Monday, September 26, 2011

Competitive advantage vs the almighty dollar

Over at the 11, Steven Sandor has an interesting report up from a CSA press conference in Edmonton regarding host cities of home matches for the men's and women's national teams in the next few years.

Predictably, the women's team will play high profile opponents in the cities that will be hosting matches in the 2015 World Cup (I'm looking at you, Winnipeg).

For most readers, fairly or not, the men's team is our major going concern. And here's where it gets interesting:
And, if the Canadian men’s continues on its track in the first round of World Cup qualifying and makes it to the next round, where those games are played will be left entirely up to coach Stephen Hart.

Victor Montagliani, the CSA’s vice president, said that, like never before, the coach will be given power to determine where the qualifiers are played. Ensuring Canada has the best chance to secure three points is the major criteria. So, if Canada is playing a Central American nation in November, it may want to look at staging the game in as cold a place as possible.

“In the past, we haven’t done it that way,” he said. “But, if we need the three points, we’ll play in the Yukon.”

While I don't expect to see any men's matches in Whitehorse, ever, if true this would seem to suggest that the CSA is willing to sacrifice the extra revenue that would be generated from filling up BMO or Saputo in favour of a smaller stadium in a harsher clime.

This willingness is a good thing.

However, I doubt the rather more circumspect Stephen Hart would be so cavalier to suggest a match in Yukon as a potential ace up his sleeve. And there's reason to believe that, in particular, cold weather sites will not be hugely advantageous for the Canadian men.

Here are some points to consider:
  1. Canada is a cold-weather country. However, Canada's footballers hail primarily from southern Ontario and the west coast, and grew up playing April to October. These are not cold weather months. MLS plays a summer season, and Europe's winters are mild. Atiba Hutchinson catches grief from some of the PSV fans for being the only guy on the team to wear gloves at 10 C. As much as playing in -10 C will make the Hondurans uncomfortable, I doubt any of the Canadian team would be relishing the weather either.
  2. As many eastern Canadians are quick to point out, traveling realities come into play as much as climate and crowd support. While it might make sense to play host to Mexico in Winnipeg after a match against the USA in Chicago (yes, I'm suggesting we could possibly make the Hex) it would be less advantageous to play El Salvador in Edmonton at the beginning of a international window, necessitating an extra connecting flight for most players.
  3. There are trade-offs between maximizing home support and minimizing traveling fans. Toronto continues to build a base of die-hard national team supporters, but would be inundated with Central Americans for any key matchup. Give me 8,000 screaming kids and soccer moms packing a stadium in St John's over that any day. But put a match in say, Prince George, where you'd expect few fans, home or away, and you really stand to gain nothing. I don't put much stock in quality of support, but quantity of both home and away fans is key.
I suspect Hart will be conservative in his choices. He is somewhat limited by stadiums, though I suspect some FieldTurf installations will be considered (I am particularly hopeful about Winnipeg's new stadium in that regard).

Would Canada return to St John's? Would they consider a return to short shorts?

And one can only look ahead so far. Canada is likely to be grouped with Cuba, Panama, and Honduras in the next round. I don't think Hart should be concerned about Cuban away support, unless he plans on hosting the match in Miami. Playing Honduras anywhere within reach of the US eastern seaboard is problematic. I don't know much about the Panama expat community.

If I had to guess (and I do) I'd say it will be Cuba in Toronto, Panama in Montreal, and Honduras in western Canada.

But most of all I'm happy to see that the CSA apparently believes competitive factors should come into play.

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