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Ottawa MLS bid not dead yet


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Here's the latest news on the Ottawa MLS bid. This is coming directly from CFRA 580 News Talk Radio. And as it was reported yesterday, it does appear that Cyril Leeder, the president of Senators Sports & Entertainment, has indeed met with MLS official in LA and talked about MLS possibilities in Ottawa.

Melnyk Group Still Looking at Pro Soccer for West-End

Rob Snow

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The dream of a professional soccer team taking to a pitch in Kanata is not dead.

While Ottawa City Council is set to vote on a plan that would see Lansdowne Park redeveloped, the idea of another stadium near Scotiabank Place, to house a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, is still very much in play.

Cyril Leeder, the president of Senators Sports & Entertainment, which operates the Ottawa Senators and Scotiabank Place, tells CFRA's Afternoon Edition the organization remains very interested in bringing MLS soccer to Ottawa.

Speaking from Los Angeles, where he was attending the recent NHL draft, Leeder said 'part of the reason I'm down here is that we're talking to folks about MLS and there's still a lot of interest in bringing a team to Ottawa. We haven't deep-sixed that plan. We really want to come forward, sometime in the future, with a plan to bring a Major League Soccer team to Ottawa.'

It's been almost two years since Senators Sports & Entertainment first revealed its dream to bring MLS to the capital. In September of 2008, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk announced he wanted to build a 30,000-seat stadium, and five community soccer pitches adjacent to Scotiabank Place.

In July of 2008, Ottawa was short-listed by MLS as one of nine North American cities that would be considered for two expansion teams to enter the league in 2011.

The continued interest in a west-end stadium came to light late last week, after Senators Sports & Entertainment learned of "exclusivity clauses" contained in the Lansdowne Partnership Plan contract.

Leeder complained that those clauses, which were removed from the deal Friday afternoon in order to secure key political support from west-end Councillors, gave the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) a monopoly on stadium development for the duration of the partnership.

If those clauses had remained, Leeder said 'the city will not be able to build another stadium, redevelop another arena, work with us to redevelop Scotiabank Place over the next 30 years. If we ever wanted a Commonwealth Games or a Pan-Am Games, or any other major event where we were building a facility, we would not be able to do that."

Last April, Ottawa City Council decided against moving forward with the Melnyk proposal and instead put all of its focus on attempting to find a solution for Lansdowne Park.

The proposed site for the MLS stadium is a vacant, city-owned parcel of land. Mr. Melnyk had pledged at the time to invest $65 million into the project.

http://www.cfra.com/?cat=1&nid=74068

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This is good news, but it is difficult to see Ottawa Council doing much to support this process, considering their decision on Lansdowne yesterday. However, there is still a motion before council to support this stadium so something may yet happen. I'm guessing that the city won't be putting up much, if any, cash for a competing stadium to Lansdowne. They may be persuaded to donate the land and maybe forgo property taxes etc.

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Here was a letter to Eugene Melnyk, recently posted on www.bigsoccer.com:

_____________________________________________________________

Mr. Melnyk,

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup almost upon us, many people in Canada turn their thoughts to soccer. As you are well aware, soccer is the world’s most popular sport. The beautiful game is growing wildly in Canada, with more registered players than any other sport, with player registration likely to surpass one million players in 2013. Canadians bought more tickets to the upcoming World Cup than any other non-participating nation.

Canada now boasts three teams in, or about to join Major League Soccer (MLS), the highest level of the sport in North America.

Ottawa is a G-8 capital city that deserves soccer of the highest level possible. The hundreds of thousands of soccer fans in Ottawa deserve the opportunity to watch the highest calibre of play possible. In North America, that is MLS. Should Bruce Firestone and Cyril Leader have given up the quest for an NHL team and settled for an ECHL or AHL franchise because it was easier to get? No! Similarly Ottawa should not settle for a second, third or fourth division soccer team.

