Home Canadian Soccer Men's National Team How the CSA can fix its WCQ public-relations mess

How the CSA can fix its WCQ public-relations mess

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In the wake of Thursday’s announcement that Toronto will host Canada’s next three World Cup home qualifiers — and will also get the June friendly with the United States — message boards and Twitter have been filled with our country’s soccer fans at each other’s virtual throats.

Where there should be a push to support the national team, there is bitterness.

The Canadian Soccer Association has a public-relations nightmare on its hands. And that’s what this column will address. The CSA badly underestimated the regional divides in Canada, and the announcement picked at those scabs rather than acting as something that would unite fans from coast-to-coast.

What this column won’t do is make an attack on Toronto itself. It’s counterproductive. It’s simple. Coach Stephen Hart was given final say on the venues for the qualifiers, and he went with Toronto. It’s his decision. So, Hart’s Toronto call should be judged just as fans judge a correct or incorrect roster selection or tactical decision. If Canada doesn’t get results in Toronto, if Toronto doesn’t offer a discernible home-field advantage, then Hart should be held to account for his decision. But we have to wait for those games to be played to assess if the call was the right one or not.

If Canada doesn’t get at least four points from its first two home matches, then let the barbs fly. If Canada gets six points from its first two home matches, it’s hard to argue with the logic. Hart’s job is to get international results, not be a regional peacemaker between Canadians.

And, let’s face it, the Ontario Soccer Association already leaked the details two days before the announcement. We were all really sort of expecting the Toronto announcement, anyway.

So, where did an confirmation of what we were all really expecting — that all of Canada’s home dates in the next phase of World Cup qualifying would be played at BMO Field — become such a public-relations nightmare for the CSA?

First off, let’s look at the circumstances. Umbro was launching Canada’s new jersey and, like any fashion event, it was held in a great venue with an exclusive guest list, with great food and drink for the journos who could make it out. As a society, we accept that fashion events are pretty exclusive. The PR agency that represents Umbro has a great relationship with the soccer media in this country and knows how to market its stuff.

But someone decided to politicize the launch by adding on the announcements about the venues — information which should have come out in a separate press conference or even a press release. So, imagine, Canadian soccer fans are tuning in to see the jersey launch, and see the people in Toronto swilling beer and eating expensive hors d’ouevres. Then comes the announcement that Toronto is getting all the games.

If you can imagine anyone in Edmonton or Vancouver or Montreal watching the event, you can understand the whole “Let Them Eat Cake!” feel to the whole proceeding. The jersey launch was hijacked by the foolish decision to announce the location of the games, something the CSA would have known was a divisive topic.

I don’t think Canadians really have a massive issue — with our stadium inventory being so poor at the moment — with Toronto being the host of the games. Montreal’s stadium isn’t ready yet. Yes, it’s scheduled to be completed in time; but the key word there is “scheduled.” How many stadium delays have we seen in various cities around the world? Many over the years. If the CSA would have committed to a stadium that isn’t complete, that would have been foolish, as well.

The issue is that, in doing the event, the CSA forgot what should have been its mantra going in — play the games in Toronto, but never, ever, forget that the team is supposed to represent the nation as a whole. By mixing it with a fashion launch, the announcement of dates came off as elitist and exclusive. Streaming the whole affair only made it worse.

Let the PR firm handle the kit launch. Let it do what it does well.

(Mind you, the one change I would have made — if it could have been afforded — would have been to do three simultaneous kit launches; one in Toronto, another in Vancouver and the other Montreal. While Julian de Guzman walked out on the catwalk in Toronto, Patrice Bernier could have marched out in Toronto, maybe Russell Teibert in Vancouver. Yes, the timing of the kit launch could have been coordinated to not conflict with MLS camps.

Actually, considering Albertans spend more money per capita than anyone in the country, and have the highest incomes in Canada, I would have put a launch in Canada’s retail capital, West Edmonton Mall, as well. After all, it’s not raw population that matters to marketers, it’s what the population spends on average, a key factor that’s missed when sports journalists try to wade into economics.)

