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Van trumps TO in MLS season ticket drive
March 23, 2009, 9:13 AM
Filed under: MLS Expansion, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Major League Soccer is already a hit.Toronto FC was announced May 11, 2006. By Aug. 25 that year there were only 3,000 deposits. It took until the start of 2007 to reach 7,000.

MLS comes to B.C. Place Stadium in 2011.

When Vancouver was awarded the 17th franchise last Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps announced 5,000 season ticket deposits at $50 each would go on sale Saturday morning. Before noon Sunday, 4,500 were purchased.

Vancouverites are showing why this is Canada’s soccer city.

Source: Click Here

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TFC players support MLS expansion in Canada
March 14, 2009, 9:23 AM
Filed under: MLS Expansion, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Jim Brennan has seen the difference on Toronto soccer fields.

The jerseys of Juventus, AC Milan, Manchester United and other European clubs are still popular with kids playing the game. But these days so too are the colours of Toronto FC, the lone Canadian team among North America’s best, Major League Soccer.

“When you have a team that you support as a kid, and it’s local, you can dream of one day playing for that team and that’s something special,” Brennan, the Toronto native who is TFC’s captain, said as the team prepared for tonight’s championship game in the Carolina Challenge Cup.

“When I was a kid I never had that. That’s why I had to go over to Europe,” said Brennan, 31, who played in England for a decade before returning for TFC’s inaugural season in 2007. “If there was an opportunity, I’d have stayed in Toronto from day one.”

Now, as MLS looks to expand with the announcement of two more franchises for the 2011 season expected by month’s end, Canada is poised to add another team.

Vancouver is seen as the best bet among the four cities remaining in the bidding for a new franchise, which comes with a $40 million (U.S.) price tag – four times the amount Toronto paid. Ottawa, St. Louis and Portland are also looking to join the MLS, which is adding its 15th team in Seattle this season and another in Philadelphia for 2010.

Another Canadian team – or two – in the MLS would be a huge boost for soccer in the country, according to Brennan and other national team players on TFC. It would grow the popularity of the game by creating an instant rivalry with Toronto and give talented youngsters another option to stay at home and play in a top-flight pro league.

“There are plenty of reasons that it’s a positive for Canadian soccer,” said Greg Sutton, TFC’s goalkeeper who has played 11 games for Canada. “So, obviously the more teams the better, as long as it’s the right situation and good, sound, responsible franchises.”

More Canadian teams are also seen as a way to improve Canada’s flagging international soccer standing. Having more of the country’s best players stay in North America to play would make them more familiar with each other and cut down on exhausting overseas travel prior to key matches such as World Cup qualifying rounds.

“The more you can play in the same environment, the same style, the better you are when you come together as a (national) team and have to jell in two days,” said Dwayne De Rosario, who has 52 caps for Canada. “It would help us get into rhythm easier.”

Bob Lenarduzzi, chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps – the city’s United Soccer League team – and a former national team player and coach, said it’s no coincidence that Canada’s best years internationally in the mid-1980s coincided with the last time there was a strong professional league in the country, the North American Soccer League.

“The more opportunities there are for players to play professionally in this country at the highest level, the better it is for the national team’s programs,” Lenarduzzi said.

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Canadian MLS Rival for TFC
March 4, 2009, 10:24 AM
Filed under: MLS Expansion, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Vancouver and Portland will be granted MLS franchises later this month, according to a highly placed MLS source.

The failure of Miami to secure the backing of Barcelona has effectively ended the expansion race. Ottawa remains at play for 2013 and will go into that bidding process as the likely frontrunner if it approves a soccer specific stadium in April.
Although the source says that “all bets are off” for 2013 as several of the bids that pulled out for ’11 will be back in the hunt.

St. Louis still lacks significant financial backing to be a legitimate factor in the 2011 bid. Quietly the St. Louis bid has been negotiating with MLS to allow a structured deal similar to what Montreal and Miami asked for. It has been suggested that St. Louis was only prepared to pay about $9 million US in expansion fees, with the rest of its money tied up in infrastructure improvements required for MLS.

To this point MLS has not budged on the $40 million asking price and does not seem likely to do so with St. Louis either.

“St. Louis is banking on the league looking for a natural rival for Kansas City and nostalgia for what the city once was,” as second source said.

The decision to go to Portland and Vancouver was based on “stadium plan, political support and geographical factors,” the MLS source said.

