Knight: No Impact - Globe and Mail

Knight: No Impact
Ben Knight

Montreal is out.

Impact owners/financiers Joey Saputo and George Gillett have looked at their bank books and the markets, and decided that a $40-million (U.S.) expansion fee and the cost of building a new grandstand at Stade Saputo are more than they can presently afford.

I have deeply mixed emotions about this. Certainly, I'm disappointed that a good organization with a cozy stadium won't be stepping up to join Major League Soccer any time soon.

But I've also struggled to understand why a modest little club enjoying a wonderful season (USL-1 finalists, Voyageurs Cup champions, into the quarters of the CONCACAF Champions League) would want to commit such a huge amount of money to be part of such an odd, limiting league.

Obviously, MLS is a significant step up from USL-1. But is that difference really worth $40-million? Especially since rumours walk the night that the real price could be as high as $50-million once the league is done kicking the tires of its six remaining expansion applicants?

If I were Montreal, why would I want to hang-glide into a financial hurricane, when I might be able to catch an existing, financially strapped franchise falling out of the sky? I'm a guy who buys 10-year-old Honda Civics for $5,000, and drives them for years. There is no possible incentive that could make me even consider buying a new one.

We have only the league's word that the real value of an MLS team is anywhere near $40-million. Toronto FC got in for $10-million, just three short years ago. What if the current global financial correction fells an existing MLS franchise? Yes, the teams are insulated by the overall joint-ownership set-up, but lots are losing lots of money. If the day comes when something's gotta give, there could easily be a team available for a fraction of $40-million.

And that's when Stade Saputo could look like a luxury lifeboat, floating safe and clear of the storm.

There were other Canadian MLS developments yesterday. MLS commissioner Don Garber couldn't find enough glowing words for the Ottawa proposal, backed by Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk.

“They do give a very focused plan as to where they'd build the stadium,” Garber gushed. “Their presentation was not just about how they were going to build the stadium, but how they were going to build the sport.”

Um, did Melnyk say anything about public money, Don? If so, did he happen to mention there's another stadium in Ottawa – two if you include the abandoned baseball park – and that any public funds are almost certainly going to be aimed at them? The Bytown stadium situation is about as clear as a mudslide, and not much easier to navigate.

Garber also called the Vancouver Whitecaps' bid one of the best he'd ever seen – including NFL proposals he'd played some minor role in. But he also darkly noted he does not want to “jeopardize” the growth of soccer in the United States.

In other words – we know nothing.

I think Montreal made the right move, soccer fans. If Ottawa and Vancouver want to pony up the bucks, and either actually lands a team, well, that's good for everyone and good luck to them.

One of the biggest dangers of pro soccer in Canada is the risk of pouring too much money down too big a drain for far too little return. Toronto FC have been the exception – but as noted, they got in for a quarter of the present asking price.

I have no doubt we will, either through expansion or relocation, someday have broad, healthy Canadian representation in a bigger, stronger and less-restrictive MLS.

That day may not be today. But that may be for the best – for everyone.

Onward!