Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is stepping down as president of the MLS club, handing those duties to Kevin Gilmore.
A 54-year-old Saguenay, Que. native, Gilmore has worked in executive roles with the Montreal Canadiens, the Los Angeles Kings and the Walt Disney Company.
As the change was announced Tuesday, the new club president said the Impact need to aim high.
“I think it takes a change in culture,” Gilmore told reporters. “Maybe because we are in the shadow of the Canadiens, we say we are in a small market. Montreal is a big market, a market with a growing economy where sports is very important for people.”
He said the city has 1.9 million soccer fans, of whom 1.3 million watch the sport on television.
“We all understand that the Canadiens take a huge part of the media landscape and the fan landscape. They’ve been around for 100 years,” Gilmore said. “But the hockey team doesn’t have an exclusive hold on the city’s sports fans.
“I’m a firm believer there’s plenty of room in those hearts, and there’s more hearts to be conquered.”
An immediate challenge is increasing the base of season’s ticket holders, which Saputo said is below the MLS average. Success at the turnstiles depends on success on the field, but that does not necessarily require mad spending to lure stars.
“If we’re talking about stars, we have one: ESPN was saying in recent weeks that Ignacio Piatti is possibly the best unheralded player in the league,” Gilmore said.
Most recently, Gilmore was offering consulting services in the sports, media, and entertainment sectors across North America as a founder of 4Sport Consulting. He also was on the administrative council of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Saputo had been president of the club since founding the Impact in 1993. The team made the jump to MLS in 2012.
“Today, with our league growing by leaps and bounds, new expansion, exciting new stadiums and unparalleled growth, we clearly need to strengthen our organization, review and refine its current structure, increase our level of professionalism and efficiency, and above all, be ready for the major transformations that are rapidly sweeping our sport,” Saputo said in a statement.
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Speaking to reporters, he said he will remain the team’s “No. 1 fan” but will now be able to sit back and enjoy the big picture.
“Look, maybe I didn’t expect that this club would grow to where it is today when we started it 25 years ago, and if I wanted to be true to the club and I wanted to be true to what I started and if I want to continue to grow it, I knew it was important for me to step away from the day-to-day decisions and hand it over to someone else to do it,” Saputo said.
“With all the other responsibilities I have in all my other businesses, it was difficult for me to give the time to this organization and to make it grow to the next level.”
The Impact began training camp on Tuesday in Florida.