Just another inbred cousin
Again, we could all calm the hell down but it was unsettling nonetheless as we discussed the general embrace of the branding universe, which, as Scott reminded me, "Is nothing new to sport. "Let's talk about Red Bull's New York, Halifax Mooseheads, Wrigley Field...". Still, Victorian Stuart Allen, who attended the Canadian 2–1 loss at Royal Athletic Park, March 27, couldn't help but wonder what might be around the corner, "I'm sure if the CSA were allowed to do so, the jersey would be decked out with advertising decals like an inbred cousin of NASCAR".
Of course that's not entirely unusual. Pro clubs everywhere have turned kits into real estate and often we can identify similar coloured teams by their sponsor markings alone. Think Arsenal, 2006, in Big Bird yellow with great big 'O's on the front sides. Just awful... wankers! Well, there are no CSA plans to run ads on our national jerseys, no matter what colour they are. That would be an international 'first' we shouldn't lay claim to. However, Sharon Marejka, Executive Director of Lower Island Soccer Association (LISA) wouldn't snub the idea on the local front.
"If a company turned to Lower Island today and said, here is half a million dollars but in return we want our logo on the middle of all your fields and maybe painted on the face of all of your players, I would personally be out there with the paint brush."
She's not kidding either. Marejka remains one of BC footballs' brightest assets with passion to spare but she, and ESE's Barber, both in the business of football across two continents, can't escape the realities of our game.
"Having somebody give you money in exchange for having their logo on a jersey or website can be the difference in whether a program can 'go' or if a hardship player can play," says Marejka. "That is how desperate we are for funding. It is a sad fact that for the elite soccer player either within a district, province or nation, the Government gives little to no support. Here in Victoria we actually turn away players because we do not have enough fields to put them on".
Fields to play on and sponsors to pay for it are laments from the lowliest leagues to the lofty offices of the CSA. The March 24 tour date scheduled for Burnaby's Swangard Stadium was thwarted by excessive rains and reassigned to the FIFA-approved FieldTurf of Coquitlam's Percy Perry Park. The CSA can be commended for finding an alternative on such short notice but it certainly didn't impress the Scots who claim to only ever practice on such stuff. Changing venues is simply not an easy task in Canada and not nearly as attractive as say, "We apologise for the change but tonight's match originally scheduled for the Stadium of Light will now be played at the Theatre of Dreams. Thank you for your understanding."
The Yahoo's in black
So there we were at a surrogate field with more lines than an East Van crack house when one photographer turns to another and says, "Who's Canada?" as he stares at the pukey blue squad and the all black squad. Well, I thought, to a knowledgeable football fan (most Canadian media are not), by default anything blue would be Scotland and anything black would be... either Pirates or the Forces of Darkness. Had Canada appeared in red there would be no confusion, not with the Scots. Should Canada play the new FC Toronto anytime soon in their spanky new red and onyx (!) kits from Adidas we might need the black again, but preferably white. Reaction on the street was mixed. This is Canada and a great deal of folk just didn't care but again, the romantics were quick to take exception.
"The only positive from seeing the black jerseys is that I'm finally gonna get off of my ass and purchase a red Canada soccer jersey. Long overdue," insisted Victoria's Allen.
That wasn't the response the CSA would expect as from their perspective, according to Scott, the kits have been very well received.
"From the players side it's all been positive. There's six dates and we figured we'd wear black for at least five. The only question we had was the actual opening of the National Soccer Stadium on May 11. We were thinking we should wear red but you know how superstitions go. Had the team won the first two matches they might have said, we should wear black again 'cause we're on a winning streak."
Yeah, great, but... black!
"It's not the first time we've worn black kits. We wanted to build some excitement." retorted Scott, content that black is a fine choice. "70's psyche reports suggest teams wearing black exhibited greater strength and power. That's why the Vancouver Canucks switched from blue to black – to create a more powerful image. I'm one of the fans of those jerseys. A look back at the recent u20 and Canada wore a special yellow jersey which hails back to the 1920's Falcons from Winnipeg. But again, just the tour, not the tournament itself."
I reminded Scott that the Oakland Raiders of the '80's drew more flags wearing black than any team before them, and that referees would fall victim, like anyone, to the preconceived notions of groups of black-clad men. We both agreed that the referees would never admit to such if it were true in football, American or otherwise. The black kits may be here to stay, if only as a third option, and the ruling isn't in yet on what colour Canada would play in to open the new National Stadium in Toronto. "Red" I suggest with absoluteness. Scott chuckles. Of course I'd settle for white 'cause I don't know if you've noticed but we have a tonne of talented black kids on the squad and they'd look fabulous in white. Think, Denzel Washington in the Navy!
Apparently Scott looks fab in white also, claiming to be one of the proud, the few, still wearing an old V-neck Whitecaps jersey. "I get riddled a lot," says Scott. "I grew up in Vancouver in the early eighties and I love the V-Vancouver sweaters. I bought my son one four months ago."
