SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/In-Depth

Looking to make a major Impact

The Montreal Impact takes to the pitch this season as the 19th MLS franchise, and front and center of the club’s efforts to prepare for that debut is Richard Legendre. The club’s executive vice president is no stranger to the Quebec sports scene. After playing tennis at Florida State University, Legendre returned home and represented Canada in the Davis Cup. He served as the Canadian Open tournament director and also as sports minister in the Quebec government. As for the Impact, the team dates to 1993 and is moving up to MLS from second-division play. Legendre and his team
have been working to convey to the community what the “big league” is all about. Legendre said that a record number of season tickets have been sold and that there has been a steady buzz in the community. “Montreal is excited,” he said. The Impact will play its first game against the Chicago Fire on March 17 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Legendre recently spoke to SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Kristen Heimstead about the efforts to get the Impact ready for the transition.


■ How has the team been marketing itself to the community, and what has the evolving excitement looked like?

Richard Legendre is helping to build enthusiasm for MLS’s newest franchise.
Photo by: Montreal Impact
Legendre:
Historically we’ve been very, very accessible and we’ve developed a trademark that the Impact is the most accessible professional team in Montreal. Although we are now going in the big league, we want to maintain that. In the past, the majority of our fans have come as a family. [Impact President] Joey Saputo is family-oriented, and we want to continue that but also diversify our fans to those who really follow MLS and international soccer. I think a key message we are trying to convey is that it’s a new era, new product, new show. We are an existing team, but there is novelty. It’s a challenge because we’ve been there for 18 years, and then all of a sudden it’s new. The caliber is much higher and it’s more “soccer authentic.” It’s very important we convey that to the community. Our logo is in the shape of a shield, and we’ve been using words like “playing with pride,” “defending the north,” “a new conquest.” Our slogan is, “Tous Pour Gagner,” which means “All for Winning.” We’re trying to create a huge collective rally behind the team.

■Given your background as a professional tennis player and as the Quebec minister of sports, how did you arrive at the Montreal Impact?

Legendre:
It was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. In 2007 after being in politics for six years, Joey
Saputo was looking for someone to help him out with the construction of Saputo Stadium. I had been responsible for the construction of the tennis stadium in Montreal, so that was good timing for me for sure. I had also been in contact with the Montreal Impact while in politics. I didn’t have a soccer background, but when you go through different challenges, you see that you can use stuff you learned … in tennis, politics … and they’re quite applicable to any field. I am now a soccer guy, but I wasn’t five years ago.

■ How has your experience as an athlete and ingrained sense of competitiveness prepared you to manage this first-year team?

Legendre:
It’s interesting you ask that. Once you’ve had the chance to compete, doesn’t matter which sport, you realize that the most important element of all is the athlete, the product on the field. And that has been Saputo’s philosophy from the beginning. Yes, corporate sales are important; marketing is important; ticket sales are important. But all of this is going toward one goal, which brings me back to our slogan, “Tous Pour Gagner.” That’s what sports are all about. I have a lot of respect for players, coaches, technical staff. The most important thing is to make sure the players are happy and can perform at their best. That’s what the fans are coming to see. I think once you’ve competed in your life you realize that’s first and foremost.

■What goals do you have for this coming season?

Legendre:
For our first game the objective is to break the record that we’ve had at the Olympic Stadium in our soccer
history. In 1981, the [Montreal] Manic played Chicago and drew a little more than 55,000. We’re playing Chicago for our opening game again, so we want to rewrite history and break that record. The opening game is a major event in itself. It sends a very strong message. So that goal of beating the record is quite important to us. Then after that we have four more games at the Olympic Stadium, and then we move to Saputo Stadium, so we want to continue to maintain high attendance. We want it to be a good series of events. That word “event” is important to Montreal. Montreal is a city of events.

■ What are your feelings now as the first match approaches, and how do you think you will feel after the first match is completed?

Legendre:
We’re very, very excited, and there is still a lot to be done. Even though you plan, you prepare, you coordinate, we’ll be going full speed until March 17. It’s important we all realize it’s a new beginning, and just the beginning. As much as we say we really want to do well at that first game, this first season is important. It’s not just one game. We want support from the people throughout the season, and it’s to build up for the next season. It’s not a one-day affair. Duration and continuity are very important in everybody’s mind. After the first game, I don’t anticipate any kind of letdown. After the first game it’s, “Wow, get ready, Toronto is coming next, and we want to beat them!” And so on, and so on.

■ What kind of feedback did you get from fans on the construction of Saputo Stadium, and how did they react about the first games not being played there?

Legendre:
One of the key elements that came from the fans was a half roof all around the stadium, so the new stadium will have one-third of its seats covered. It has a real European flavor, and our fans really like that. We think the ambience will be much better and the sound will stay with the stadium much more. We’re adding seats and making the stadium bigger, but it’s really as if the stadium will become more intimate because of the roof. We’ve received great feedback from the fans. As for starting the season at the Olympic Stadium, I don’t think we will need to explain for very long on March 17 [because of the cold weather] that it is probably better that we play indoors. Even in the future, we may continue this idea of starting one or two games at the Olympic Stadium. Fans have really enjoyed watching soccer games at the Olympic Stadium. It’s not a consolation prize. For us it is a great opportunity.

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