In Ottawa, the best soccer currently available is the Ottawa Fury PDL team. Impeccably run and very successful on the field, but PDL soccer is a U-23 developmental league and the nation’s capital deserves better. There are suggestions that the Fury will soon seek a USL or NASL franchise to play out of a renovated Lansdowne Park. These divisions are a couple of steps up from PDL, but still far below MLS. Average league attendance is just under 5,000, and that is going to look very lonely in a 24,000 seat stadium with two open ends. Atmosphere is everything in sports facilities. You see the detail of the game better on an HD television with endless replays from every angle, but true fans always prefer to watch the games live because of the atmosphere. The best soccer stadiums are full of soccer fans; small, intimate buildings enclosed on all sides, where the fans crowd the pitch as close as possible to the action. The atmosphere in a stadium with 80% of seats empty, watching a second division team, is not going to be good.

Last year Ottawa soccer fans were told by Major League Soccer that it was 'almost inconceivable' that Ottawa would not be awarded a team if they had a soccer specific stadium. Your plans for that stadium in Kanata fell through because city council chose to bundle their decision with the renovation of Lansdowne Park, an undertaking that seems likely to occupy this council and the next for years to come. So, is there something else you can do?

Previously, you indicated that you were willing to spend $40M on an MLS franchise and put $10M cash into the venture, as well as all the other unspecified costs of staring a new team. For this $50M+ you would have owned the team and been the major controlling tenant of a city-owned stadium. The question now is can this venture still go ahead with little or no support from Ottawa City Council?

Let's look at the costs of this endeavor in more details. In simple terms, the total cost includes the cost of the land, the cost of the stadium and the cost of the franchise. The land in question, close to ScotiaBank Place in Kanata was valued at $10M last year, the franchise at $40M, and the cost of the stadium and surrounding infrastructure was quoted as $100M. So the total cost last year was $150M, to be split between three levels of government and yourself, with you being $100M short on the total cost.

If we assume the city would donate the snow dump, and that MLS would accept $35M for the franchise fee, as they did for Portland and Vancouver, the difference between the projected costs and the money available would be reduced to $85M.

The best way to reduce the cost further is to simplify the original proposal. Start by taking out the community soccer pitches - a great idea, but something the city can fund later, if it chooses. Break the stadium down to the fundamentals. Make it a three-sided design to save money and keep the area behind one goal for future expansion. For the time being just put a big fence there with the team logo on it to preserve the atmosphere. Reserve behind the other goal for your supporters club and don't bother paying to install seats there. Build traditional 'kop-style' standing terraces which are a lower cost option and increase the supporter density and atmosphere. Fill in the corners with seats, it's cheaper than building higher up in other parts of the stadium to achieve the same capacity and further enhances the atmosphere.

A bare-bones fan-friendly stadium can probably be built for close to $60M, when put out to competitive tender. Other similar stadiums have been built for that kind of money, including the most obvious local example BMO Field in Toronto, built for $62M US. InfoCision Stadium in Akron was built for $61.6M US. Crew Stadium, home of the MLS Columbus Crew was built for $28.5M of private money in 1998-99, and only took 9 months and one day from groundbreaking to inaugural game. Saputo Stadium in Montreal was inaugurated in 2008 and constructed at a cost of $17M. To meet MLS standards, an additional investment of $23M CDN will be injected in the stadium in order to increase capacity to more than 20,000 seats by 2012.

Reducing the stadium cost by $40M reduces the shortfall to $45M.

Get Scotiabank on board with the naming rights. Bank of Montreal paid $27M over 10 years for the naming rights to BMO Field. Surely ScotiaBank could be persuaded to spend $15M for long term naming rights in Ottawa. That only leaves a $30M differential.

Maybe the city could also be persuaded to grant a property tax moratorium for the new stadium, in lieu of putting up any money. Considering what they are prepared to put into Lansdowne Park in terms of completely funding the stadium, the parking garage, and the Front Lawn, along with granting a 30-year rent moratorium on the commercial space, this is a drop in the ocean. Assuming taxes of something close to $1M a year, a tax holiday granted for 20 years amount to a further $20M saving. Maybe in return for a 30 year holiday, the stadium ownership could revert to the city after that time?

And that leaves you able to fund the new stadium and team for only $10M more than was proposed last year, Mr. Melnyk, but you end up owning the stadium rather than leasing it from the city.

In summary:

Putting a snow dump to better use: $10M

Buying a piece of the world’s game: $35M

Building a home for your dream: $60M

Watching another Ottawa team beat Toronto: Priceless

Bring the world to Ottawa, Mr. Melnyk.