MLS is waiting for Portland to give final approval on its stadium plan to make the announcement. That’s expected to come March 11. If Portland approves the stadium, the expansion announcement will likely take place March 17 or 18.

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MLS fans bring the dough
February 23, 2009, 9:54 AM
Filed under: MLS, MLS Expansion, Toronto FC

Last week Columbus Crew blogger Nordecke Luchador sent me his analysis of the Crew’s bottom line.

On Sunday the wires reported that top Spanish club Barcelona’s planned expansion into Miami is likely a no-go, due to “the cost of financial risk [to Barcelona].”

The world’s finances sure are in disarray, and though sports fans would rather look at their team as a form of escapism, there’s no escaping the fact the global financial crisis is bending the industry over the table.

Collapsed insurance giants AIG will not renew its sponsorship deal with Manchester United, and bailed-out banker Citi has faced criticism for its barmy $400 million naming of the New York Mets’ new park. Minor league franchises across the nation have folded this year, as has the Arena Football League, albeit “temporarily.”

With its “fifth-sport” status, soccer in the United States has always felt the squeeze. At the turn of this century, as Forbes magazine points out, Major League Soccer looked doomed as it was “hemorrhaging money.”

But the league hung in there, and continues to do so despite the credit crunch and still posting an overall loss.

Three MLS teams were in the black in 2007: Los Angeles Galaxy, FC Dallas and Toronto FC. Sure, that season was well before the tumble, but the fact is there were profits, proving soccer here can mean good business.

Toronto was the big surprise, given other first-year franchises have struggled to land both loyal fans and sponsors. But as MLS comish Don Garber said, with perhaps just a hint of hyperbole, “Toronto FC was one of the most successful launches in pro sports history” [Forbes].

He could be right: in its inaugural season, Toronto sold out its entire 20,500-seat BMO field.

That’s very much relevant as the fans are, essentially, bankrolling the clubs. Soccer United Marketing, which controls the league’s $23 million in national TV deals, handed each club less than $1 million last year. A club averaging 15,000 at $20 a ticket, on the other hand, is pulling in $300,000 for each home game.

Soccer fans not only buy tickets, replica shirts, sodas, beer and Darren Huckerby bobbleheads, but to an advertiser they’re like magazine subscribers—a commodity in a niche market. A club that pulls in 20,500 fans every week has more value to a potential sponsor than one that barely breaks 10,000.

With Golden Balls David Beckham on its roster, there’s no real surprise the Galaxy has been sounding a loud “ka-ching” since 2007, and is knee-deep in sponsors and fair-weather fans. But with his return in limbo, who knows how the club—and the league—will cope with the financial ramifications of a Beckham-less 2009.

No wonder Galaxy owners AEG balked at AC Milan’s pathetic $3 million reported offer.

As El Luchador reports in his analysis, the Columbus Crew won its first championship last year despite being the league’s stingiest club in terms of salaries.

The club is still one of the league’s poor boys, struggling to pull in local sponsors and even fans—the Crew even ranked 10th (out of 14 clubs) in attendance during last year’s championship season.

However, Crew GM Mark McCullers said business this year is at double where it was last year, and season tickets are selling strong. Winning a championship can only have helped.

So what are MLS clubs doing to pull in a crowd and raise their bottom line? Putting out a quality and entertaining team should help, but special season-ticket rates seem to be the vogue. Some clubs this year are offering 18-game packages for the price of a single scalped Boston Celtics ticket.

Check out these deals:

* Chivas USA’s All-Star Pack, a five-game package starting at $50.

* Colorado Rapids’ 18-game Burgundy package, starting at $216 (ticket prices have not risen for two straight years).

* New England Revolution’s Fort season-ticket package, starting at $200.

* Seattle Sounders’ 18-game package, including an exhibition against Chelsea FC, starting at $288 (our Seattle Soccer Examiner reports that 20,000 tickets have already been sold).

* Kansas City Wizards’ general admission season-tickets for $180.

* FC Dallas’ opening-day family packs, which include four tickets, pizza and drinks starting at $79.

* Columbus Crew’s 18-match Gold package, starting at $204.

Shrinking the MLS team roster sheet to 20 squad players and four development players this year, along with ditching the reserve team, should help free up some dough, too. We’ll see how that impacts depth as the season wears on.

 

And with 11 of 15 clubs now with shirt sponsors—including new franchise Seattle’s five-year, $20 million jersey-plus-playing-surface Microsoft agreement and the San Jose Earthquakes recent Amway deal—the MLS’ hemorrhaging could yet dry to a trickle.

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