New FC Edmonton GM says new stadium is top priority

New FC Edmonton general manager Tom Leip said that finding a new stadium for the team to call home is his top priority.

“For us, the key is a new facility,” he said. “We have to have more seating, we need different levels of seating. We need to be in a situation where we can create more revenue streams.”

Leip, who worked with the USL’s Portland Timbers and minor-league baseball’s Portland Beavers when he was a sales director at PGE Park, was introduced as the NASL team’s new GM on Thursday. “Without going into too many specifics,” Leip said he’s already been talking to interested parties within the last 24 hours about building a new soccer stadium in the city.

And, the team has been in contact with the city, which just approved a memorandum of understanding with Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz’s group for the construction of a new downtown arena for the NHL club.

Leip said the club understands that the more ambitious the project, the longer it would take to move in.

“The bigger the project, the greater or interest would be in it. But we also understand the bigger it is, the longer it would take to get done.”

Tom Leip

The team’s already received feedback from local soccer associations who would want to see some covered areas to allow for indoor practices, and knows that the Canadian Soccer Association would want to see a facility that could host “championship-level events.”

Currently, FC Edmonton — in its first NASL season — plays its home games at Foote Field, a facility that holds 3,500, with general-admission seating. The stadium is directly on the city’s main transit line, with an LRT station right outside the stadium gates. But, FCE is simply using a University of Alberta facility. The turf is old, and has football lines on it. Balls that go wide of the goals rocket into the yellow end zones at the ends of the field.

As it stands, the team is dependent on sponsorship and those general-admission tickets for the bulk of its revenue.

“Right now, sponsorship and ticket sales make up 80 per cent of our revenue,” said Leip. “We have to be doing a better job at both of those things, because that’s where we are bringing in revenue right now.”

Leip decided to come to Edmonton because his children — a 19-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son — are now mature enough to deal with their dad heading off to Edmonton to work. When the opportunity to manage FCE came up, he said the major decider, for him, was the owner’s passion for the game and long-term plan for the success of the sport in the city.

“The number-one reason is the owner. Actually, it’s reasons one through five. The owner, the owner and, did I mention the owner? Tom Fath’s vision and commitment to this is something that is quite unusual… Edmonton is developing its own story. The vision that Tom has for this, we can call it the Edmonton Experience.”

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.