Reaching Out to the ROC
OK, so how does the CSA fix the mess?

What needs to be done is a campaign that reminds the rest of Canada that Toronto will welcome them. First off, a section of seats should be made available for travel packages for Canadian fans. If the CSA wants to be proactive, it needs to work with a partner to come up with flight, hotel and tickets packages. It can be a moneymaker.

There is another thing that the CSA could do to make the rest of country feel more included — and that could begin in 2013. Get more cities involved in our national club championship.

The Amway Canadian Championship hasn’t been a sellout success so far. Its TV ratings have been poor.

So here’s a unique solution; instead of a two-legged final, why not award the Cup final to a different city every year? The pro clubs would be happy, because the burden of the Cup would be taken down from two games to one. We all know one-off Cup finals are infinitely better than two-legged affairs. After the first leg, the second leg usually degrades into a game of chess; just think of last year’s NASL final, where the second leg was unwatchable as Minnesota protected its lead over Fort Lauderdale.

So, one year, Ottawa is guaranteed the Cup final. The next year, Victoria. Then maybe Winnipeg. Out to Moncton. It gives non-MLS and non-NASL markets the chance to see the MLS/NASL teams play, and it would give the competition a badly needed breath of fresh air. It would also give each year’s game a unique “Cup final” feel.

And it would help the CSA try and rebuild some bridges.

When the Women’s World Cup arrives, which will force the host cities to build the kind of updated training facilities that should blow Canada’s current set up in Nottawasaga, Ont., out of the water, then Toronto will once again get fierce competition for men’s games. The CSA also should have done a better job reminding people of that fact during the media event.

 

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8 Comments

  1. Jeff

    February 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    You’re comparing apples to oranges with the CFL comparison. Unfortunately, due to us being the deep south of Canada, Saskatchewanians have a die-hard obsession with the Riders, and will travel en masse even if the team isn’t in the Grey Cup. The Grey Cup game itself has a massive party attached to it, where each team gets to host some type of party for their fans. I don’t see the Vs Cup as having enough capacity to pull something like this off.

    Bottom line, let’s all get back to reality here. It’s clear that Umbro Canada and the CSA are focusing on building the fanbase for the Men’s program in the Golden Horseshoe area for the time being, and that Vancouver is going to be gifted the prestigious games of the Women’s World Cup. They’re taking a bit here in order to give a bit there (although in most people’s eyes I doubt the two are actually equitable). Let’s not discount the amount of play I’m sure Umbro Canada had in the decision to play all games at BMO.

    • Steven Sandor

      February 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Yes, Vancouver did show very well during the CONCACAF qualifiers. City did a fantastic job and deserves a shot at a lot of the marquee WWC games.

      But there are still some things for WWC that need to be worked out. No host city has a practice facility that FIFA considers world-class. And my understanding the first city to get such a training ground would get an inside track to big games.

      As well, whenever you talk to FIFA people, they still rate Edmonton really high. Remember that Edmonton has still hosted the most successful women’s tournament Canada has ever hosted, that U-19 World championship where 50K showed up for the final. Sepp Blatter and co. were in attendance for that one and it still sways them.

      Both cities could make very strong cases — Vancouver for its closeness to the U.S. market and better air connections. Edmonton would offer a much better chance for a world-class training ground, as a proposal for an FC Edmonton stadium is in the works. Vancouver has a larger population base, Edmonton has a more affluent population base. The debate will be interesting. I think both are worthy cities.

  2. Mark Bick

    February 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    One could make a strong argument that the USA/Honduras games should be held in Vancouver, another location.

    1)The team will be together for 12+ days, foreign players’ season is finished by June, travelling the extra four hours to Vancouver is not a factor.

