MLS admits Vancouver despite economic slowdown

Wed Mar 18, 2009 4:47pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Vancouver won the nod on Wednesday to join Major League Soccer, a move officials said demonstrates that the league can continue to grow in North America despite the economic crisis.

The Whitecaps, the reigning first division champion of the United Soccer Leagues, will become the MLS's 17th team in 2011, and a league official said the league could announce an 18th team as soon as the end of the week.

Commissioner Don Garber said the 13-year-old MLS, which is North America's top soccer league, remains financially strong despite the "trying times" the economic slowdown has caused for professional sports around the globe.

"As long as we can get through this economy, as with every American and Canadian business, I think we will emerge stronger, particularly when you have new investors coming in with teams 17 and 18," Garber said.

"Our business model is very economically sound," he said.

Vancouver will pay $35 million to join the league, down from $40 million the league had reportedly been asking for, but $5 million above what Seattle paid when it won the fight to join the league this season.

"In this economy it was the right, respectful thing to do to show flexibility on the price, but I'll point out it was more than what Seattle paid at a time when our economy was more robust than in any time in our history," Garber said.

Miami and Atlanta were bidding to join the MLS, but pulled out over ownership and stadium issues. That leaves Ottawa, St Louis, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, still in the running. Philadelphia joins the league in 2010.   Continued...

<p>Parties involved in Vancouver Whitecaps FC entering the Major Soccer League pose with a ball during a ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia March 18, 2009. They are (L to R) - MSL Commissioner Don Garber, BC Premier Gordon Campbell, team executive committee Jeff Mallet, Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi and Mayor Gregor Robertson. The Whitecaps will join the MSL in the 2011 season. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>