scotiabank Place created.

Garber has said he speaks very highly of Ottawa and if a viable stadium plan is in place I think an MLS team in Ottawa is the future.

Edmonton Oilers owner, Daryl Katz is the newest billionaire to consider the MLS north of the 49th. Although at the moment he is just considering, The Edmonton audience has shown the interest in soccer is there time and time again. People point to poor men's national team attendances, but the U-19 Women's World Cup drew excellent crowds as did an L.A. Galaxy - Vancouver Whitecaps friendly. With relatively little advertising for these games these attendances are all the more impressive.

Although Commonwealth Stadium isn't really an option, because of its enormous size so a new soccer specific stadium would have to be built in Edmonton to accommodate an MLS franchise.

Getting Canadian clubs into the MLS will help the sport in this country more than anything else could right now and making sure this happens should be these club's number one priority.

[Cross-posted to The Canadian Stretford End]


GoGades said...

A soccer specific stadium in downtown Ottawa ? I don't know where you've been, but for Melnyk, it's Kanata or bust. It's not a matter of changing his mind, it's the only way this makes sense for him is if he can leverage SBP along with the soccer stadium, to create the mythical 'entertainment' village.

Since you've rightly pointed out that it's unlikely another Kanata venue will happen, it kind of puts the kibosh on the whole 'MLS to Ottawa' pipe dream.

Given that I'm FAR from convinced that there's enough soccer fans in Ottawa to make it a long-term success, it just may be for the better. Personally, I think a far more reasonable approach would be a USL team, sort of a 'dip your toes in the pool' approach. If that works out, then, and only then, should they go for the whole MLS enchilada.

Sam said...

Melnyk would not settle for USL, and making a stadium as big as Melnyk is talking about would not make sense for USL. I don't think USL will happen in Ottawa in the near future as long as the Melnyk MLS bid is still there. As for the move downtown, I wouldn't say the dream is dead. Melnyk really wants this MLS franchise and is willing to do a lot more than other potential owners are. If it comes down to it and MLS or the city of Ottawa gives him a downtown or nothing ultimatum I think he'd take it.

In the end it comes down to how much Melnyk really wants this, and from what he's said I think he sees a lot of potential in the MLS market.

As for the actual number of soccer fans in Ottawa. Who knows? I mean as Duane Rollins has often said on the 24th Minute what they really need is Ottawa's own Red Patch Boys. The second thing is that Ottawa may not have the fan base to make it a Toronto-like success, but people forgot how Toronto's success is a standout in the MLS and I think most Canadians would stand for mediocre (15,000 people) crowds in Ottawa.

Dennis Prouse said...

Has anyone checked MLS attendance this year in cities not named Toronto or Seattle? It's ugly out there. MLS has nine of its 14 teams drawing under 13,000 a game, and three drawing under 10,000 a game. Seattle is a nice story, but when half your league is down 20%, you have issues. MLB is only down about 3%, so MLS can't hide behind "bad economy" on this one.

Anonymous said...

You have to keep in mind toronto to did not really have a fan base before the toronto fc.I would not say all the fans are from the gta area i would say a good number come from out side the gta area.

Anonymous said...

I agree, bringing MLS to Ottawa would mean Melnyk is a "no-brainer". Can't imagine how much money that would lose. I can't believe they (STILL) want to build a seperate stadium (now downtown?)......

GoGades said...

@Sam: "As for the actual number of soccer fans in Ottawa. Who knows?"

For a $40,000,000 US franchise fee, in addition to asking government to spend about $80,000,000 to finance a stadium, you better the fuck know.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Mosta renas and stadiums in north america have some funding or a massive tax break.For what ever reason people think money going to fund a stadium is rare its not its very common.Toronto asked and go help for the skydone at the time now known as the rogers centre they got help for bmo field no one really had any idea how the soccer would do.Many thought it would be a flop and would not last 4 years.Both ohl arenas got some funding in brampton and mississauga they have been anything but a success.The acc got a massive tax break as well as the bell centrre.I beleave calgary and edmonton both got some help with funding as well as vancouver as well as countless other places.