Fab Four have hit on their hands - The Vancouver Sun

Greg Kerfoot and his three partners singing happy tune about joining MLS

BY IAN WALKER
 
It was 43 years ago this month that the London Evening Standard published a Maureen Cleave interview with John Lennon, in which the musician declared the Beatles "more popular than Jesus." A heavy statement, no doubt, but one that when taken in context proved true at the time.

A long-time fan of the Fab Four, Vancouver Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett may or may not have known about the anniversary before Wednesday's press conference to announce that Vancouver would be home to a Major League Soccer franchise, starting in 2011.

Either way, it didn't stop the former Yahoo CEO from comparing the Whitecaps' all-star cast of owners to one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.

Sure, it's a bit of an exaggeration -- with Mallett and Co. a few albums shy of the billion records the Beatles have sold -- but considering the excitement of the day, the analogy was forgivable. Also pretty funny, especially Mallett's self-deprecating reference to himself as the Ringo of the four-man ownership group that also includes Greg Kerfoot, Steve Luczo and Steve Nash.

The owners paid MLS a $35-million US franchise fee. That's down from the original price of $40 million, but higher than the $30 million the Seattle Sounders doled out two years ago. Toronto FC, which joined North America's premier soccer loop in 2007, paid $10 million.

"Greg's sort of our John Lennon; he's the quiet genius in the group -- always has a vision, always remains a big believer in what is possible," said Mallett, to a chorus of laughter.

"Steve Luczo, who I don't think anyone in the room has had a chance to meet, he's sort of our George Harrison. You don't necessarily see him there, but if he's not, it's not a band.

"And Steve Nash, who was texting me like a little kid last night saying "Is it done yet? Are we there? Is it going to happen?" ... Steve is sort of the Paul McCartney, he's the cool one in the group.

"That leaves Ringo for me, which is the steady drum beat in the back."

Kerfoot, who has owned the Whitecaps for the past six years, is an enigma of sorts. The Vancouver native shies away from any public exposure and wasn't even at the well-attended morning announcement at the Westin Bayshore. Mallett and Nash joined the fray in July, while Luczo got on board just before the October deadline for expansion bids to be submitted to the league.

Mallett, a former national team player, is an icon of the Internet technology boom that lit up stock markets from the mid-to-late 1990s. The North Vancouver native was one of the first 12 employees at Yahoo Inc. and helped transform the fledgling company into a billion-dollar business with 4,000 workers before he left in 2002. His personal worth was estimated to be $142 million in 2002, but just as important are his business connections and understanding of professional sports. The 43-year-old is well known to MLS and is also a part-owner of Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants.

Luczo is chairman of Seagate Technology, the world's largest hard-drive manufacturer, and a man who moves in interesting circles.

He's part of a Silicon Valley group that owns about one-third of the Boston Celtics, and he also owns a large chunk of the National Lacrosse League's San Jose Stealth. Luczo, who was not at the announcement, surfs, snowboards and mountain bikes and is a songwriter and co-founder of a music company that develops San Francisco artists.

Nash needs no introduction. The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player lists soccer as his first love and brings a global identity to the club. He and Mallett are co-owners of the Women's Professional Soccer League, which enters its first season of play later this month.

While Vancouver's bid outshone those of the four remaining cities -- the Whitecaps' soccer history, commitment to growing the game and soccer infrastructure was second to none -- the team's ownership group was just as important to the MLS when making its decision.

"They love the game and represent a new breed of ownership," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "It's a very passionate soccer market and an ownership group that gets the game."

Not to be forgotten is the band's manager.

Playing the part of Brian Epstein is Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of his employers to make their MLS dream a reality.

Lenarduzzi was left to explain why the Whitecaps name was left off of the team's MLS logos, which were displayed prominently throughout the room. There's a chance the club could go with a different name for 2011.

"There is a lot of things we need to make decisions on," said Lenarduzzi, who is a big proponent of keeping the historic monicker. "The Whitecaps name has a lot of equity. There may be people out there that think it may need to be something other than that."

Like sponsors, perhaps.

Season tickets for the 2011 season will be capped at 16,500, and Lenarduzzi said the team expects to sell out based on similar scenarios in Toronto and Seattle. Five thousand $50 deposits go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m. -- or, you can get in today with 2009 ticket packages. For more information go to vancouvermls2011.com .

The defending United Soccer Leagues First Division Whitecaps will move from Swangard Stadium to a renovated BC Place in 2011. The planned improvements include new seating, concessions, restrooms, a new artificial turf playing surface and the first retractable roof among MLS teams.

iwalker@vancouversun.com

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