Toronto Lynx join developmental league
Toronto Star, Oct. 13, 2006
by Allan Ryan
Inevitable, perhaps, but Toronto lost another pro soccer team this week. It was hardly the first; very possibly, won't be the last.
Then again, the Toronto Lynx — at least, its top-of-the-pyramid men's team — might only be going into hibernation.
Ten seasons a fixture in the United Soccer League's First Division, the Toronto Lynx will drop down two USL tiers for 2007 and resurface in the Premier Development League, amateurs comprised essentially of college-level players.
No question, being faced with the budding of a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team next spring provided final impetus for such a move, but Lynx co-owner Bruno Hartrell says now it was a business decision and probably long overdue.
"They've put us out of the pro soccer business," Hartrell said. "From a tactical point of view, it was just smarter to retreat, preserve some cash and poise ourselves for the growth in the marketplace that everyone, for the last 40 years, has been saying is coming. From a business standpoint, we're just taking the safest route for the Lynx to ensure continued growth."
The MLS's Toronto FC, backed by the deep pockets of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, will begin play this spring at the 20,000-seat, $63 million BMO Field now nearing completion at Exhibition Place.
The stadium represents the facility the Lynx have been pining for since 1997 when Hartrell and two partners founded the team —then proceeded to lose a combined $2.5 million over the first three years. Over the last seven seasons, Hartrell and wife Nicole have pretty much been the sole bankrollers, losing another $3 million. Their obvious passion for the game kept the Hartrells in there but so, too, did a clear-cut stubbornness.
"It's probably something I should've done four years ago," said Bruno, who will continue to run a total of 10 teams in the Lynx family — the new senior men's team; the Lady Lynx, who play in the USL's W-League; and eight youth teams, both boys and girls.
Operating budget for the First Division team, alone, was about $1 million (U.S.), of which $350,000 went to franchise fees and $300,000 to player salaries.
Like numbers for MLS teams are approximately $10 million and $2.2 million (U.S.), respectively; for the USL Developmental League, $50,000 and ... well, as Hartrell put it, "you can't pay them if you wanted to.
"It's sad in a lot of ways," he added. "It's sad because we worked so long and so hard and spent all that money getting nowhere. The relief is that I'm spared the financial burden. We might even make a profit, heaven forbid."
The men's Lynx, playing out of the very unspectacular Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke were averaging about 1,800 fans per game this past season.
Hartrell said he approached MLSE about backing the Lynx financially, as well as the MLS team, but his proposal was too premature for MLSE to consider.
He also said that the roughly $5,000 a game he was going to be charged as a tenant at the new stadium was about what he expected, but falling in behind both the MLS team and the Canadian Soccer Association for choice of game dates helped make his decision all the clearer.
"There were just too many obstacles to overcome," Hartrell said, "in an industry littered with obstacles, landmines — and casualties."
Two, three, four years down the road, Hartrell is confident it could be a different story. For starters, he's not as remotely as confident as MLSE about the ultimate success of Toronto FC.
"We're just going to draw back and see how the (soccer) landscape reorients itself — and it will," he said.