New team on the block

The Montreal Impact announced in 2010 that they would be transitioning from the United Soccer League’s First Division to Major League Soccer in 2012. The Montreal Impact will be the third Canadian team to play in the MLS, after Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Montreal Impact’s home, Saputo stadium in Olympic Park, is currently undergoing a $23 million dollar renovation that includes increasing seating capacity to over 20,000.

The Montreal Impact have existed since Dec. 1992 — founded by the Saputo Company — and competed in several North American professional level soccer leagues. During their stint in the American Professional Soccer League, the Impact won the league championship in their second year of competition.

The Impact was forced to deal with major changes within the North American professional soccer leagues, and ownership changes over the next 10 years, but still managed to win another league championship in 2004. By 2008, Impact was still winning and averaging over 11,000 fans per home game. The team qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008 and won a third league championship in 2009 before the MLS finally accepted the Impact’s bid in 2010.

Major League Soccer is still gaining traction amongst North American sports fans. Ratings have been low, but in the last decade, viewership has increased — so much so that soccer has become the fastest growing team sport in North America..

When David Beckham signed a five-year contract with the LA Galaxy in 2007, he brought much needed visibility, marketability and star power to the league. Before Beckham, MLS was forced to pay to broadcast matches on TV. Now, NBC is paying MLS US $10 million a year for broadcast rights and Time Warner Cable has reported to sign a US $55 million dollar 10 year deal. Game attendance in 2011 increased 7 per cent, for an attendance average of 17,872. Beckham’s presence did a lot for the league.

Toronto FC, Canada’s first MLS team, is considered to be one of the most successful launches in MLS history.  Ever since its inaugural season in 2007, Toronto FC has been a profitable venture, earning the City of Toronto over $1.2 million in profits. Even though BMO Field cost $62.9 million to build, the team is well on its way to paying off its cost.

It’s no surprise to see the Montreal Impact make their MLS bid — though the league is still behind the top four sports leagues, MLS remains the top tier professional soccer league in North America. MLS membership will provide the Montreal Impact with national television exposure and credibility.

The impact this will have on the Canadian soccer scene is massive (pun very much intended). With the success Toronto FC has had and the initial support that the Whitecaps have seen in Vancouver —despite an abysmal maiden MLS season — it will come as no surprise if the Impact becomes popular and profitable in Montreal. Hopefully MLS and the general public will see professional soccer as a viable sport in Canada and support the fledgling franchises during their growing pains, so that more Canadian teams might join the MLS in the future.

However, any future success — no matter how probable — is purely speculation at this point. The Montreal Impact will need support from their local fans to succeed. The first Montreal Impact MLS home game is scheduled for March 17th, 2 p.m. EDT at Olympic Stadium against the Chicago Fire, while June 16th remains the tentative date for the Montreal Impact’s first home game in the renovated Saputo Stadium against Beckham and the LA Galaxy.

For those interested in following the Impact during their inaugural season, TSN will be broadcasting 10 Impact games as per their broadcast agreement with MLS.