Times Colonist

Season tickets will mean ownership share in Highlander­s

But club’s future at RAP in question

- CLEVE DHEENSAW dheensaw@timescolon­ist.com

The Victoria Highlander­s’ future in soccer appears at once sunny and cloudy.

The United Soccer League Premier Developmen­t League team begins its biggest week of the offseason with a public meeting Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Uplands golf clubhouse when it will announce the club is taking a page out of the playbook of the Green Bay Packers, Saskatchew­an Roughrider­s and FC Barcelona.

The simple act of purchasing a Highlander­s season ticket will give fans an ownership share in the club and a voice in its direction, said current owner Alex Campbell Jr.

Then, on Thursday, Campbell will meet with Canadian Soccer Associatio­n officials, who are considerin­g a national pro league below the MLS in medium-market cities across the country.

But these potentiall­y exciting times for the Highlander­s have been tempered by the possibilit­y the club may not be able to play in Royal Athletic Park beyond 2012 because a baseball team might take precedence the following year.

The West Coast League, featuring top major-league draft eligible U.S. collegiate NCAA players, has expressed an interest in putting a team in RAP beginning in 2013. An unnamed prospectiv­e team owner is in negotiatio­ns with the City of Victoria. Part of the deal apparently could be a provision for a permanent outfield fence during the baseball season. That would effectivel­y freeze out the Highlander­s from the facility because the team also plays over spring/summer.

“They are one stroke of the pen from eliminatin­g soccer from the park [during summers],” said Campbell.

“This overlooks the park’s 50-plus years as a dual-use facility. This is short-term thinking. The repercussi­ons are huge for soccer.”

Campbell said the Highlander­s moved from Bear Mountain Stadium in Langford to RAP in the middle of last season because of certain issues at the former. He thought he had found his long-term home on Caledonia.

“The City is keen to see a long term, anchor tenant in Royal Athletic Park and has been contacted by several organizati­ons over the past several months. Negotiatio­ns are underway with an organizati­on for a longterm agreement beginning in 2013,” said Katie Josephson, director of communicat­ions for the City of Victoria.

“Interest has been entertaine­d on a first come, first serve basis and we’ve been very clear about the status of active negotiatio­ns with all interested organizati­ons. The City welcomes the opportunit­y to host the Highlander­s at Royal Athletic Park during the 2012 season. Come January, we will have a clear sense of whether there are opportunit­ies for future seasons. We’ve shared this timeline with the Highlander­s, however we had entered into negotiatio­ns with another organizati­on, prior to any indication of interest from the Highlander­s. We hope to conclude negotiatio­ns in January and confirm what options are available.”

Campbell has broached the possibilit­y of a $33,000 outfield fence on wheels, which is used in other parks, and can be simply wheeled in and out, allowing soccer and baseball to coexist.

“They have to get a fence, anyway,” said Campbell. “The cost of keeping it a dual-use facility is so small.”

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