Interview with Gabriel Gervais | “Yes, we want to sell players”

Three years ago, the Montreal Impact’s losses were piling up. Attendance was declining. The club therefore changed its business strategy. No more big-ticket acquisitions to improve training. From now on, the Impact was going to be a training club.

Posted at 7:45 a.m.

What is a training club?

It’s a team that gives a lot of space to the hopes of its academy, and that buys young players cheap, with the hope of reselling them at a very high price.

On paper, it’s attractive. First, you reduce your payroll. So your expenses. And if you discover the next Alphonso Davies, you enrich yourself like a geek who finds his bitcoins on a hard drive he thought had been lost since 2010.

So, after three years, how is it going for CF Montreal?

On the field, very well. Better than expected, even. The club is exciting, and ranks third in the Eastern Association. “The team fights and never gives up,” underlines the new club president, Gabriel Gervais, who is very satisfied with the sporting results. The architect of the training, Olivier Renard, was also rewarded on Thursday with a contract extension and a seat on the management committee.

Unfortunately, in the big Excel spreadsheet of finances, it’s less jojo. Attendance capped at 15,000 spectators. Subscriptions are plummeting.

Among other things, believes Gabriel Gervais, because fans find it hard to identify with a team whose roster is constantly changing.

Photo Martin Chamberland, LA PRESSE archives

CF Montreal owner Joey Saputo and team president Gabriel Gervais

Then there’s the hippopotamus in the shed.

The sale of players, on which CF Montreal is betting to balance its finances.

“Who did we sell? asked Gabriel Gervais on Tuesday during a game at Stade Saputo.


He repeats the question.

“Who did we sell?

– Uh, anyone?

— No, no one. »

Obviously, it bothers him. “This line in the P&L [profits and losses/profits et pertes]she has to start [à paraître] “, he explains.

Gabriel Gervais acknowledges that this business strategy, developed under the previous administration, is relatively recent. « It’s only been three years. Before, we paid good sums for players. “In return, since joining MLS, the club has only sold two players for more than 1 million: Ballou Tabla and Alejandro Silva.

“Those are the only two. We haven’t demonstrated as an organization…” He stops and resumes his sentence. “We have to give this signal that Montreal is a developing team. »

This is why the recent tenure of club players in national teams delights him.

“People are starting to see it. We currently have three players on the Canadian team. We would have had four if Ismaël Koné was not injured. It is a pride for us. Our plan is starting to be put in place. Now you have to wait for the right moment to sell. The player has to be ready for that too. He must be open to the idea of ​​going to play elsewhere. In Europe. »

And when will be the right time to sell?

Certainly not this summer, he says. CF Montreal is instead aiming for the end of the year. This will allow him to keep his best players until the playoffs, and to take advantage of the World Cup in November as a showcase.

“If possible, we hope that four or five of our players will be starters [au Qatar]. Kamal Miller and Alistair Johnston were in qualifying for Canada. Samuel Piette is a veteran. Ismaël Koné could be in the team too. And Djordje Mihailovic could play with the United States. »

Mihailovic, acquired from Chicago by Olivier Renard, is the one with the highest sales potential. His market value, according to the specialized site Transfermarkt, is around 8 million CAN. At that price, it would be – by far – the highest-paying transfer in the club’s history. The home run that the organization has long dreamed of.

Photo Dominick Gravel, LA PRESSE archives

Djordje Mihailovic

The problem is that Mihailovic is currently injured in an ankle. “It’s not a serious injury, reassures Gabriel Gervais. But it’s inconvenient enough that he misses American training camp. If he keeps playing the way he does, he can make the team after September camp. His intention is to play in Europe. In terms of numbers, he has Piatti stats, and then some. He’s a young player [23 ans]. All that to say that yes, we want to sell players. We may wait until the World Cup to maximize [l’investissement]. »

Gabriel Gervais has been in office for two months. Already, we notice that he is more involved in soccer operations than the club’s previous leaders. “It takes about half my time.  » The other half ? He devotes it to the management of the company: human resources, marketing, communications, finances, sales…

Sales are of particular concern to him. According to the data provided by MLS, CF Montreal is among the bottom of the class for attendances. For subscriptions sold. For the average ticket price. This is abnormal, considering the size of Montreal compared to cities like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, Austin or Salt Lake City.

Photo Eric Bolte, USA TODAY Sports

Joaquin Torres meets fans after a game.

Why ?

The League – which “wishes our success” – does not understand. Gabriel Gervais is looking for answers. Yes, the pandemic has hurt. Yes, the change of brand image displeased. But that doesn’t fully explain the sharp drop in subscriptions, a phenomenon that puts immense pressure on the sales team. “We are among the best in the league for unit ticket sales. But go see my sales manager. He and his team have their tongues down. »

Photo Martin Chamberland, LA PRESSE archives

Gabriel Gervais, President and CEO of CF Montreal

What really hurts us is the economic situation. Especially inflation. How much discretionary amount do people have? Why would they come and spend it here? Where do people cut? In the exits. In leisure. This is one of the reasons why we are having difficulty.

Gabriel Gervais

Another factor, mentioned earlier: attachment.

« When the team and I had success, when I was playing [entre 2002 et 2008], people were attached to the club. There was continuity in what we were doing. The coaches stayed a long time. The workforce too. Our 11 starters rarely changed. »

Lucid, he sees that it is different today.

« If you take our team photo from three or four years ago, you’ll see [Rudy] Camacho. Samuel Piette. Maybe Zachary Brault-Guillard. The rest…  »

That said, revolving doors are the reality of training clubs. Players come and go quickly, like in minor league hockey or baseball. Is it even possible to establish relative stability with this business strategy?

« Yes, » he replies without hesitation. There are MLS-caliber players. Olivier [Renard] and his team did a good job on it [pour en acquérir des bons]. These players are built for MLS. They will help us and have great careers. […] These players will remain our base, around which there will be players in whom we will have invested, and that we will want to sell later. »

Now hopefully the team can make a few sales by the end of 2022. With crowds shy, these transfers will be key in guiding the franchise into a new period of prosperity.

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