MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact will need to start selling out their stadium regularly before they will be considered to play host to an Major League Soccer all-star game, commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday.
The Impact were promised an all-star game when they joined the league in 2012, but so far the MLS has found that local interest in its brand of soccer is not entrenched enough to guarantee it would be a success. The city has thousands of soccer fans, but most are more interested in following European leagues and teams.
The league considered it this year as part of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations, but opted instead to have the MLS all-stars face Real Madrid Aug. 2 in Chicago.
"We realize we have a lot more work to do here in the community to get the kind of support and engagement with the city and others in the community to bring an event like our all-star game to Montreal," Garber said at a news conference at the club’s training centre.
The Impact have drawn some of the largest crowds in the 22-team league in recent years, including 61,000 at Olympic Stadium for an eastern Conference final match against Toronto FC last fall. They drew a similar crowd for the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2015. Their first MLS home game and David Beckham’s first visit with the Los Angeles Galaxy also drew big crowds.
But the club doesn’t always sell out its regular 20,800-seat venue, Saputo Stadium. A game Saturday against Columbus drew just under 18,000.
"I believe this team should be selling out every game and we need to figure out what we need to do to get that to happen," said Garber."I look at similar-size cities where we’re able to sell out and be deeply relevant. We have all the elements here."
He wants the Impact to be held in the same esteem by fans as other sports teams in the city, but while they are creeping up on the Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, they are not close to hockey’s Canadiens.
"We’ve built a fan base that matters here and it comes out for big events — CONCACAF and certainly playoff games," he said. "Seeing that fan base coming out more consistently is something I’d like to see the team do better at going forward.
"But in terms of the positive things, it’s a terrific brand. This is one of the better brands in professional sports. It represents the character of the city. It has a uniqueness to it. The club has done a tremendous job of bringing in exciting players. I think (Ignacio) Piatti is viewed as one of the best players in the history of the league. (Owner) Joey Saputo and his team have been able to bring in a lot of really young exciting players on the development side and some great international players."
Garber was in Montreal to meet with Saputo and the Impact’s broadcast partners.