MLSE interested in marketing for men’s national team?

For the second time in two days, some significant-if-true-but-there’s-nothing-near-official-confirmation-of-it-yet news: according to a poster on the Ultras 114 board, who apparently bore witness to a Q&A session with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Richard Peddie, MLSE “wants the opportunity … to take over marketing for Canada’s men’s national team.” We don’t have any independent corroboration of this information — and looking at the other posts in that thread, I’d hardly call it a rock-solid news source — but if this turns out to be true, it would present a very interesting situation.

No matter what you think of MLSE, one thing is certain: they have cash, and they’re willing to spend it if they believe they’ll get a return on investment. Toronto FC has been a near-universal success for its owners, and has opened their eyes to the potential of soccer in this city and country (as evidenced by their recent purchase of GolTV). Considering the “marketing” of the men’s national team has been essentially non-existent (save for the occasional appearance of Jim Brennan or Julian de Guzman on a jar of Nutella), MLSE’s willingness to get involved would almost certainly raise the profile of the national program by leaps and bounds.

Greater awareness means greater interest, greater support and greater media coverage. And while there’s no definitive cause-and-effect link, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to suggest that, in the long run, this could also mean better results. As Canadian soccer supporters, I think we’d all agree that these are our objectives, regardless of who is working behind the scenes.

Of course, this is still just an unsubstantiated rumour, and may have been nothing more than an off-the-cuff remark by Peddie that never leads to anything. And even if there are plans in place, we don’t know the specifics (and probably never fully would) and there definitely could be downsides: as one poster on the Voyageurs forum suggested, there’s the possibility that MLSE involvement in the men’s national squad could limit the team to playing home games at BMO Field — which is operated by, you guessed it, MLSE. And while this would be handy for me personally, I agree it would be quite disappointing for the national development of the game.

But it’s far too early — and the facts far too sketchy — for any of us to start making solid arguments for or against this arrangement. For now, it’s best to keep in mind that despite the image that MLSE has developed in the minds of many Torontonians (as a shadowy cabal of evil guys, intent on meddling with the day-to-day affairs of the Maple Leafs), they are ultimately astute businessmen whose objective is to maximize returns, and who have clearly done it very well… and if they’re willing to touch the national program with a ten-foot pole, then they must be seeing something worthwhile in there. And that, certainly, is some good news.


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