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Melnyk takes kick at world's game

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The world’s game and a world-class outdoor stadium ... It’s Eugene Melnyk’s new vision for the nation’s capital.

Melnyk announced Tuesday morning that Senators Sports & Entertainment intends to bid for an expansion Major League Soccer franchise and will build a soccer-specific stadium to house the team next door to Scotiabank Place, the home rink of his Ottawa Senators.

MLS, which is already adding new franchises in Seattle (2009) and Philadelphia (2010), plans to expand by another two teams in 2011. Ottawa is among nine cities in the hunt and Melnyk intends to aggressively pursue a team.

It's a game he is more than confident he and his organization can win.

Senators Sports & Entertainment COO Cyril Leeder details plans for the stadium that will be a part of the group's bid for a Major League Soccer team (Photo by Jana Chytilova/OSHC/Freestyle Photography).
“Soccer is a sport with global reach and presence,” Melnyk said in formally announcing the bid at a press conference this morning at Scotiabank Place. “It is a sport steeped in culture and tradition, with a unique ability to connect fans from around the world.

“We want to bring the world’s game to Ottawa and there is no better way to do that than to become part of Major League Soccer. It’s a strong and exciting brand of soccer and we would be honoured to become part of it.”

Asked to rate his chances of winning a bid, Melnyk replied "I'd say very, very high." He added he won't be discouraged by a failed bid this go round, saying "I'm like the Energizer bunny. I'll keep going and going and going."

The jewel of the bid is a soccer-specific design stadium with a seating capacity of up to 30,000, which would meet MLS requirements and also make it worthy of playing host to future FIFA events. It will feature a natural grass pitch and be surrounded by five other fields available for use by a soccer community that Melnyk noted is the second largest in Canada.

“A world-class stadium is paramount to bringing professional soccer to Ottawa,” said Melnyk. “While the stadium is a focal point of bringing Major League Soccer to our city, we also recognize the need for a stadium exists far beyond (that).

“We’re a world-class city and we deserve a world-class stadium … Building an outdoor stadium is a major investment in our community."

Melnyk called Senators Sports & Entertainment's investment in the project "substantial." It includes a $40-million franchise fee, with the stadium carrying a pricetag of at least $100 million. Melnyk hopes federal and provincial government support, sponsorships and naming rights for the stadium will combine to help finance it.

"There are multiple sources here," he said. "Naming rights are very valuable these days. There's corporate sponsors that would sign on board. You've got projections for season tickets. All of that is going into our bid package."

While soccer is the focus of the new facility, Melnyk and SSE also hope to attract concerts, outdoor festivals and other special events to the venue. One end of the horseshoe-shaped facility will contain a stage for such events, and its location allows for the use of 7,500 parking spaces that already exist at Scotiabank Place.

Senators COO Cyril Leeder noted that the stadium plan is linked to the obtaining of an MLS franchise. It would be built on land southeast of Scotiabank Bank currently owned by the city of Ottawa and used as a snow dump. Preliminary discussions have already been held between SSE and the municipality.

"The two are tied together," said Leeder of the stadium and an MLS team. "We need a franchise for the stadium to be viable and vice versa."

Melnyk is counting on the Senators success story to help win the day. Several MLS owners also operate National Hockey League franchises, and Melnyk said all are aware of the Senators' growth from lowly expansion outfit to one of the NHL's model franchises.

"Look at what they tried to do 20 years ago (with the Senators) and people were laughing at it," Melnyk said in applauding the efforts of some of the NHL team's builders, many of whom he'll also look toward to make MLS work in the capital. "Look at where we are today. We're one of the most successful hockey franchises in the NHL and there's no question we can do that with soccer here in Ottawa.

"These (MLS owners) are very, very smart people. Many of them own hockey franchises. They know what we've done here in Ottawa. They know what are attendance levels are. ... They know we are capable of putting together a sports franchise that will be competitive on the field and secondly, make it financially viable."

Community support will also be vital in showing MLS that Ottawa wants to be a part of the league. Melnyk urged bid supporters to make their feelings known on a website unveiled today in conjunction with the bid launch.

"If everybody goes to that website and just gets online and sends it out to 10 people and keeps showing support, that's going to be very helpful," he said.

Franchise bids for 2011 must be submitted by Oct. 15, with a decision on the successful bidders decided by early 2009 at the latest -- perhaps even as early as this November.

To show your support for Senators Sports & Entertainment's MLS bid and stadium plan, log on to

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