In regards to the announcement from earlier today, it appears that the franchise opportunity for Greater Victoria is contingent on Westhills Stadium expanding from its current capacity of 1,718 seats up to as many as 8,000.
The expansion can happen only if a utility pole is moved or is moveable in the future, a move that BC Hydro would facilitate, however, the cost to do so is estimated at over four million dollars.
Cleve Dheensaw of the Times Colonist newspaper reports that Greater Victoria’s professional soccer team announcement is happening today.
Victoria will apparently have a team that will play in the brand new Canadian Premier League (CPL).
He reports that the team includes former European pro and Canadian national team players Josh Simpson of Victoria and Rob Friend of Kelowna, and Vancouver-based financier Dean Shillington, founder and president of Knightsbridge Capital Group.
“This is not an official team launch yet, but we feel quite confident this is going to happen and that a pro team will be coming to the Island in 2019,” said Simpson, who played in 43 international games with the Canadian national team over two World Cup qualifying campaigns, and played pro soccer in England, Germany, Turkey and Switzerland before suffering a career-ending leg break.
Simpson said the group will divulge more details today.
At least five other franchises have already been announced including Winnipeg, Hamilton, Calgary, Halifax and York Region.
Can Professional Soccer draw in Victoria?
Currently, the highest level of soccer played in Greater Victoria is the Victoria Highlanders FC, who this year went under a management and ownership shuffle. The team had struggled at the gate in past years – 2018 is off to a much better start. The Highlanders play out of Centennial Stadium at the University of Victoria and are a franchise within the Professional Development League. They previously played in the Pacific Coast Soccer League.
How they will compete at the gate remains to be seen, however, one saving grace may be the physical distance between the team’s home fields. The CPL team will play out of Langford’s Westhills Stadium, where the Westshore Rebels football team plays.
Simpson told Dheensaw that Victoria is not used to soccer and that the team will be looking to draw fans from Sidney to Nanaimo. They will begin play in 2019.
In addition to the Highlanders FC, Greater Victoria also has the Vancouver Island Soccer League, which includes 10 first division, 10-second division and a total of 87 teams from U21 to masters divisions A, B and C.
Westshore soccer fans will need to adopt the team early and fill the seats. For example, there are two top-tier junior hockey teams in Greater Victoria, the Major-Junior Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals, who are the number one draw for sports in the capital region averaging 5,307 per game and play out of Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and there is the BC Hockey League, Junior A Victoria Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies do sell season tickets, but the gates have not been turning over the past few years at The Q Centre in Colwood. The ownership group that includes Lance Black, Jim Swanson and John Wilson have all remained steadfastly positive that the numbers will turn for the Grizzlies, who boast one of the best young players in Canada in Alex Newhook and a fast and exciting team. They should fill the arena nightly, however, do often have scheduling conflicts with the Royals.
“The BCHL schedule comes out first,” said Wilson. “You have to remember we don’t own the building and there are a lot of moving parts to put together a league schedule, but I am positive that the product we put on the ice will draw the fans. It’s exciting hockey.”
The Westshore is capable of filling The Q Centre seats as the Victoria Shamrocks Western Lacrosse Association franchise nearly sold out their home opener in The Q Centre last Friday and perpetually draw well.