VANCOUVER — Read-only memo
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC formally announced plans to bid for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise yesterday on the premise that co-owners Steve Nash and Greg Kerfoot would turn the new team into a not-for-profit operation.
The Victoria-raised Nash, a two-time NBA most valuable player, and the reclusive Kerfoot, a local businessman and current Whitecaps owner, make a heavyweight partnership in terms of financing, name recognition and clout in the soccer community. They also have broad political and grassroots support, as was evident at a news conference yesterday to formally announce their plans.
Their aim is to invest any profits the new team might make into amateur soccer in British Columbia, and it is suspected that the Steve Nash Foundation, which has charitable status in the United States and Canada and promotes a healthy lifestyle for children, would have a role in the team.
But Nash and Kerfoot may have another partner — or a competitor — en route to MLS membership.
A source told The Globe and Mail this week that Francesco Aquilini, whose family owns the NHL's Canucks, was negotiating with the duo as recently as this month. It is unclear whether negotiations are continuing or whether the Canucks might team up with the Kerfoot-Nash group in the future.
For the moment, Kerfoot and Nash are vying for a team that would take the field in 2011 at a refurbished B.C. Place Stadium complete with a retractable roof, draping over the immense upper level, and reconfigured lower-level seats to make it a more intimate soccer environment.
Yesterday, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said he expects to hear more about MLS's expansion plans over the next week. At its all-star festivities in Toronto this week, MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league would add its 17th and 18th franchise in 2011. The franchises are expected to cost $40-million (all currency U.S.).
"We believe the MLS is the best league in North America," Lenarduzzi said. "What we'd like to do as a club is be able to show that we are one of the best sides in North America."
For more than five years, Kerfoot has also been pursuing a waterfront stadium in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood. The project has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape and Lenarduzzi said he hoped the MLS foray would renew political interest in the stadium and persuade the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which owns the land, to approve Kerfoot's plans.
Nash, a point guard with the Phoenix Suns, is one of Canada's most recognizable athletes and a lover of the "beautiful game." His brother, Martin, plays midfield for the Whitecaps, who currently compete in the United Soccer Leagues First Division.
Kerfoot funds a residency program for the women's senior national team and has pledged to fully finance the cost of the new stadium while making it available to the public.
But MLS franchises are becoming intriguing businesses for the country's NHL teams after the overwhelming success of Toronto FC, a second-year MLS club owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the NHL's Leafs and NBA's Raptors. Owners of the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers are all reportedly exploring MLS at various stages of interest.
A competing bid from Aquilini could split allegiances across the Lower Mainland and pit two sporting giants against each other. The Canucks are the province's top sports-entertainment draw, while Kerfoot is soccer's largest benefactor and Nash is a national hero.
Nash said he would be investing a "considerable" amount of his own money for an undefined minority stake and would be a hands-on owner. He attended the MLS all-star game on Thursday at BMO Field in Toronto.
"I really see myself as just being a superfan, being a fanatic of the team," he said.
A Canucks spokesman said yesterday that Aquilini was out of town and could not be reached for comment.