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while I agree with much of your sentiment, I don't think their should be an MLS or nothing approach. I think if their really serious they should get a CSL team (which if everything worked out would become their academy team) for next year that would let them practise the basics of running a soccer team for very little (relatively speaking) cost. With the existance of the Fury there's a possible rivalry there. Also if it became apparent you won't be getting in for a couple years, I don't think a ussf d2 team would be a step down but more of a first step. If they went with a CSL team they'd obviously not build a huge stadium (maybe even use a small already built pitch with a decent stand), maybe even buy the land you intend to use, build a pitch and make a small stand that would come down if a real stadium were being built. I hope you get an MLS team but would also love to see someone with the resources of Melnyk get involved with the CSL.

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^ I don't think Melnyk wants anything to do with NASL. It is MLS or nothing for him. Having said that, he also knows the value of a good minor league system and pumps a lot of money into junior hockey owning St. Mike's so he would probably have no trouble supporting the CSL with an Academy team at some point.

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^ I don't think Melnyk wants anything to do with NASL. It is MLS or nothing for him. Having said that, he also knows the value of a good minor league system and pumps a lot of money into junior hockey owning St. Mike's so he would probably have no trouble supporting the CSL with an Academy team at some point.

I agree that MLS would have to come first for Melnyk, in the same way that the NHL came before the OHL for him. NASL also has the same problem that is plaguing his MLS bid - no suitable stadium. I suppose he could build a 10,000 seat stadium for NASL with the intention of upgrading it to 20,000 seats later when moving into MLS, but I just don't see it happening that way. Or he could lease Lansdowne Park for his NASL team, but that is even less likely.

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I agree that MLS would have to come first for Melnyk, in the same way that the NHL came before the OHL for him.

But, from a market point of view, the OHL was in Ottawa way before Melnyk and the Senators. There was already an established hockey market ready to be taken advantage of. The same does not exist for soccer. This is why people are suggesting to crawl with a CSL/NASL/USSFD2 franchise before walking wth an MLS one.

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But, from a market point of view, the OHL was in Ottawa way before Melnyk and the Senators. There was already an established hockey market ready to be taken advantage of. The same does not exist for soccer. This is why people are suggesting to crawl with a CSL/NASL/USSFD2 franchise before walking wth an MLS one.

Toronto had an anti-team before MLS.

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But, from a market point of view, the OHL was in Ottawa way before Melnyk and the Senators. There was already an established hockey market ready to be taken advantage of. The same does not exist for soccer. This is why people are suggesting to crawl with a CSL/NASL/USSFD2 franchise before walking wth an MLS one.

The 67's were not in good shape before the Senators came on the scene and were not an indicator of NHL success. It was Jeff Hunt who rescued them.

I don't see the point of starting with lower division soccer teams to prove there is a market for soccer when it has been shown that there is no relation. Many people will only watch top flight soccer. The 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup is a better indicator. Ottawa drew more supporters than Toronto despite not having Team Canada as a draw, and Lansdowne Park was at an average of 95% of capacity for those games

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The 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup is a better indicator. Ottawa drew more supporters than Toronto despite not having Team Canada as a draw, and Lansdowne Park was at an average of 95% of capacity for those games

And what was Toronto's capacity rating? like 99.9%??? Pretty sure last time I checked you could cram a lot more people into Lansdowne compared to BMO.

But I do agree Ottawa drew some good crowds for that tourney

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Here was a letter to Eugene Melnyk, recently posted on www.bigsoccer.com:

_____________________________________________________________

Mr. Melnyk,

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup almost upon us, many people in Canada turn their thoughts to soccer...

snip, snip

Putting a snow dump to better use: $10M

Buying a piece of the world’s game: $35M

Building a home for your dream: $60M

Watching another Ottawa team beat Toronto: Priceless

Bring the world to Ottawa, Mr. Melnyk.

I think your enthusiasm for this is great, but I don't think you touch on anything that Melnyk doesn't already know. Plus, it is really easy to spend another man's money.

