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Butler: Impact's Saputo discusses success off the field

Noel Butler
9/20/2013 3:49:24 PM
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Whilst serving notice all season long they are in amongst the cluster of top teams in MLS this season, the Montreal Impact are also making the right noises off the pitch, too.

Thinking it would be beneficial to launch their season ticket renewals earlier than they did last season, the club recently announced two out of three current season ticket holders had exercised their option to renew. 

Having challenged his team to always give and be their very best, Impact president Joey Saputo doesn't lessen that demand for those working in the front office.

"I'm not taking anything away from what our guys have done and the fact we have a great season ticket base but there's still a third that haven't renewed and we have to find out why they haven't renewed and what we can do to make sure they will be renewing," Saputo told TSN Radio 690.

He wasn't finished.

"Not only that, we need to increase the season ticket base a little more. At the end of the day, we need to fill the stadium and that's what we are doing."

"So it's nice to know two-third's of our season ticket base like what we are doing and want to part of what we are doing."

Not only are the fans supporting the club at the box office, but now finally they are also buying into club merchandise in significant numbers.

Crucially, down Stade Saputo way these days, no longer is it the case a Juventus or a Real Madrid jersey appears most prominent amongst those in attendance.

Everywhere you look, a sea of blue confronts you and the punters are not merely restricting it to the token jersey. Branded apparel in all forms has suddenly become the norm.   

This pleases Saputo.

"Merchandise sales have been doing relatively well," added Saputo. "We're very excited, we're very happy with the way it is going."

However, just like season ticket renewals, Saputo is more focused on strengthening where there is weakness.

"One of the things we need to do is to be out there a little bit more. Right now, we are very strong inside the stadium but not as strong outside the stadium. We need to work on the team store concept outside of the stadium. That's something we are looking at in the future."

Jersey sales of certain players may well be flying off the shelves but Saputo is of a strong conviction the upsurge in sales is down to the club and the jersey itself.

"Without a doubt you have the Marco Di Vaio and Bernier jerseys but I think it's the jersey itself and what the jersey represents.

"When we talked about the jersey and when we designed the jersey with the aspect of the fleur de lys and the cross, it represents the city of Montreal. I think we have a nice product and the jersey sells itself."

Di Vaio has been much in the news himself of late. Seemingly scoring goals for fun, matters of a very personal nature may well necessitate he return home to his family come season's end.

Having grown a strong bond and deep relationship with his DP, Saputo feels Di Vaio's anguish personally.

"I'm so disappointed that he is going through some personal issues right now back home which is weighing on whether he is going to stay or not."

Not wanting to provide any false hopes to the supporters but the Impact president did confirm that under better circumstances, Di Vaio would sign his 2014 option.

"This is a person who wants to stay. This is a person who wants to be here but at the end of the day, he is going to make a very, very tough decision," said Saputo.

"He doesn't want to finish playing, he still feels he has a year or two left in him. It's going to be tough for him to hang up his boots at the end of this year if he decides to go back to Italy. We hope that he will stay. He is a definite asset to this organization, not only on the field but off it, too.

Saputo also addressed reports from the Italian media where some suggested Di Vaio's return would be in a playing capacity.

"In our discussions with Marco if he goes back it is not to play," Saputo stated.

"If he goes back, it is to be closer to his family and if a position was to open at a club as a Sporting Director or a General Manager of some sorts, he would definitely take a look at it. From my understanding, from what he told me, he is not looking to play. 

That's what makes it difficult. He doesn't want to go back to Italy to play. He wants to stay here but he's torn between the situation with his family and staying here in Montreal."

Of course, Di Vaio isn't the only Italian player who might not be trotting out at Stade Saputo in 2014.

During an interview Alessandro Nesta conducted with the BBC earlier in the summer, the central defender strongly indicated he was hanging up his boots at season's end.

Saputo puts that down to Nesta's jovial side as he anointed him the club's prankster

"Sandro's a little bit different and obviously he has joked around a lot," offered Saputo. "He is the biggest joker in the club so sometimes you wonder what he says whether he is joking or whether he is serious. You know at times when things don't go well, he is ready to pack up and leave. At other times, he is already planning for next year.

"I can tell you one thing, from a heart standpoint, he would play another 10 years but I don't know whether his legs will last that long."

With a mouth-watering encounter against the Whitecaps at home Saturday afternoon, the Impact know they have to step it up dramatically if they want to have any chance of avoiding a third straight defeat.  

Saputo knows exactly why Columbus pulled off the shock road win but doesn't expect his players won't be up to the task come 2pm et Saturday.

"We need to play it more desperately. I think it's something we lacked on Saturday. We weren't hungry and Columbus were. We can't give away three points at home, it's not like us and the players have to understand that and I think they do."

Just like Columbus, the Whitecaps are desperate for points as their playoff hopes have dwindled away. Two old foes both in need of the three points.

"There's been some great games with Vancouver in the past and this should not be any different. It's going to be a good game and our players should be ready for it," said Saputo.

If the Impact win, the playoff horizon will come into full view. For Saputo though, making the playoffs won't be reason enough to celebrate.

"It's been a great season and people are extremely excited with the fact it's been a great season and with what we've done. There's still a lot of work to be done for us to not only make the playoffs, but not to bow out early in the playoffs."

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel

Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps - Live TSN2 and CJAD800 Radio Saturday, 2pm et/11am pt

The full interview with Saputo is available at TSN Radio 690 on TSN.ca

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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