Falling markets don't slow MLS bids - The Canadian Press

- Jim Morris

VANCOUVER -- With the stock market staggering and the Canadian dollar falling this wouldn't appear to be the best time to invest money into bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Vancouver.

Even with the uncertain financial markets Jeff Mallett, the former Yahoo! Inc, president and an owner of the San Francisco Giants, believes soccer has a long-term future on the West Coast.

Mallett, who was born in Vancouver and raised in Victoria, and Steve Luczo, a part owner of the NBA Boston Celtics, have been added to the list of potential owners seeking an MLS team for Vancouver. They join NBA star Steve Nash and current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot.

"Yes, it's bumpy as it goes right now but we believe in the long term in sports," Mallett said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. "Short-term bounces are not going to throw us off that."

The Whitecaps are one of seven prospective ownership groups that have submitted applications to become one of the next two teams to join the league by 2011.

Mallett wouldn't say how much each investor has pledged toward the US$40 million expansion fee. He said Kerfoot will lead the group.

"We will all have a significant amount in there," Mallett said. "A significant amount of money . . . but also a significant amount of time committed to it.

"At the end of the day Greg will be our lead. We will follow him and help him where we can."

Bob Lenarduzzi said Mallett and Luczo bring business experience and solid financial backing to the Whitecaps' bid.

"Steve and Jeff bring a tremendous amount of business acumen to our ownership team," Lenarduzzi said in a release. "Both have demonstrated credibility in the business of sport, as well as significant entrepreneurial successes."

Luczo is part of the new Boston Celtics ownership group that led the team to its record 17th NBA title last spring. In 2007, Luczo partnered with Jay Penske in creating the IndyCar Series racing team Luczo-Dragon Racing Ltd. He also has an ownership stake in the San Jose Stealth of the National Lacrosse League.

The Chicago native was CEO of Seagate Technology from 1998 to 2004, and has served as chairman of the board since 2002. Seagate Technology is the worldwide leader in hard disc drives, generating 2008 revenues of approximately US$12 billion. He holds a BA in economics and psychology, as well as an MBA, from Stanford University.

Mallett has been an owner and member of the executive committee of the Giants since 2002 and became an investor and board adviser to the commissioner and board of governors of Women's Professional Soccer in February.

He served as president and chief operating officer of Yahoo! Inc. from 1995 to 2002. A Fortune 500 company, Yahoo! Inc. will generate revenues in excess of $7 billion for fiscal year 2008.

Mallett has been involved in soccer most of his life. He played the sport at the University of Victoria and is a former member of the Canadian national and Olympic soccer team programs.

The 14-team MLS is set to add Seattle in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010.

The league office and the MLS expansion committee are currently reviewing the Whitecaps MLS expansion application, along with six other applications from markets in the United States and Canada. An announcement regarding which markets will receive the next two expansion clubs is expected to take place last this year or in early 2009.

The league currently operates under a US$2.2-million salary cap. Mallett doesn't think the sagging Canadian dollar would hamper the Whitecaps.

"We had a good, hard look at all costs before we put ourselves out there," he said. "We believe most of the money that will flow toward this franchise won't flow for a couple of years. We believe it will flatten out and get back close to the baseline."

Currently each MLS team is allowed to pay one franchise player outside the salary cap, with league approval. That number could be increased to two.

Mallett isn't opposed to the idea of bringing a franchise player to the Whitecaps but likes the team's current system of residency programs to develop local talent.

"We are big believers in the club model," he said. "The key element will be able to bringing five or six or seven home-grown player up through your system."

Mallett also isn't worried over reports AC Milan is pursuing David Beckham, the MLS's biggest name.

Milan wants to sign Beckham to a loan deal that would allow the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and former England captain to play in Italy's Serie A for a few months starting in January. There is speculation this could pave the way for Beckham to leave North America and return to playing in Europe.

"I believe to have Beckham-like players is important but not critical," said Mallett. "I believe it's important to grab that next layer of awareness both North American-wise but also globally.

"At the end of the day it's going to have to be the overall quality of football and qualify of soccer that is really going to get a sustained fan base. It's not a one-person league."