That would bring a grin to the cheeks of his Whitecaps counterpart, Nathan Vanstone, who wasn't entirely impressed with the brandomania of the first two tour dates and who could also point out that, unlike the jersey-pimping trend of greater soccerdom, Vancouver's kit is all Whitecaps baby.
"It's good we've got the fans talking," concludes Scott, "because ultimately they're the ones who are going to tell us which way to go."
Would anybody like to tell the CSA which way to go!
Our goal for this tournament was 520,000 spectators (32 matches times 10,000 tickets). We announced March 1 that we had half a million spectator tickets [sold] before the draw even took place, which makes this by far the biggest single-sport event in Canadian history. The previous record was about 400,000 for a World Junior Hockey Championship. We've blown past that and we're ahead of what Netherlands did two years ago. In the single week following the draw we did about 70,000 spectator ticket sales. We've established our goals four months ahead of schedule – Richard Scott
Flogging one's assets
Controversial sponsor/branding issues aside and with only three months between now and the little big one (June 30-July 22) there is some concern over the almost complete lack of advertising for the FIFA u20 World Cup. The CSA's tournament marketing partner, Y&R, made it clear six months past that the show "is going to be huge" but since then they haven't said much and hey, if they don't tell us exactly how big this should be what are we to do. Seriously, this is Canada. On the street, absolutely everyone is saying... nothing. Everywhere you look... nothing. You'd think the drone of silence and the slice of good ol Canuck apathy would be deflating the balls of the u20 World Cup as we speak.
"Building the love of the beautiful game in a country that has a hard-on for hockey and Tim Horton's is an uphill battle of monumental proportions," insists Allen. "If it's gonna be advertised, they have got to do a way better job than they're doing."
So we put Guido back in the cadillac bound for Ottawa 'cause we seriously need to pimp this tournament. With so much resources afforded CSA concerns about branding and sponsors and FIFA-friendly promos it appears the CSA forgot to remind everyone there are actual matches involved. Surely, we need to build ticket sales rather than sponsor egos? Again, Scott would likely suggest we all calm the hell down, then, when the CSA is ready, we can all get excited again! The advertising is on the way.
"Obviously there's a lot more coming," assured Scott. "It will start with print advertising and we'll have television ads in May/June – CBC are the official broadcaster. In the weeks leading up to the event we'll have radio advertising. There will be lots, there will be plenty. We've got big plans to really push this forward."
To be honest I'll think we'll keep the caddy gassed up 'cause I'm still not feeling the 'hugeness' of it all however, an appreciable side note from Scott suggests the CSA will also spice things up a little online, throughout the 52-match tournament. In the same way FIFA promoted the use of Flickr to upload and share fan photos of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, fans are invited to visit www.TheKIck.Yahoo.ca to do same from across Canada. Flickr 2006 featured tens of thousands of images on and off-field and proved popular if not convoluted and of questionable content at times. Though unlikely to blow the doors off the bandwidth, the CSA's variant is a nice addition to a currently meager mix of crowd pleasers.
Coming to terms with sponsor-ball
"Maybe it's us that are blinkered by the romance of the game, rather than having the more pragmatic viewpoint of the powers that be," laments Barber, from the land of Barclaycard's EPL (formerly Division 1) and Coca Cola'sChampionship League (formerly Division 2 before it became Div. 1!). "I can however understand that the CSA has to generate revenue from its teams, given my own experience of the apathy with which Canadians seem to view the game."
"Nobody can win championships and progress in terms of developing talent without sponsors backing, claims Scott.
Do we write it all off then to unusual circumstances call for unusual solutions? To a great extent we have no choice.
"If, for just two years, sport - any sport - could receive the millions and millions of dollars being flung at two 'Canadian' companies (Air Canada and Bombardier) then businesses such as the CSA would not have to prostitute themselves to get players on the field, argues LISA's Marejka. "If there is no support at the federal level our sport has no choice but to beg, plead and steal it where we can."
Arguably, we should lighten up on the CSA at times for lacklustre whatever's 'cause they too share Marejka's problem. As Allen would suggest, "At the end of the day money trumps everything. The pursuit of the almighty dollar will dictate how
things get done within the CSA."
Still, there are limits to how we whore Canada or our kids. Consider for instance a u9 boys squad from four years past, near run out of town for acquiring a national discount chain as a jersey sponsor. Apparently North Vancouver didn't appreciate the thrifty middle-class realties of our game. For club or country it appears we all have an uphill battle ahead of us. We're going to need good boots.
In retrospect, we've learned some valuable things here. Prostitution is still the oldest sport in the world. Prostitutes don't always wear red. Prostitutes are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, or talk to on the phone. Sometimes, they're just kids damnit! You may not like prostitution but sooner or later, it's coming to a park near you. And last but by no means least, Sharon Marejka is available for body painting.
ps. In the making of this article, Richard Scott never once said, "Calm the hell down!"