MLS expansion fee won't scare away Whitecaps - The Vancouver Sun

Vancouver group undaunted by Montreal's pullout Ian Walker Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi isn't into reading into things. So despite a confusing turn of events this weekend, the longtime soccer executive said Monday he remains confident in Major League Soccer's desire for additional Canadian franchises. More specifically, one in Vancouver. On Friday, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced in his annual state-of-the-league address that the Montreal Impact had withdrawn its bid because of financial concerns arising from the $40 million expansion fee. Two days later, Garber amended his comments by saying the league actually had not retained the bid. While it could be a simple matter of semantics, more concerning for Vancouver soccer fans should be Garber's comments that more Canadian franchises "take away from growing our footprint and our television ratings in the United States." Lenarduzzi said while he was taken aback to hear of Montreal's early elimination from the bid process, he isn't worried about it hurting the Whitecaps' chances. Furthermore, Lenarduzzi fully understands the commissioner's stance on additional Canadian teams. It's something the Whitecaps were aware of when they first considered making the jump to MLS from the United Soccer Leagues First Division. "Something we've been aware of from the outset is that from a business perspective there are some challenges, but we feel our bid and the rationale behind why we think ours is one of the best bids with the ownership, history and club structure, come to something that may compensate for their concerns over the business aspect of it," said Lenarduzzi, who was en route back to Vancouver from Miami where he was attending the USL-1 annual meetings. "On top if that, if you look at the success of the [Toronto Football Club], they have done a good job of attracting a solid fan base and corporate interests as well." The Whitecaps -- represented by two members of their ownership group, Greg Kerfoot and Jeff Mallett -- met MLS officials on Friday in New York to go over their bid, which was received with high praise. Garber, who was involved in expansion in the National Football League, called Vancouver's presentation "one of the best I've ever seen." "It's a validation for the work we've put in," said Lenarduzzi. "It's great to have that kind of feedback. From the outset we knew it would be a battle, seven teams looking for two spots, but we've never been bothered with any of the others. We've put our best foot forward and will continue to do that up until the time they make their decision." The other cities remaining in the mix for a MLS franchise in 2011 include Ottawa, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta and Portland. A decision is expected in early 2009. The $40 million price tag is four times greater than what Toronto paid to become the first MLS franchise in Canada in 2006 and $10 million more than what Seattle and Philadelphia paid last year to become the league's 15th and 16th teams in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Unlike Montreal, the Whitecaps ownership group -- which also includes the National Basketball Association's Steve Nash along with businessman Steve Luczo -- has no qualms with the expansion fee. "We have the capacity to go with the $40 million, but it's premature to discuss money anyway until we're one of the two teams," said Lenarduzzi. iwalker@vancouversun.com © The Vancouver Sun 2008