Go! Sears, Go!

FC Edmonton co-owner Tom Fath, left, and  Sears Home Services regional vice-president of operations...

FC Edmonton co-owner Tom Fath, left, and Sears Home Services regional vice-president of operations David Boone pose with the team's new jersey displaying their new sponsor, Sears Financial, during the official unveiling at the Victoria Soccer Club in Edmonton on Thursday. (Amber Bracken, Edmonton Sun)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

EDMONTON - Hockey fans would be horrified if the Edmonton Oilers decided to replace the Oil Drop logo and skate around wearing Rexall on their sweaters.

Imagine the Montreal Canadiens replacing their logo with McDonalds? The New York Yankees wearing U.S. Steel on their pinstripes?

Soccer, however, is a different deal.

If you don't have the name of a major company on your clothes, you suffer in status.

The Vancouver Whitecaps biggest signing when they moved up from the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer this year was not that of a player but of landing Bell at a reported $4 million a year.

The Los Angeles Galaxy has Herbalife on their kit for a reported $4.5 million a year. The Seattle Sounders signed Microsoft up for $4 million. D.C. United receives an estimated $3.5 million from Volkswagon. Toronto FC brings in an estimated $1 - $1.5 from BMO.

There's an estimated $500 million a year in shirt sponsorship dollars in Europe topped by a reported $25 million to be on the jersey of Manchester United alone.

Samsung pays Chelea $19.2. Carlsberg supports Liverpool to the tune of $13.4. Emerates pays $9.6 million to Arsenal.

So I guess this is why somebody at FC Edmonton was inspired to send out a tweet on the official team Twitter account last week that there was a press conference being planned with "monumental" news.

That news was revealed Thursday.

FC Edmonton will begin play in the NASL April 9 wearing Sears on their shirts.

OK, monumental that isn't, especially at a number not likely to be too far into six figures.

But the two-year deal with Sears Financial is significant for starters for this fledgling franchise.

"Sears is now our most important asset," is how owner Tom Fath put it.

"In the world of soccer you have to have a big-name sponsor. It's a significant statement of support and a great privilege when an international organization with such a strong reputation joins you and wants to have their name on your jersey. We think this gives us some credibility," said Fath.

With FC Edmonton playing in the Nutralite Cup series against MLS Toronto FC and both legs being shown on Sportsnet, there's value there for Sears in the beginning and the deal is designed to grow as the team grows.

The first game of the Herbalife Canadian pro team tournament, (which also features the Whitecaps vs NASL Montreal Impact in the other series with the winners meeting to represent Canada in CONCACAF team competition) is April 27 in Commonwealth Stadium.

Tickets go on sale Monday at surprisingly sane prices ($35 reserved and $25 rush) considering the exceedingly high ticket prices for the Everton, River Plate, Portsmouth and Colo Colo exhibition games the past two years, and the significantly higher prices fans will pay to watch the two teams play a week later in Toronto.

"We want to be affordable. We want to fill as many seats for the Toronto FC game as we can. It would be nice to have 20,000 for that game for these players. We think we're going to have a great product on the field and we want to share it," said Fath.

"We have a lot of promotion planned starting in about 10 days and we think we'll do better for this game than the international games because we think a lot of Canadians know Toronto FC better than, say, Colo Colo.

Fath has already invested about $2 million in the franchise including losses on those games, setting up an academy and having the team up and running for an exhibition schedule last year.

There's every indication the team has been well built and well prepared to start the NASL regular season in Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Carolina before heading home to play Toronto FC in their ultimate credibility game.

"I think we're ready for it," said head coach Harry Sinkgraven.

Fath believes if the team can compete right out of the gate, it will find it's following.

But with less than a month to the Toronto FC game, his team has next to no season ticket holders and, worse, almost no identity, visibility or traction in town.

"I'd say less than 5% of people in Edmonton have any real concept of who we are or what we're all about," he said.

But Sears does. And Sears is in. That's a start.

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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