Just for kicks

The new logo, the Toronto FC is unveiled in Toronto on Thursday May 10, 2006.  It is the 13th team...

The new logo, the Toronto FC is unveiled in Toronto on Thursday May 10, 2006. It is the 13th team in Major League Soccer and begins play in 2007. (SUN/Veroncia Henri)

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

With all the hype surrounding Toronto's new 20,000-seat soccer stadium these days, one question stands out: Will community associations really have fair access to it?

Those from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., who were at Thursday's launch of its new Major League Soccer franchise -- chairman Larry Tanenbaum, president and CEO Richard Peddie, executive vice president Bob Hunter, and Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer -- all talked about how they expect Toronto FC to be dwarfed when it comes to access to the soccer stadium on the CNE grounds.

MLSEL, with financial help from all three levels of government, is building the facility and is on the hook for cost overruns, but the city owns it.

The pro soccer team will be around for nine months of the year. With a dome to be placed over the facility during the winter months, local soccer associations, plus those running clinics and the like, will be able to rent it for whatever market-rate fee the city sets -- say, $150 per hour.

Hunter says MLSEL has to provide the city with a minimum of 50% access time to the community at market rates.

That is why, as Peddie says, Ontario Soccer Association executive director Guy Bradbury and a group of local soccer association kids were on hand at the news conference. For optics, at the very least.

Peddie says the MLSEL board was sold on a venture with a projected return on investment, "significantly lower than we normally ask for," convinced that the project has "benefits tougher to quantify," that go beyond ticket and sponsor revenue. There are the 100 million people worldwide, they say, who will be watching the FIFA under-20 world championship in July 2007. More kids watching and playing soccer means new generations of healthy, granola-eating MLSEL customers, we guess.

Peddie says the members of the board are citizens of the city too, concerned about youth crime and other local societal ailments. No doubt those comments will be greeted with chuckles by those who see the corporate giant as a shameless profit-seeker hoodwinking us sheep and looking to land whatever that minimum return on investment their teacher's pension fund overlords demand of them.

Still, without seeing the details of the agreement, with the levels of government involved, we'll have to assume it's a good thing for local soccer.

Bradbury is sold. With soccer growing in Ontario -- 440,000 members, 10,000 referees, 35,000 coaches -- the top concern for the OSA is the facility situation. That includes fair access to what is currently available, the need to build more and shore up the decrepit state of many that are out there.

It does raise the question of the private sector helping to get more sports facilities built. Hunter says MLSEL looked at buying a multi-plex hockey facility and operating it itself, in part to house a practice facility for the Maple Leafs and Marlies. But they couldn't make it work from a cost perspective.

"We're just not in the adult hockey or community hockey league business," Hunter said.

Therein lies the gap. As Karen Pitre, a consultant working with the city to draw up an action plan to help address the facility issue, says: "We're good at building big sports facilities, but the infrastructure that's non-existent is the level below that ... the soccer fields to train kids so they can get to those big facilities. You can't make money on the community facilities."

MLSEL says it is involved in the soccer deal for the good of the community. But it isn't in this for autographed soccer balls. Peddie says they are city builders. They are brand builders, too. And the city needs to make money on this deal. MLSEL covers the first $250,000 in losses. After that, those losses are split by MLSEL and the city. They split the profits.

Any hope of attracting private dollars to the sports community to build hockey rinks and community soccer fields or swimming pools will come down mostly to wealthy benefactors looking to give because it's good for the community. That is what the culture and arts community has accomplished.

Or, some company needs to be sold on something such as brand awareness. Pitre says it will be up to the sports community to get better organized and do a better job of setting and selling what those returns on investment are.

Still, they may want to look to the soccer stadium deal for pointers on the subject. There is a reason Mayor David Miller called in MLSEL, as Peddie says, to bail out a project that was sinking fast. MLSEL has both the deep pockets and the business acumen and would have been happy just to be tenants in the soccer stadium.

"It's the city's job to deploy its resources to improve our quality of life, and (private/public partnerships) is one way of doing that," Anselmi said.

DERBYS GO FOR IT

The semi-finals of the Royal Bank Cup tier II junior A championship get going today at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, with the host team, the Streetsville Derbys, looking to march on as the tournament's story line.

The Derbys hovered around the .500 mark for a lot of the regular season, then got bounced in the first round of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League playoffs by Georgetown back when ski season was in full bloom. Mid-February, we think.

That was the last time Streetsville played a competitive game before this week's tourney. Streetsville was ranked No. 5 out of five teams coming into the tourney. The Royal Bank Cup features teams from the East, West, Central, and Pacific regions, as well as Streetsville.

Team owner and coach Randy Gumbley points to his goaltender, David Wilson, as the big reason for their success.

"He's been standing on his head, for the whole thing," he said. "He's the reason we are where we are today."

Wilson has a 1.92 goals-against average and a save percentage of .947 going into today's game, against the Yorkton Terriers, at 7:30 p.m. Wilson had 41 saves in a 2-1 upset win by Streetsville over Yorkton in round-robin play Tuesday night.

Fort William plays Burnaby in the other semi, at 2 p.m. The final is tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

READER FEEDBACK

Naeem Siddiq writes: "I have coached baseball extensively at three levels. I have coached community baseball for ten years in Etobicoke.

I have coached high school through most of my career as an educator and I was the field manager for the first Ontario Blue Jay team in the Mickey Mantle age division.

I am very worried and bothered by the state of our game in this city and I have a number of theories about both problems and solutions.

Myth one, elite baseball is providing a higher brand than the one being played now back when I played at the rep level. The junior league that I played in back in 1988 produced a large quantity of both pros and collegiate stars. We all played for our local teams. We were fortunate to play in a wonderful league.

I believe the quality in the elite level is lower than the rep level even ten years ago. Elite kids these days are not the best kids but instead the ones with the most money.

It is true that we have some truly outstanding players at the elite level. But do not make the assumption that we did not have outstanding baseball before elite.

Myth two, is that the coaching is somehow better at the elite level. There are only a few coaches at the elite level that know how to teach fundamentals.

Many promises are made to these kids about college scholarships and some teams never even practice.

Myth three, amateur baseball's primary function is to produce professional players. Our goal should be to grow the game so that young people enjoy their summers and kids develop character.

Anybody who knows about Carmen Bush and what he did with baseball understands what I mean. Ironically, in the past when we were more concerned about character development, we produced pros.

Myth four, baseball can be a career for adults. I am sick and tired of the number of adults who are trying to avoid the working world by charging kids for what I got for free.

Clinics are run by businesses who claim to be there for the kids but really are trying to generate revenue. Many of the elite coaches are just trying to get jobs as scouts or make connections with colleges.

The key for us should be community baseball. There is room for an elite program that should service no more than two dozen kids.

We need to draw back the athlete into the game who is not going pro or looking for a college scholarship. This type of player will not pay thousands to play baseball.

We need to sit down as so- called adults and realize that we need all three levels of baseball to be successful -- high school, community and elite."


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