    2)Temporary grass could be laid down at BC Place….if the USSF sanctioned a Gold Cup game against Canada at Ford Field a year ago, I don’t see how they could complain. The Caps do have a game on the 6th, not sure how a three-game, 10-days scenario holds for the temporary surface, but they could remove the grass for that clash and put it back in time for the Honduras match.

    3) Money….yes, the grass could cost $200-300,000, but you would have to conservatively suggest that you would get an extra 30,000 fans over BMO for the two games — at $40 a ducat, that’s an extra million dollars in the CSA’s bank account (yes, the stadium costs probably higher than in Toronto – but I’d suggest that the extra attendance would have the balance closer to 2 million.)

    4) Honduran expats support their team…ask the States, who since 2009 have played them in Washington, Chicago and Miami.. .and they’ve been there in large numbers, and any viable location in Canada will experience the same support. Unless the CSA plays some “tricks”- offer a two-game same-seat option, hold back tickets for OSA clubs, Hondurans will be there.

    The CSA could have opted for Van, Winnipeg, Edmonton,Montreal, Moncton — give 1 match away from T.O. and pocket a probable seven fiqures.

  3. L Birdsall

    February 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    I did not hear the Women’s team, a team that has had 100 times more success than the men’s team, complaining about the turf when they were playing in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Canada crowds of 23 and 25,000 last weekend. All BC fans are asking for is one game on the most up-to-date turf available. Stephen Hart and crew can be prima donnas only when they actually win something.

  4. seathanaich

    February 4, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Firstly, the CSA has contractual obligations to the Toronto stadium which were part of it getting built, so that’s the underlying reason. Since it is, the CSA should be honest to fans about this. Secondly, it doesn’t matter where Hart or the players want to play. That’s the CSA’s decision, not theirs. Their job is to qualify and win games. The CSA’s job is to grow the sport within the whole country.

    Do NOT award the Cdn Champ to some random city each year. That’s retarded. Have it played in front of the fans of the two teams in it. No, we do not “all know” that single game finals are better than two-legged affairs. By that logic the Stanley Cup should have been decided in a single game in Chicago last year, rahter than in a seven-game series in Vancouver and Boston. What a ridiculous claim. If my team is in the Cdn soccer championship, I want to be able to actually watch them compete in the final, and I want that for all the fans of both teams.

    The real solution to this “mess” is for the CSA to base the Men, U-20s, Women, and U-20s in four different cities each year, and then change which team is based where each year. With existing MLS fan bases, Van, Tor, and Mtl should be three of those four every year, leaving the fourth to migrate. That will build up local media and fan interest. If the men don’t “like” the turf at BC Place, tough. Liverpool FC train on the same stuff. Explain this to the players.

    • Steven Sandor

      February 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      I don’t think the comparison works. Stanley Cup is based on games, not goals. Had Bruins-Canucks been on aggregate it wasn’t close. In aggregate you get a lot of negative tactics, more than a single-game final.

  5. nicotine

    February 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Interesting idea about the V. Cup, however wouldn’t hosting the final in select host cities pose more problems? 1) I think the crowds would be scarce, while most of the teams have strong home followings, interest outside of their region is next to nil. Sparse crowds look worse in tv, etc. 2) it opens the CSA to further PR problems in regards to which teams can qualify for the V.Cup, where’s the fun in hosting a trophy game in Ottawa if the Fury can’t even play for it? Expanding to other cities is imporrant, but for me it’s a two prong process – the CSA must also cultivate a vested interest by expanding the competition itself.

    • Steven Sandor

      February 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      You bring up good points. For the idea to work, you would need to make sure there was breathing space — maybe a month — between semifinals and final, so fans would have time to get tickets, make travel plans. The delays that happened with last year’s final show that you could back it up and still make your CCL plans.

      My argument is that CFL fans make the pilgrimages year after year for the Grey Cup, and the hosts don’t seem to care if their team makes it or not. Why wouldn’t Canadian soccer fans adopt the same mantra. Or is the soccer community that Balkanized? If it is, then we have a major, major problem.

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