Whitecaps may change name after joining MLS
Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi says he can't guarantee that the soccer club will keep the Whitecaps name once its joins the MLS in 2011.
Lenarduzzi made the admission after confirming Wednesday that the city has been awarded the second Canadian MLS franchise.
But during a glitzy press conference in Vancouver, Lenarduzzi indicated that he is cool to the idea of a name change.
"There are a lot of things we need to make decisions on," he said. "The Whitecaps name has a lot of equity. There may be people out there that think it may need to be something other than that."
Still, gaining entry to North America's top soccer league marks a personal victory for Lenarduzzi, who played for the Whitecaps when they won the North American Soccer League Championship in 1979.
"I honestly didn't think that there would be an opportunity to recapture what we had back then,'' he said.
Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, praised the city and the team's ownership group, which includes NBA star Steve Nash.
"It's a very passionate soccer market and an ownership group that gets the game," said Garber.
"Our goal is to become one of the world's best soccer leagues. The addition of Vancouver will help us get to that point."
Current Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot is heading the Vancouver ownership group. Joining Nash are San Francisco Giants co-owner Jeff Mallett and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Luczo.
The group paid US$35 million for the franchise. The other Canadian MLS franchise is Toronto FC, who joined the league in 2007.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are the defending champions of the United Soccer Leagues first division. The team will continue to play in that league during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Vancouver was one of four remaining groups hoping to be awarded one of two MLS franchises for the 2011 season. Ottawa, Portland and St. Louis also applied. The MLS is expected to award the second franchise at a later date.
The Vancouver MLS team will play at BC Place. The stadium will undergo approximately $365 million in improvements, including a retractable roof, before the club takes to the field after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The venue will have a 20,000-seat soccer-specific configuration.
Season tickets will go on sale Saturday. Lenarduzzi thinks it will be possible to sell 16,500 season tickets.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also attended the news conference.
"The Vancouver Whitecaps have been a part of our province's history for more than three decades," said Campbell. "As an MLS team, the Whitecaps organization will carry on that incredible tradition, as well as generate economic benefits of up to $25 million each season."
MLS began play in 1996 as an eight-team league. Seattle will join this season as the 15th franchise with Philadelphia in the on-deck circle for 2010.
Lenarduzzi pointed out that Toronto has over 16,000 season ticket holders and Seattle has capped their season tickets at 22,000.
"There is no doubt in my mind we are a better soccer market than those two," he said. "I am excited about the prospect."
With files from The Canadian Press