Lynx article

Hartrells defy odds to keep Lynx alive
Apr. 19, 2002. 01:00 AM
Norman Da Costa

The word profit does not exist in the dictionary of professional soccer teams in North America. For the last several years, leagues and clubs have drowned in a sea of red ink.

But despite the monumental odds against survival, Toronto's lone pro team, the Lynx, is preparing for its sixth season in the A-League, thanks to the dogged determination of owners Nicole and Bruno Hartrell.

It hasn't been easy fulfilling a dream to keep soccer alive in the city where losses have mounted every year. But Nicole, who doubles up as the chief operating officer, reckons the worst is now behind the club.

The club has lost about $5 million, but Nicole Hartrell is confident that either this year, or next, it will break even.

One of the reasons for the optimistic outlook is because of increased sponsorship deals and a leap in ticket sales to community and sports groups. But the biggest saving will come as a result of the club moving its home games from the about-to-be-demolished Varsity Stadium to Etobicoke's Centennial Stadium.

"Playing at Centennial will reduce our expenses a great deal,'' added Hartrell. "And that venue suits us just fine because it holds 3,500 — and last season we averaged 3,000 to our games.''

If Nicole Hartrell has one regret is that season ticket sales are still slow, but she expects that to pick up next season if the team performs well this year.

She has also inked two deals that she believes will benefit soccer in the city. The club has joined hands with the Canadian Professional Soccer League and with Bryst International.

The Lynx will be allowed to pick players belonging to CPSL clubs if needed. This is, indeed, a historic deal because in the past, the many leagues in Ontario did little to help each other. In fact, the knives were always drawn.

The deal with Gary Miller of Bryst International is also a first in Ontario.

Miller, who runs a youth academy in the province, will be responsible for training an under-14 Lynx youth team. This team will play against Canadian and U.S. competition in a move which was long overdue.

All of the pro clubs in Europe and South America have youth teams from which the pro team draws its younger players. If this project is a success, Hartrell will consider introducing an under-17 team as well.

Vancouver Whitecaps, also of the A-League, started an under-14 project last year and two other A-League franchises, Montreal and Calgary, will be following suit this year.

"It has always been our intention to help juniors because we will reap the benefits in the long run. In the past we lost several youngsters simply because they could not play professionally in Canada. This will give them the opportunity to pursue their soccer careers,'' she said.

Granted, the salary isn't much. The majority of players in the A-League earn around $15,000 for the season, with the better-known players earning as much as $30,000.

"It will give the youngsters a chance to play in a professional environment and showcase their talents. They could then move to Europe or elsewhere,'' Hartrell said.

At least four Canadian international players — goalkeeper Pat Onstad, midfielders Chris Pozniak and Paul Stalteri and striker Dwayne de Rosario —were with the Lynx before being signed up by European clubs.

While many others would have thrown in the towel, the Hartrells deserve credit for their commitment to keep the sport alive at the pro level.

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