Posted on: Sunday, November 6, 2011
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist November 6th, 2011
The Victoria Highlanders' future in soccer appears at once sunny and cloudy.
The United Soccer League Premier Development League team begins its biggest week of the offseason with a public meeting Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Uplands golf clubhouse when it will announce the club is taking a page out of the playbook of the Green Bay Packers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and FC Barcelona.
The simple act of purchasing a Highlanders season ticket will give fans an ownership share in the club and a voice in its direction, said current owner Alex Campbell Jr.
Then, on Thursday, Campbell will meet with Canadian Soccer Association officials, who are considering a national pro league below the MLS in medium-market cities across the country.
But these potentially exciting times for the Highlanders have been tempered by the possibility the club may not be able to play in Royal Athletic Park beyond 2012 because a baseball team might take precedence the following year.
The West Coast League, featuring top major-league draft eligible U.S. collegiate NCAA players, has expressed an interest in putting a team in RAP beginning in 2013. An unnamed prospective team owner is in negotiations with the City of Victoria. Part of the deal apparently could be a provision for a permanent outfield fence during the baseball season. That would effectively freeze out the Highlanders from the facility because the team also plays over spring/summer.
"They are one stroke of the pen from eliminating soccer from the park [during summers]," said Campbell.
"This overlooks the park's 50-plus years as a dual-use facility. This is short-term thinking. The repercussions are huge for soccer."
Campbell said the Highlanders moved from Bear Mountain Stadium in Langford to RAP in the middle of last season because of certain issues at the former. He thought he had found his long-term home on Caledonia.
"The City is keen to see a long term, anchor tenant in Royal Athletic Park and has been contacted by several organizations over the past several months. Negotiations are underway with an organization for a longterm agreement beginning in 2013," said Katie Josephson, director of communications for the City of Victoria.
"Interest has been entertained on a first come, first serve basis and we've been very clear about the status of active negotiations with all interested organizations. The City welcomes the opportunity to host the Highlanders at Royal Athletic Park during the 2012 season. Come January, we will have a clear sense of whether there are opportunities for future seasons.
We've shared this timeline with the Highlanders, however we had entered into negotiations with another organization, prior to any indication of interest from the Highlanders. We hope to conclude negotiations in January and confirm what options are available."
Campbell has broached the possibility of a $33,000 outfield fence on wheels, which is used in other parks, and can be simply wheeled in and out, allowing soccer and baseball to coexist.
"They have to get a fence, anyway," said Campbell. "The cost of keeping it a dual-use facility is so small."