At what point does a business operation become a labour of love?
Steveston’s Colin Elmes is pretty much living that moment right now, even after running TSS Academy, a local soccer training school for up-and-coming young players, over the better part of two decades.
That’s because he acquired a soccer team franchise that will play in the PDL (Premier Development League), what Elmes considers to be the third tier in the professional game on this continent, kicking off play in May.
“Most people in the soccer community looked at us as if we had three eyes,” Elmes quipped. “But we have, over the past 20 years, carved out a living and made some money with TSS. So, with what we’ve had to go through to maintain our business in the soccer world locally, I think we’re the guys who can make this work.
“We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Elmes said he is bankrolling the endeavour with the TSS Rovers, which is designed to attract mostly college and university aged players, all of whom are expected to be Canadian, many of them repatriated from NCAA teams in the U.S.
But does operating a team make good business sense?
“The business side of it for us is really about creating a pathway where there is a top, something for the players, on the male side of things, to aspire to,” he said, adding that TSS has a record of placing the majority of their high school age players with colleges and universities.
But when it comes to soccer in North America, the sports ownership landscape has been littered with plenty of examples where ventures collapsed in spectacular fashion. Well-financed clubs in the old NASL such as the New York Cosmos — which was backed by Warner Communications — didn’t survive. And even the Vancouver Whitecaps, playing in arguably the Canadian hotbed of the sport in the late 70s and early 80s, disappeared as attendance here, and around the rest of the league, waned and the bills mounted.
Elmes knows this all too well as a young fan of the NASL era Whitecaps. But he is optimistic the roots created by his soccer academy a generation later, the rise in exposure to the sport through the MLS Whitecaps and wall-to-wall TV coverage of the game from around the globe will encourage fans to give his new team a look.
“Our goal is to have 10,000 people come through in our eight games. And if we reach that I’d be absolutely over the moon,” said Elmes, who will also serve as the Rovers’ head coach.
That would go a long way in repaying the cost of purchasing the PDL franchise (new ones cost $50,000 in U.S. dollars) and the first year of operating the Rovers is expected to be somewhere in the $120,000 to $150,000 mark.
Elmes managed to secure an existing PDL team — the Crossfire Premier side from Redmond, Washington — for less and moved it north of the border. He declined to divulge just how much of a discount he managed to get.
The team will play in the PDL’s six-team, Northwest Division along with Calgary Foothills FC, Lane United FC from Eugene, Oregon, Portland Timbers U23, Seattle Sounders U23 and Victoria Highlanders FC. All home games will be at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium.
“Swangard was a huge component of this,” he said. “If we had tried to go to a local park and put fencing around it to create a stadium atmosphere, which the league demands, it wouldn’t have provided us with the cachet Swangard has.
“Any soccer fan who has grown up around here knows what that place means. It’s an iconic place,” he added.
When it comes to the players turning out in the Rovers’ red and black strip, they will not be paid, although the club will help with some expenses.
On the other side of the business ledger, to create a revenue stream, the Rovers will charge $70 for seven home PDL matches, plus a special eighth exhibition match against a team with a higher profile.
Individual game tickets will cost $10 for adults and $7 for those under 12.
Sponsorship is a large part of many sports team’s viability and the Rovers operation is making efforts to firm up support through the many connections TSS has established over the years.
Once Elmes was sure the deal to acquire the PDL franchise was going to be accepted by the league, he brought together a group of “soccer crazy” individuals who also possessed some business clout to form a board of advisors.
“They are people who are connected to our (soccer) world from the past,” Elmes said, “parents who have had kids in our programs and who are keenly motivated to support local soccer. And they are pretty strong-willed and financially capable people, who if they are not willing to contribute some kind of sponsorship themselves, they know people who would.”