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Potential owner(s) ready to take over in Calgary


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This is a very encouraging article for the prospect of A-League Calgary. Potential new owners are just around the corner ready to take over team Calgary in weeks.



September 1, 2003

Ownerless Calgary Hopes to Follow Montreal's Blueprint for Success

MONTREAL (CP) - Only two seasons ago, the Montreal Impact were where Team Calgary is today, dispirited wards of the A-League seeking a new owner.

But Team Calgary, who were called the Storm until former owner Michael Vandale threw in the towel in July, hoped they got a glimpse of their future when they closed out the regular season playing before an overflow crowd of 8,607 at Claude-Robillard Stadium.

"Montreal has been through it so they know what it's like," Calgary coach Tommy Wheeldon Sr. said, after ending a frustrating season with a 2-0 loss in Montreal on Sunday "It would be nice to turn it around like Montreal have.

"We're quite optimistic. And with Edmonton coming into the league next year, it bodes well for Alberta and Canadian soccer. Hopefully, the group that takes over will put some money into it. That would be brilliant."

There are two groups in Calgary said to be interested in buying the club.

Impact owner Joey Saputo said one of the two, which he didn't name, was expected to take over the team within a few weeks.

"From my understanding, from talking to the commissioner (Dave Askinas), it looks like the Calgary situation is well in hand," said Saputo. "The owner in Calgary is great. They're committed."

The new owner would do well to follow the Impact's blueprint.

In 2001, drawing crowds of perhaps 2,000, the previous owners declared bankruptcy midway through the season.

Saputo, whose family had earlier owned the team, stepped in to prevent it from being taken over by the league and went to work on a long-term solution.

He put together a sponsorship group that included the Quebec government and corporations such as Bell Canada and the National Bank that committed to a five-year plan to rebuild the club and its fan support.

Then Saputo put together a sales and marketing staff that concentrated on young players and minor soccer organizations, who snapped up modestly priced tickets for a chance to watch the pros play.

In the first year of the plan last season, the Impact averaged 5,178 fans per game at the 8,000-seat stadium. This year, the average was 7,236, second best in the A-League behind Rochester, which averaged 10,169.

The crowds at Impact games are dominated by children, dressed in their youth soccer shirts, with their parents.

"It's amazing," said Impact midfielder Mauro Biello. "Having been here through the bad times, playing before 1,000 people, having 8,000 here is tremendous.

"It's like having an extra man on the field. The front office has done an unbelievable job of getting kids and associations out and now it's not just them. It's becoming a trend.

"It's like the Alouettes (of the CFL). They were down in the dirt, but they put a good product on the field and people started coming out because it was trendy to go watch the Als play. We hope to do the same here."

So successful have they been that they have almost outgrown their municipally-owned stadium, although Saputo is reluctant to move downtown to the Alouettes' home field, Molson Stadium, which was recently refurbished with a FieldTurf artificial surface acceptable for soccer.

Saputo said he preferred to stay at Claude-Robillard in the city's north end, but with extra seats put in to boost capacity to about 12,000. There is also talk of transforming a pitch next to the stadium, whose main purpose is track and field, into a 12,000-seat soccer facility.

"The city has been good to us," said Saputo. "I don't want to just leave."

Team Calgary has averaged about 600 fans per game at 2,500-seat Foothills Park next to McMahon Stadium, home of the CFL Stampeders.

But the potential is there to draw more with a winning team. Calgary ended the season 4-21-3, without a win in its last 19 games.

When they lost their owner, the players' contracts were nullified. The league gave all the players the same basic contract, but a handful of experienced foreign players had to leave because it didn't pay enough.

Andrea Willems, the team's director of operations, recalled getting a cell phone call from Vandale an hour before a game against the Toronto Lynx telling her he was pulling out, leaving her to inform the players.

"That's the hardest thing I've ever done," said Willems. "The owner walked away from us, but the morale on the team is incredible.

"They're a tight-knit group."

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