MATTHEW SEKERES AND PETER MALLETT
Steve Nash, the two-time NBA most valuable player, has teamed up with Vancouver Whitecaps FC owner Greg Kerfoot in a bid to bring Major League Soccer to Vancouver for the 2011 season, sources told The Globe and Mail yesterday.
Multiple sources said that an announcement of the bid is expected this week after the MLS's all-star game in Toronto. Yesterday, a representative of the Victoria-raised Nash, a soccer aficionado, said the point guard was "hopeful" that an announcement about the Vancouver proposal would come tomorrow.
"We have potential ownership groups from multiple Canadian cities [in Toronto this week] and Steve Nash is one of them," MLS vice-president of marketing and communications Dan Courtemanche said. "We've had numerous discussions with Mr. Kerfoot and the Whitecaps, with Mr. Nash and multiple discussions with the Saputo family [of Montreal]."
Nash's younger brother Martin is a midfielder with the Whitecaps.
Meanwhile, MLS commissioner Don Garber publicly mentioned Ottawa yesterday as a potential expansion city in a nod to Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the NHL's Senators, who has recently expressed interest in landing a team. Previously, Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo and Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett said they would combine efforts to bring MLS to an expanded Saputo Stadium in Quebec's most populous city.
Both the Whitecaps and Impact compete in the less prestigious United Soccer Leagues.
The flurry of Canadian interest in MLS franchises comes amid a report on Vancouver radio station Team 1040 yesterday that Garber is set to make a significant announcement today concerning the league's expansion plans.
"At our board meeting [today], we'll review a very comprehensive expansion plan that will really outline our plans for the next two expansion rounds," said Garber, who added he is speaking with "multiple Canadian markets about future expansion: Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver."
The Vancouver report said that after the board meeting, Garber would announce plans to raise the ceiling on the number of franchises in the league, which has been 18, to as many as 24 by 2014. It also said that Garber would identify Montreal and Vancouver as expansion "priorities."
Garber did not acknowledge those plans during his state-of-the-league address yesterday and said the league was in "no rush" to expand. But an insider said the league would be foolish to artificially suppress membership, given that interest is widespread and that lucrative expansion fees hang in the balance. Garber said that he would reveal further expansion plans by November 23, the date of the MLS Cup, to be held in Carson, Calif.
The league will add its 15th and 16th franchises in the next two years as Seattle and Philadelphia join the circuit in 2009 and 2010, respectively. After that, the plan calls for at least two more franchises, and possibly four, by 2011, which is the year both Montreal and Vancouver are targeting. In Ottawa's case, sources said yesterday that Melnyk has held preliminary discussions with MLS officials and that the nation's capital is a long-range target for a potential fourth Canadian franchise before 2014.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi declined to comment about the Nash-Kerfoot partnership or any forthcoming announcement.
The Whitecaps plan to move into a refurbished B.C. Place Stadium in 2011 and have held meetings with the owner, PavCo, a provincial Crown corporation, about making the stadium more soccer-friendly.
"We believe it will be a much more intimate building than it is," Lenarduzzi said.
The viability of potential Canadian expansion franchises will depend on their ability to drive revenue both inside stadiums and on television.
Garber is meeting this week with potential sponsors and national television partners to gauge how Montreal and Vancouver stack up in those regards. It has been reported that Montreal's bid for a team is further along than Vancouver's, but it is a fluid process and could change, depending on what Garber and his officials learn about revenue streams.
"We understand that this country is very passionate about the sport, but that passion is not enough," Garber said. "We need to make sure that it makes good business sense to expand here in comparison to adding those teams down in the United States."
Garber has also said there is serious interest from U.S.-based investors in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Portland and St. Louis. Soccer insiders have estimated it could cost potential investors between $30-million (U.S.) and $40-million for a new franchise. Toronto FC, which joined the league in 2007 under the ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, paid $10-million for its expansion rights.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Impact confirmed the club is still in discussions with the league over a joint Saputo-Gillett venture. Saputo, the Impact owner, has indicated his desire to complete plans for the $12-million (Canadian) expansion of recently christened Saputo Stadium to 20,000 seats from 13,000.