In addition, I too am surprised at your notion that second division football is not good enough for you. Is that not better than what you have right now? What does that say about you as a fan and the Ottawa market as a whole? If the team struggles, or god forbid, has to drop a division at some point in the future, does that mean you are gone as a fan? I'm sure that is very assuring for Mr. Melnyk.

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Sorry, Razcle, I was no way intending to say that Ottawa had more soccer fans than Toronto, just making the point that Ottawa had demonstrated the potential of being a good soccer market.

Incidentally, Toronto drew 227K fans over 12 games, averaging 18.9K per game or 94% capacity. Ottawa drew 201K fans over 8 games, averaging 25K or 95% of capacity, according to Wikipedia.

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I think your enthusiasm for this is great, but I don't think you touch on anything that Melnyk doesn't already know. Plus, it is really easy to spend another man's money.

In addition, I too am surprised at your notion that second division football is not good enough for you. Is that not better than what you have right now? What does that say about you as a fan and the Ottawa market as a whole? If the team struggles, or god forbid, has to drop a division at some point in the future, does that mean you are gone as a fan? I'm sure that is very assuring for Mr. Melnyk.

I'm sure I didnt' say anything that Melnyk didn't know.

Wanting MLS in Ottawa doesn't say anything about me or the market in Ottawa. I am a current season ticket holder of the Ottawa Fury PDL team. If we get a division 2 team I will be a season ticket holder of that team. But that doesn't mean that Ottawa should settle for a div 2 team, any more than Toronto did. If we get an MLS team, I will be a season ticket holder of that team.

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Ottawa gets about 100-200 fans for PDL and W league soccer. CSL would perhaps draw 250-300 but it would again be mostly friends and relatives. NASL would not survive here. MLS would. That math may be beyond comprehension for people with no empirical knowledge of the city and market, but don't call the world flat because your math doesn't fit.

The Utah Blitzz drew hundreds and RSL draw 15-20K per game every year. Ottawa is a very similar marker in terms of both size and composition. A quiet conservative family market. Soccer is safe family entertainment and there are more people playing soccer in Ottawa than playing hockey and going to Melnyk's Senators games. He is a sports 'developer' and is at the table because he believes there's an opportunity for success and I tend to agree with him.

The problem is local government. Without a doubt Ottawa has the most sports-unfriendly city council in all of Canada. Both professional and amateur. I think that goes with such a high density of politicians in one place. Why give money to all these sweaty people when we could put in into arts and culture or graft an alderman with a pet project. Recreation and sports proposals and plans are actually met with antagonization and open hostility. Whereas cities all over the country support and partner up with entrepreneurs with a vision looking to invest madly in amateur and professional projects, in Ottawa you are seen as a nuisance. It took years and tens of millions of city council time and lawyers and media frenzy to invest not much more into a meagre stadium and football team. It's laughably ironic and ridiculous. And even at that it would have failed if the developers hadn't invested into coddling enough aldermen to secure a vote.

The problem isn't attendance. The real support that's missing isn't people - it's a grotesquely comic Dickensian layer of hubris called city council. If Melnyk was in most other cities in Canada the team would be kicking off at 7:00pm to a packed house of people loving the game and the team.

In Ottawa the players wear suits - not soccer uniforms, and given their history the only way I see anything happening is if they spin the team as refugees, the stadium as a homeless shelter at night, and run art camps and yoga in the daytime.

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NASL would not survive here. MLS would. That math may be beyond comprehension for people with no empirical knowledge of the city and market, but don't call the world flat because your math doesn't fit.

Here's what I don't get, maybe you can explain it to me...

Are you saying that the NASL/USL1 not good enough for Ottawa? NASL/USL1 has been good enough for Vancouver and Montreal for over a decade, and IMO if it was good enough for Canada's two honest to goodness World-class cities, why isn't it good enough for Ottawa?

Which leads me to believe that you are saying that Ottawa is (for lack of a better term) such a marginal soccer market that only Div 1 soccer will work? In this case, why would MLS ever grant a franchise to a marginal soccer market?

Or is there a third option?

FWIW I'd love to see Melnyk invest $15 or $20 million to start a NASL team and build his own 10,000 seat Saputo Stadium out in Kanata. I think the problem with professional soccer in Canada's smaller cities (Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton) is the lack of appropriate stadiums.

