Tuesday, September 01, 2009

About Ottawa's bid to join an imploding soccer league...

(Not to mention that empty ballpark.)

The mud fight between USL team owners and the league's new corporate overlord will chart the course which determines whether pro soccer comes to Ottawa.

There is more than a cute little juxtaposition involved with Jeff Hunt and the Lansdowne Live gang in Ottawa applying for a franchise in the United Soccer Leagues First Division on the day after several of the league's owners all but declared civil war on USL-1's corporate ownership (and on the day before city council holds a huge meeting to discuss Lansdowne Live's proposal for the derelict stadium).

You could read into that the Ottawa is trying to get into a league several current owners are trying to get out of, but that would just be negative and bitchy. Also worth noting high up is that deep-down, the gut feeling is Hunt wants a USL team in Ottawa and it's not a smoke screen.

First, the mud fight: Several owners, including those of the Montreal and Vancouver teams, have drawn a line in the stand about their desire for "a team-owner controlled league" after Nike sold its controlling stake last week. To put it mildly, it's an interesting variable to throw into the equation. Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is also apparently interested in getting the Trois-Rivières Attak into USL-1 if his team leaves the league for MLS.

It wouldn't necessarily hurt the Hunt bid, which is in partnership with John Pugh's grass-roots Ottawa Fury. It will affect it if it turns out the map of pro soccer in "northern North America" is about to get redrawn. It also seemed to be an underplayed element in the initial wave of hometown coverage from Ottawa Business Journal, CBC.ca and Sun Media.

This is not a commentary on the Ottawa bid or Lansdowne Live's motives. It is definitely politic to create the impression with an ever-skeptical public and city council that the stadium is going to be used for more than a CFL team and retail. Hunt's release mentions having the CFL, pro soccer and two university football teams all sharing the stadium, which sounds very promising, but also very busy.

It is a positive to have tapped into Pugh's sweat equity and expertise (although it could have been done 10 months ago). At least Hunt, et al., got the right idea eventually. Your guess is as good as any why this apparently never occurred, far as was reported, to Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

Meantime, please keep in mind Ottawa still has another stadium dilemma with the ballpark on Coventry Rd., which is going unused. One does idly wonder if Hunt is playing coy and plotting perhaps putting a soccer team at that stadium. That way, they have a hand in control of two venues and keep someone else from developing it as a concert venue.

Triple-A baseball stadiums in Portland, Oregon and San Juan, Puerto Rico, have proven adequate for pro soccer (imagine the first-base line as one sideline, with the third-baseline as one end line), with temporary bleachers out in deep left field). That is a valuable asset the city of Ottawa is not using. The Coventry Rd. stadium could also be used by the W-League Fury and the various youth teams. Far-fetched, I know. Maybe the other site ends up as condos.

Baseball is still in the picture, of course, but the goal is to get a stable tenant using that stadium. If you're a taxpayer, the sport can be named later.

Meantime, good on Hunt and Pugh et al. One would hope the USL's issues don't undermine their goal of attracting a pro soccer team, in any reputable league.


Bill said...

The basball stadium will not fit a full sized soccer pitch unless you move the road that borders left field.

GoGades said...

Hmm... I dunno, this doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me ...

Wouldn't Hunt & Co look to maximize the use and traffic at the site where they just spent a whole lot of $ and effort to rebuild ?

I don't see why "having a hand in control of two venues" would trump getting maximum utilization of Lansdowne Park... I think they might have enough on their hands running 1 park and 3 franchises (67s, Riders, USL).

sager said...

@GoGades: Fair enough ... they probably would have enough on their hands. It would also be a way to get rid of the competition, too.

@Bill: Dimensions for a soccer field are 110 yards (330 feet) long by 70 yards wide. The right-field corner is 325 feet, plus there is there is the foul territory behind home plate. You can easily fit a soccer pitch on a ball field. It has already been done!

Larry said...

I think the USL dispute is really a non-issue. However it gets resolved there will be at least one USL-like soccer league in 2012 and Ottawa can certainly get a team.

My impression of the USL (and leagues of that caliber) is that any city can get a team if they pass some basic sanity tests (e.g. have a stadium; willing to pay the $750K expansion fee; not infringing on an existing team). With the involvement of John Pugh I can't imagine a USL-like league saying no.

sager said...

Larry, it's not a non-issue, but it's a small issue, especially since more than half the owners in USL-1 want out. You and I are probably just apart by percentages.

Ottawa, according to the Sun headline, is striving to be big-league (WTFTM). Part of what happened with Triple-A baseball was that people did not feel it was big-league to be playing Rochester, Syracuse, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Richmond, Va., and so on.

What could happen, as you point out, is that Hunt might have to apply to another league, but there's plenty of time to do this ... Of course, where does that leave the Fury, with all their feeder teams that are part of the USL structure (Premier Development League, W-League, etc.)?

Here are the teams which are threatening to form a breakaway league: Miami, Atlanta, Montreal, Vancouver, Tampa Bay, Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota.

The remaining cities: Charleston, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Rochester, Austin, Cleveland. Doesn't exactly scream big league.

Point being, people can't have their head in the sand over USL-1's issues, but can still feel pretty good about pro soccer coming to Ottawa. It is a laugh and a half to see some of the old media dinosaurs in this city who 6 months ago were calling MLS a fledging f---ing soccer league now on the bandwagon to join a lower league. It's a little ironic, but that is neither here nor there.

@GoGades: I'm convinced the other stadium will be gutted for a condo development.

Dave said...

I agree with your (WTFTM) assessment on the excuse that Ottawa, and generally Canada as a whole doesn't support things because they aren't "big league". The truth is, we are afraid of the competition. We won't build stadiums, support teams, compete with other North American cities for the things we say we want.

Why? Don't know. Is it the great Canadian inferiority complex? The fear of competing? Seems silly, we don't seem to be afraid of it in the business world or entertainment industry.

Saying anything short of big league is beneath us while focusing all resources and attention at a sport that is decidedly not big league (in terms of world participation and interest) while ignoring sports like basketball and neglecting others like baseball doesn't make sense to me.

The excuse that this is a "hockey nation" shouldn't be so, though it gains more traction as we focus more and more on it. I'll admit, to the general public in this country, it LOOKS like a big league. But just how is it that you can set the AAA attendance record, then say "nah, we like big league better". But your team plays in Nashville, Columbus, Raleigh. AAA cities.

My points are just as bad as all the other excuses on why we won't support sport in general. You're a sporting nation or your not. We aren't. (see Australia, USA, etc. for examples).

Lest you think I'm dumping on hockey, it is my opinion that we don't even support that game so well compared to how other nations support their own games. Not below major junior. It seems we've been conditioned to sit at home watching on the tube and dismissing anything that's not "big league". How can we change that? I remember being really bad at basketball, yet enjoyed (trying) to shoot hoops in the driveway, but I never developed a passion for the game. How could I? There wasn't much coverage in Canada, no youth programs, nobody showed me a passion for it. There was hockey in the winter, baseball in the summer (and we're giving up on that). How do we become a sporting nation again, hungry for any and all of the sports? How do we make this happen?

Anonymous said...

Part of is most of canada is a hockey crazy state take the chl in a fair amount of markets they out draw and in some cases on par with minor hockey eams in the states.There are very few countrys that support all there sports very well.