BC Soccer optimistic about Vancouver Whitecaps MLS debut

Proud fans watch the Whitecaps' first MLS victory. Photo by Rosie Tulips

The enthusiasm surrounding Saturday’s Whitecaps victory over Toronto FC has BC Soccer Association excited about the future of youth soccer in the province.

As a director of BC Soccer, Steve Allen said he expects the Whitecaps’ integration into Major League Soccer will boost interest in soccer for both parents and their children.

“In general we expect to see an increase in youth registration. BC Soccer’s programming has changed over the last year in anticipation of the MLS,” Allen said.

Many of the 23,000 screaming fans that witnessed Whitecaps star Eric Hassli score two goals on Saturday, leading the team to victory over Toronto FC, were parents and children.

“Those kinds of activities tend to generate new registrations in the youth game,” Allen said, adding that when the parents become interested, they’re much more likely to register their kids to play.

This February, BC Soccer announced the eight clubs comprising their new Premier League. Top-level talents in youth soccer will be recruited from multiple age ranges to participate in the first ‘mini-season’ this fall.

The league, which recently enlisted EA Sports as a major sponsor, begins its first full-season in March of 2012. BC Soccer’s Premier League will have youth competing on the national level.

“Our reorganization was to bring us in line with the rest of Canada,” Allen said.

Some adjustments

“BC’s in a very unique situation in that we can play soccer all year round. It’s also a double-edged sword because you get lousy weather, more injuries. Summer time, when we should be playing or training, we’re not.”

Like the Canucks, the Whitecaps sell 50/50 lottery tickets at their games and a significant portion is marked for youth programs. Allen said he also expects increased revenue from the Whitecaps to help development.

“More camps, academies and programs that people can take part in. There’s some revenue generation there,” Allen said. He added that many of the kids involved at this level will have their eyes set on a career in soccer that may include university, college, or even the Whitecaps themselves.

While the new league has been organized around the anticipation of the Whitecaps heading to MLS, Allen hopes the added interest in the sport will show at all levels of competitive soccer in BC.

Beyond simply raising interest in the sport, there are expectations that the Whitecaps will have other positive effects on the province.

Around $563 million has been injected into renovations at BC Place, the future home of the Whitecaps and BC Lions. With this, there is added hope that Vancouver will win its bid to secure the 2015 Women’s World Cup of Soccer.

Hope for growth

While increased revenues are expected by people like Allen to trickle down to the lower levels of soccer in the province, he said he also expects merchandise sales and tourism to have a positive effect on the local economy.

“It’s flying off the shelves right now,” Allen said of Whitecaps merchandise. “There’s a lot of [economic] activity that comes from these events.”

BC Soccer expects that games against Toronto, Portland and Seattle will generate the most tourism, with visitors loyal to these teams staying in hotels and enjoying Vancouver’s culture.

The general confidence in the future of the Whitecaps has also led to an all-star line up of sponsorships. Among the names secured before Saturday’s MLS debut are Bell Canada, Bank of Montreal, Electronic Arts and Kia Motors.

With all the investment, sponsorship and enthusiastic fans surrounding the Whitecaps’ ascendancy, it would seem that Vancouver has caught soccer fever.

“The reality is, when the Whitecaps started to look at [entering the MLS], they had other things in mind as well.”

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