In office for three months now, the new President of the Impact, Arvidien Kevin Gilmore, tames the world of soccer. His mandate is as clear as it is ambitious: to fill the home with Montreal’s MLS team, Stade Saputo, in just three years.
“There is still a lot to learn. At least, on the surface, I have the chance to better understand the business and what to do, “announces Kevin Gilmore, who was appointed by owner Joey Saputo in late January, when a telephone interview.
The one who grew up in Arvida, more precisely on Downing Street, no longer needs a presentation in the major spheres of professional sports. A graduate of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law and holding a Finance Certificate from the University of Chicago, Kevin Gilmore has chained prestigious positions in various sports organizations, whether with Disney, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens in the National League, as well as the Anaheim Angels at Major League Baseball.
“I always said that Mickey Mantle and Mickey Mouse were the same thing. We sell the same thing, an emotional link to a sport, a team, a player. Whether it’s hockey, soccer or even entertainment in general, it’s the same connection, “said Kevin Gilmore, who is also a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s board of directors.
He had already tasted the world of soccer, especially in Europe, but now that he is fully immersed, he becomes aware of all its subtleties. “I would not say that the level of passion is higher, but different. It’s a passion that is expressed both at the stage and on social media, “he reveals.
A different experience
“It’s really a culture where the expression of people is more open. I noticed it especially at the stadium. It’s a different experience from any other sport. There is the game on the field, but the interaction between the fans, between them and the match as such. For 90 minutes, it does not stop. It’s really special, “says the president.
“This is one of the reasons why this opportunity really challenged me. Soccer is an incredible growth sport in North America when you look at the league, the teams that enter the league and the number of cities interested in an expansion club, “notes Kevin Gilmore. Of 24 teams for the season just started, this figure will increase to 27 in 2021 with the goal of 30 thereafter with a process already under way.
“The league is taking its place,” he says, now wishing the Impact to do the same in his market, which he has meant from the start of his first press conference and thereafter in all spheres. Of the organization, and which has been felt for a few weeks.
“On the business side, we had never really changed. We were very passive in the market saying, ” If you are fans, you will come ”. There was also an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the Canadians who take the place, “said Kevin Gilmore.
“You have to act as a major league team in a big city. To be champions, you have to act as champions before being champions. It takes a belief in the product you have on the ground and being aggressive in the way you put yourself in the market, insisted Kevin Gilmore. People often tell me that Canadians take a lot of space. I answer that I have never met a sports fan in a city that is limited to a team. There is room for several teams in the heart of a sports fan. ”
Kevin Gilmore’s office does not miss new challenges. The president of the Impact also wants a rapprochement with supporters in the regions, which will not be done in a few weeks either.
“It’s a job that requires planning and strategy and it takes a little time. The reality is that right now our stadium is not full. Yes, I want to tackle not only the regions, but first, I must make sure that Montreal supports us both at the partisan and corporate level, “says Kevin Gilmore.
Right or wrong, despite a fleur-de-lis in the logo, the Impact is often considered more of a Montreal than a Quebec team. Kevin Gilmore is open to developing partnerships to expand the team’s audience, particularly in regions such as Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. “The challenge is that we can not establish offices in all regions,” agrees the native of Arvida, recalling that the team has a good promotional vehicle with the broadcaster TVA Sports.
“If we win a championship, it will really help us shine in all regions, but it is also a job we have to do with our partners and work together. If we are able to do it, everyone will enjoy it, “he says, citing as an example the soccer school that already has agreements in this direction.
“Being the professional soccer team of Quebec helps us with our ratings, ticket sales, partnerships, etc.,” he pleads, noting some difficulties for promotional activities with players in high season because of the schedule. For example, this week, the Impact plays three games in eight days, not counting the obligations of several players to their respective national team at certain times of the season.
Impact President Kevin Gilmore also strongly believes that the future of professional sport is about young people and that soccer has everything to seduce, according to him, with his culture.
“They attach more importance to experience than material goods. It is shared group experience and authenticity. The culture of soccer is closer to what this generation is looking for than other sports. There is a very big opportunity not only here, but for the other MLS teams to take a bigger place in the sports market, “says Kevin Gilmore on this development, also referring to basketball. Despite his association with the Impact, the latter is still part of a group wishing to bring an NBA team to Montreal.
“When I took the position, I made sure I could still get involved and have a fairly active role in the file,” he says, adding that confidential talks have been held with investors in the area. Waiting for a possible expansion in a few years.