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Vancouver’s TSS Rovers gives you chance to own part of pro soccer team

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Swangard Stadium’s pro team looks to follow the German football model, where it is the fans who decide the direction and culture of the team

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Ask a North American sports fan if they know FC Köln – that’s what the locals pronounced “EF-tsay koeln – and you’ll likely get a raised, drooped eyebrow.

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Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats) in Cologne, Germany is the fourth largest club in the Bundesliga with 100,000 members and the first team to win the league title again in the 1960s.

But mention the Green Bay Packers, and there’s instant recognition, even for non-sports fans. Lambo curly. Vince Lombardi. Aaron Rodgers. Brett Favre. A town-owned soccer team whose population barely exceeds the members of the Cologne team.

Like Cologne and every other club in the Bundesliga, it is a team owned by the people.

This battle to help people understand this common European connection is what Colin Elms and Will Cromack are facing as they attempt to transform TSS Rovers into unprecedented territory: “To be the first Canadian football club to collaborate directly with their supporters, giving them a voice in the development of the club, players and culture “.

On Tuesday, the organization will announce a bid to buy shares in a trust fund that will help manage the men’s and women’s teams that will play in the newly formed BC semi-league. Due to the legal aspects involved, the process isn’t quite as simple as charging a credit card to a GoFundMe campaign, and instead is powered by Canadian equity crowdfunding platform FrontFundr.

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“It was great that people understood it more from an NFL point of view,” said Cromack, coach/GM/co-founder of Rovers.

We’re like ‘Listen – Alphonso Davies, you know, that guy that everyone in the country knows? He plays for a club in which the fans own 50% of his ownership. And she’s like, “What, are you kidding me?” “

Until 1998, German clubs were historically run by their member associations when the 50+1 rule was introduced, which allowed private or corporate investors – a maximum of 49 percent. To start, Rovers are reimbursing 38 percent, with a focus on 49, as guidance from BC Soccer.

The Victoria Highlanders, who will also play in the BC Premier League this year, tried it in 2014, but the club quickly disintegrated and did not include joint ownership when it started again after a season.

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The Canadian Premier League’s Valor FC is arguably run by a community, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running – one of three state-owned teams in the Canadian Football League, the other being the Saskatchewan Rogriders and Edmonton Elks.

That was always the goal when Elmes – who founded Richmond-based TSS Academy in 1997 – and Cromack decided to form a professional team in 2017 to fill a void in Canadian football. All players were under 24 years old, and they were all Canadian, either by birth or immigration status. They founded the Soul Rovers community investment cooperative, but it remained mostly a vague idea until local attorney and board member, Mike Stevens, got involved and, in the downturn afforded by the pandemic, helped them find their way forward.

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“We were kind of sitting in a room, patting each other on the back and then just waiting for something to happen,” Elms said with a laugh.

“He basically rolled up the sleeves and said, ‘You guys got this,'” Cromack said of Stevens’ help.

They’ve already collected about 20 percent of their target after getting close to their supporters internally, with Swanguardians and other fans jumping fast. Cromack likened him to having a house party; There are 20 people I invited and another 200 that just showed up.

“I mean, they’re just … active,” Cromack said of his early investors.

“These guys are just foam in the mouth, waiting for the eighteenth so they can shout from the rooftops that they are the owner. It was really really positive. I would tell some of them beyond their wildest dreams that they could believe this actually happened.”

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The men’s Rovers have played in the Premier League and the Second Division since its inception, and having missed the past two seasons due to travel and health restrictions caused by the pandemic, will take part in the newly formed BC Premier League. The seven-team league includes the Vancouver Whitecaps Under-23 club, and aims to be a bridge from amateurs to the ranks of Canadian professionals, like the Canadian Premier League.

Match night at Swangard Stadium as TSS Rovers face the Victoria Highlanders in the first leg of Juan De Fuca Plate in 2019.
Match night at Swangard Stadium as TSS Rovers face the Victoria Highlanders in the first leg of Juan De Fuca Plate in 2019. Photo by JJ Adams /beng

The Rovers, whose alumni includes MLS players like Patrick Metcalfe and Joel Waterman, had immediate support from some of the sports fans frustrated with their experience with the professional teams. Fans, supporters and volunteers, all attended in droves.

“The reality is that people literally want something they can care about,” Cromack said. They’re actually going to give hours, dollars, time, because it feels so real and they want to be a part of it. It is their property.

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“I don’t really like the idea that Canucks think I’m worth $19.22 because when I attended a game, I bought that many hot dogs and a couple of beers, and it turns out I was at 7422 and I’m worth that much money.”

“A lot of these people feel like they’re just an ATM when it comes to sports in North America,” Elmes added.

Shareholders will be able to vote on issues related to the direction of the club; For example, buying land for a club, or whether the team should participate in the bubble tournament, but not “who’s going to start on the left wing this Wednesday,” Cromack said with a chuckle. The idea is to be a collaborative community that helps build the game in Canada.

“We have a general idea of ​​what we want to see improve in Canadian football culture, and we are going to fill it in. The Rovers One League is an example, for men and women, to show people what is possible,” Cromack said. “And every step of the way, we will invite what we believe He is the best version of football in the world to be our guide, the North Star.

“It’s a first in Canada. It’s actually never been done like this before. You get a vote. You’re an owner. And having a football team is great.”

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams


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