Monday, June 20, 2011

The NASL is Coming to Ottawa

The news that broke late last week is now official. The NASL has awarded a team to the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). The yet to be named team will play at a redeveloped Lansdowne Park. They will join the league once the stadium is complete, likely in 2013 or 2014. The NASL currently has eight teams, and will stay at eight next season with San Antonio replacing Montreal, who are joining MLS. John Pugh, the owner of the Ottawa Fury and the newest member of OSEG, has been named the team's President.

I was able to attend this announcement and had a conversation with Mr. Pugh. He told me that there would be fan involvement in choosing the team's name and colours. He also spoke of his desire for Ottawa to have a supporter group similar to the Southsiders or the Red Patch Boys. He hoped the games would be fun and noisy. I asked him if he was going to move the Ottawa Fury Women's team to Lansdowne, and he said that was unlikely. He also said there are no plans to bid for a WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) team. During Mr. Pugh's statement to the press, he mentioned that Ottawa would be participating in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, or as I prefer to call it, the Nutrilite Voyageurs' Cup. I asked him if he thought the NVC should be expanded to include teams in the CSL and other leagues across Canada. He said that is the way the FA Cup & US Open Cup are run and, though more logistically difficult, it is a great treat for fans and he wouldn't mind seeing something similar in Canada.

I also had the opportunity to talk with William Shenkman, another member of OSEG, who has previous football experience as he is part owner of Millwall in England. Shenkman talked about how Millwall came quite close to being relegated from League One in his first season at the club and of their later promotion to the Championship. I asked him if he thought a system of promotion & relegation would work in Canada & the United States. He replied that it wouldn't. He mentioned that clubs here, even established MLS ones, don't have the support to keep a club afloat if they were relegated. He mentioned that even in England some large clubs face a lot of problems if they are relegated and used Millwall's archrivals West Ham as an example. We discussed how difficult it would be for a league to lose a market like New York, LA, or Toronto through relegation. I also talked about expanding the NVC with Mr. Shenkman; he hopes it happens and would look forward to an Ottawa derby with Capital City FC. He told me he is glad there is another team in the city that is getting the community out to watch soccer. He said he doesn't think of Capital City as competition for the soccer dollar, more that both clubs are creating interest in local football and that will help everyone.

The final person I spoke with this morning was NASL Commissioner David Downs. We started by talking about stadiums. He thinks the redeveloped Lansdowne will be a great stadium, however he fears that its 24,000 capacity could be too big. He stated that somewhere between 5,000 & 15,000 seats was about right for the NASL. I asked him if he had a maximum number of teams that he would want to have in the NASL, in light of the MLS likely stopping at 20. He said that anywhere between 12 and 16 teams would be great, adding that eight is too few. Ottawa will be the ninth team when they join the league. He mentioned that the League is in talks with other cities, but wouldn't comment on who they are. He also said that it is important for his league to grow prudently. That said, he did expect there would be more growth now that the MLS is likely to add only one more side. The Commissioner said that everywhere there is a successful first tier there is also a successful second tier. He is confident that the NASL will be successful, as will a team in Ottawa.

Though I tend to share the Commissioner's fears about the 24,000 seat stadium being too large, I am excited to see what will happen next, and will be in the stands when Ottawa's newest professional team takes to the field. I should add that the City, OSEG, and CSA are in talks about having Ottawa as a host city for the 2014 U20 Women's World Cup and the 2015 Women's World Cup. Obviously, the redeveloped Lansdowne would host the matches. Hopefully the construction is finished before 2014 so we can have both NASL and the Women's u20 World Cup here in 2014.

1 comment:

Immersed said...

Great overview of today.