PRESS RELEASE: November 24, 2008
MONTREAL – Following Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber’s comments on Montreal’s bid for the upcoming 2011 expansion, Montreal Impact and Saputo Stadium President Joey Saputo presented a briefing Monday morning to clarify the facts and shed light on the circumstances leading to the rejection of Montreal’s bid. Read the full address of Joey Saputo, principal representative of the Montreal bid delegation. ***
Hello to all,
Thank you for your presence at this morning’s briefing.
First of all, I would like to take this occasion to congratulate the Alouettes for their incredible season, knowing how difficult it is to be competitive year after year on the Montreal professional sports scene.
Congratulations to the organization and to all team members.
Speaking as the representative of a group that wanted to obtain an MLS franchise in Montreal, I consider it essential to speak to you today to straighten out a number of facts about our bid.
As you know, a lot has been said and written over the past few days regarding Montreal’s bid for an MLS franchise.
Today, I want to take the necessary time and opportunity to clarify, once and for all, some very important issues with you.
Montreal never at any point withdrew its bid from the process. We were rather informed that our bid was not retained.
The Montreal partnership NEVER, at any point, had any trouble whatsoever financing its bid.
There was NEVER any question of using public funds to finance this project.
So what happened exactly?
Allow me to briefly recap our bidding process.
In March of 2008, the Saputo and Gillett families combined their incredible strengths and experience in sports and entertainment to acquire an MLS franchise in Montreal.
While there was no bidding process per say back in March, we decided to put forth a proposal that was basically turnkey for the league, since we believe Montreal is an incredible market for soccer.
At that time, our detailed proposal projected a private investment, including franchise fee and stadium expansion, which totaled $43 M CDN.
After a few months and no feedback from the league, we were then informed that we had to resubmit a bid, this time by October 15, following specific guidelines.
Between the two bids, the financial landscape had dramatically changed, and we are now faced with an economic crisis of epic proportions and the Canadian dollar continuously losing value.
We nevertheless pooled our collective strengths and submitted a thorough, detailed bid which this time around, represented a total private investment of $45 M CDN.
At the end of October, having received no news from the league, I contacted MLS to inform them that Montreal, if need be, given its solid infrastructures and operational experience, would be ready to join MLS as early as 2010, should it suit the league.
During that same call, I was told that we would be invited down to New York to meet MLS officials to discuss our bid.
Finally, last week, after receiving an invitation to the MLS Final but still no news on our proposal, five weeks after submitting our bid in October, I was informed that our bid had been outright rejected because it never met the $40 M US expansion fee.
Since the beginning of our discussions with the MLS, we have always demonstrated interest, but not at any price.
Because we have the responsibility to ensure the development of soccer and its sustainability in Quebec;
Because we want soccer to remain affordable in Montreal;
And because we believe that after 15 years of experience and history, Montreal is, without any doubt, a sure value soccer-wise.
Of all MLS potential new markets, we are one of the very few that can immediately deliver a turnkey soccer operation:
– We continue to have success on the field;
– We have a tremendous fan base and media following;
– We have unprecedented experience in sports and entertainment marketing;
– We have an existing expandable soccer specific-stadium;
– And we have an experienced player roster that wouldn’t dilute the overall player pool.
Our bid included a 20,000 seat expansion in our stadium.
This expansion phase would not only have enabled us to meet MLS criteria, but would have ensured the completion of the grandstands around the stadium, as well as added a row of corporate boxes in the upper level.
We had also offered the creation of a foundation to continue our mission of promoting and developing soccer in Quebec and in the community because this is a fundamental factor of our success.
Finally, we are continuing to work on an indoor soccer center project to be located near the stadium, which will serve as a training facility year-round for the team as well as the Academy.
In soccer, like in any other realm of business, we have to make sure that our next acquisition will not be our last acquisition because it is a bad acquisition.
We strongly believe that a $40 M US franchise fee alone would seriously mortgage the future of soccer and of our team.
The bid that was submitted was absolutely not meant to be interpreted as a lack of respect towards the MLS and the expansion process.
Instead, I believe our approach was sound, based on a credible business model, in order to have a healthy franchise in the Montreal market.
In our eyes, this was a crucial element, especially given the current economic context.
We have the capacity to pay the $40 M US expansion fee.
I assure you that the issue was NEVER a question of MLS not being affordable for our group. It was – above all – a question of being sensible.
Unfortunately, while we stated our case in a detailed proposal, we never really had the opportunity to meet with MLS to discuss these issues, nor did we ever receive proactive feedback from our proposals at any time throughout this process.
I can only assume that the expansion fee – and the expansion fee alone – is the predominant criteria for entering MLS.
Having said that, while we were told that MLS is out of the picture for 2011, we remain open to any possible expansion in the future.
However, if the long and winding road of professional soccer in Montreal has taught me one thing, it is that any decision we take regarding this team and our sport has to make business sense first.
Regardless of the league in which we will play, our approach and philosophy have enabled us to achieve remarkable things up to now:
– We have a fantastic soccer stadium that is coveted by many clubs in North America;
– We are one of the most decorated teams in the history of Canadian soccer;
– We are the Canadian champions and will be taking part in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League in February;
– We have enjoyed international success with the Champions League and are determined to do everything it takes to repeat it next season;
– And year after year, our base of loyal fans increases, as our record attendances this season reveal.
The reality is, this team needs a year-round training facility and – should attendances continue to grow – we will eventually need to expand the stadium.
So many of the elements of our proposal can and will be implemented, whether we are in MLS or not.
To that effect, I can assure you we will always continue to improve ourselves every way we can, by always maintaining high standards of excellence.
And we will always look for ways to reach higher goals – without selling ourselves short or mortgaging our future.
Thank you very much.