Teams: Toronto FC, Fiorentina, Barça
Troubled tour plans return
By Peter Mallett
Globe and Mail, Wednesday, March 9, 2005
A revived ChampionsWorld Series tour hopes to bring top European teams to Montreal and Toronto this summer but unpaid debts to Canadian soccer's governing body may stand in the way of its return.
Despite applying for bankruptcy protection earlier in the year, ChampionsWorld LLC said yesterday that the New Jersey-based organization has received new financial backing and is in negotiations to stage games at Toronto's recently renamed Rogers Centre and Montreal's Olympic Stadium this summer.
However, ChampionsWorld still owes $250,000 to the Canadian Soccer Association for games last year at Toronto's SkyDome and that could stand in the way of any encore performance.
"The gate issue from last year hasn't been resolved yet and we hope in the coming days we will be sitting down with the CSA, solving the problem and move forward on this," said Charlie Stillitano, chief executive officer of ChampionsWorld.
Promoters of international soccer games are bound by Canada's governing body, which requires an 8-per-cent cut of gross gate receipts from international games.
In only its second year of operation last summer, ChampionsWorld says it spent $30-million (U.S.) to stage its nine-team, 11-game North American Tour but ended up in a $3-million (U.S.) cash shortfall. CSA chief operating officer Kevan Pipe said his organization has yet to see any of the money owed.
"Last year when we created their file we made some concessions to them as far as payment but in order for them to go forward there would have to be better protection in place so we do not have to go through the same process," Pipe said.
ChampionsWorld spent close to $500,000 converting SkyDome's artificial playing surface to natural grass by installing 105,000 square feet of natural grass. It hopes to do the same this year.
Last year's two games in Toronto were some of the best attended on the tour with a July 31 game between English Premiership club Liverpool and Portuguese side FC Porto attracting 40,078 fans. A record-setting soccer crowd for Toronto of 50,435 attended a match between Glasgow Celtic and AS Roma the next night.
Stillitano said returning to Canada this summer was a natural fit because of the base of knowledgeable soccer fans and the lack of baseball in Montreal.