Gryphons slowly rising

AMANDA ROBINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Ed Lauterbach believes there are four keys to a successful sports franchise -- a good stadium, good marketing, a solid fan base and a good product.

His London Gryphons have nailed down only one -- the product.

"We're looking to build a stadium in the next two or three years because it's the best way to establish a really sound base," he said. "We've got a good product, but we just don't have the wherefore to do the marketing."

To build his franchise, Lauterbach believes in the American way.

He's impressed with the fact that their amateur leagues are organized like a pro-league system.

"If you watch some of their programs at the youth level, it amazes you how well they're set up," he said.

Lauterbach, his son Aaron and longtime family friend Aldo Caranci set up the London-based amateur expansion team in 2004, making it the eighth Canadian team in the United Soccer League's W-league.

The W-league, a U.S-based semi-pro loop, is the top level for women's soccer in North America, attracting players such as Charmaine Hooper and Tiffeny Milbrett.

The Gryphons have been inconsistent the last two seasons. In 2005 they were one point away from a playoff spot, but last year they ended the season with four wins.

This year, the London team has nearly a whole new roster and Lauterbach has a new strategy.

For one, the Gryphons president wants to build the team around local players. Currently nearly half of the 15 players are from London. His goal is to get 90 per cent .

"We're looking for the top players in the area because . . . if (people) can identify with (the players) they're certainly going to come and take a look at them," he said.

Secondly, Lauterbach wants to lower team expenses, currently covered by him and his son from the family-owned consulting company Caron Executive Search. It cost $40,000 to start the team.

"We have no sponsors, so everything we pay comes out of pocket," said Lauterbach, who is hoping to attract sponsors this year.

Running the Gryphons is expensive because of travel, which fluctuates.

Last summer the team went to Minnesota for a weekend trip that cost $10,000. None of the costs were incurred by players. Over the season there were several other trips that cost up to $1,000.

To lower travel expenses, Lauterbach worked out a deal with the W-league. Minnesota, which draws between 5,000 and 10,000 fans at home, will travel to London this season. In exchange, the Gryphons will play the top Midwest Division team twice.

"You have to have a love for the game because financially you're not going to make any money out of it, whether you're London United, London Gryphons, or Harry Gauss and City," Lauterbach said.

Somewhere down the road, the Gryphons hope to break even, hopefully, from their ticket sales -- which cost between $2 and $5 -- and the concession sales at the North London Athletic Field Stadium, their home turf.

Everything is volunteer run. And Lauterbach admits everyone is being stretched thin.

He's still the president of London United, the minor league club. His wife and daughter volunteer with both organizations. And Aaron Lauterbach is the Gryphons head coach.

With only 80 fans on average for each game -- the stadium seats 1,000 -- the team often plays to a near empty stadium.

Financially, the Gryphons are losing. But London sports fans are losing too.

"(We're not) getting recognized for the level of play," said John Howell-Harries, who does public relations for the team. "We've tried promoting ourselves as a higher level of soccer that the kids and youth can aspire to."

But the bitter politics associated with London soccer clubs, and lack of coverage in the local media leaves Howell-Harries unsure of how many inroads they've made in promoting the game.

For Ed Lauterbach, despite the challenges he remains committed. He recognizes that being president for two organizations is a full-time job and can sometimes cut into his own full-time work.

"(We) eat, sleep and think soccer seven days a week," said Lauterbach, who was raised on soccer in Germany.

He has no doubt the team will be succesful if it can just get Londoners out to the games.

"What we're doing now is we're sending London United players out to see (the games) and I have yet to hear if any of our teams come out and say, 'Hey, that wasn't good soccer,' " he said.

"They all say, 'Wow, that was good soccer.' "


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