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For the same reason SLC can't support D2 but do fine with D1. Supporting D2 and supporting D1 in anything aren't linear or joined at the hip - they're mutually exclusive. You're placing a value judgement on it in terms of purity which is understandable and forgivable, but the truth is it's not about culture or being 'good enough'. It's just market dynamics. Do you think sunbelt cities are D2 hockey towns?

Most people who propose/recommend NASL for the city have never been to a game here. Come to Ottawa sometime, go to a PDL game and walk around and ask the fans who they know playing. Perhaps then the light bulb will go off.

MLS is charmed they franchised Real - they just had their All-Star game in the new Rio Tinto. And a market with 5 years of 15-20k attendance isn't exactly a marginal soccer market - it's a great market. I also get the feeling Melnyk has done his homework and I've never really seen him as a D2 anything kinda guy.

But as I said, it's all moot. The city looks on a crash course for USL1 and after a fresh shiny new launch out of the dock it will get a short ways downstream before it becomes a fluttering and floundering fiscal failure destined for the next edition of Canadian trivial pursuit.

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I think where I agree with Vic is that soccer is not viable in Ottawa if it is 'minor' league, but the top pro game could fly. I think there is some merit in that point of view. Look at the lack of support in Ottawa in the CSL days and, in more than just soccer, the struggles of the myriad of minor league ball clubs and the ultimate demise of one of the most famous franchises in the CFL. Yet the Senators are huge. An MLS team might well capture a big demographic in Ottawa.

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I don't agree with posters that claim div 2 soccer isn't viable in Ottawa. I think a div 2 team playing out of an 5-10,000 seat soccer specific stadium would be a great success. However, the game day experience in a 24,000 seat CFL stadium would not be anything close to the same.

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So, I can understand OSEG's position. A soccer team would offset some criticism of Lansdowne being a single sport facility and would bring in some rent and they wouldn't care much if the team failed or succeeded as it is far from central to their business plans. But what about John Pugh of the Fury? Why does he think his team would be successful in that facility? Has anyone talked to him or Grahame Ivory or anyone at the Fury to understand their position?

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So, I can understand OSEG's position. A soccer team would offset some criticism of Lansdowne being a single sport facility and would bring in some rent and they wouldn't care much if the team failed or succeeded as it is far from central to their business plans. But what about John Pugh of the Fury? Why does he think his team would be successful in that facility? Has anyone talked to him or Grahame Ivory or anyone at the Fury to understand their position?

The Fury is part of the process part of OSEG as potential tenant / owned part of group, what evolves is open to determination.... there is a second group led by Claridge homes money who wants to buy the Lynx baseball stadia and convert it to a 15 k soccer specific stadia, so far recs and parks hates the idea of losing a baseball diamond to soccer and have been blocking any offers to buy.... there is a Ontario county team playing now i believe but have no idea on how they are doing

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i dont wanna burst anyone's bubble but the ottawa will never a mls franchise, at least not in the short to mid term -- Garber used ottawa as levrage when the negotiations with JS went sour.

As per the person who said ottawa averaged more people at the U-20. First off, Frank clair is bigger than BMO and did they survey the crowd to see where they came from?

The key is to develop the sports market just like it was in montreal and vancouver and this begins with a division 2 team and a half stadium a la SS. lets look at this objectively, the CFL didnt survive in ottawa how can a soccer team live long and prosper.

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i dont wanna burst anyone's bubble but the ottawa will never a mls franchise, at least not in the short to mid term -- Garber used ottawa as levrage when the negotiations with JS went sour.

As per the person who said ottawa averaged more people at the U-20. First off, Frank clair is bigger than BMO and did they survey the crowd to see where they came from?

The key is to develop the sports market just like it was in montreal and vancouver and this begins with a division 2 team and a half stadium a la SS. lets look at this objectively, the CFL didnt survive in ottawa how can a soccer team live long and prosper.

I don't think it's that simple.

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As per the person who said ottawa averaged more people at the U-20. First off, Frank clair is bigger than BMO and did they survey the crowd to see where they came from?

I'm curious as to what you are getting at with the second half of your statement. Are you trying to imply that the majority of the people were travelling fans?

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