I asked Impact executive vice president Richard Legendre if there are challenges in reaching a local fan base that speaks separate languages.
“It’s so much part of us that it’s not a challenge,” he said. “The majority of the population is French … but we’re communicating in both French and English with the priority to French because French is the official language of the province of Quebec.”
Legendre said said that on the island of Montreal, there is something close to a 50-50 split between English and French speakers. In the greater Montreal area, it’s more like 75 percent French. And in the suburbs, more like 90 percent French.
(I arrived in Montreal today and early indications confirm that. Outside the city, traffic signs — for example — were French only. In the city, some English began to appear: both “Rue” and “Street” on the street signs, etc.)
“When we do a press conference here we almost multiply by two the number of cameras and the number of journalists because of the two cultures,” Legendre continued. “It’s actually more of an asset than a challenge for us.
“Where there’s a challenge for us is because Quebec is quite difference because of the French dimensions and all that, Quebec people like to see their own people play on their own teams. So for us the home-grown player I would say is even more important than anywhere else because of this cultural element. So for us to develop players – and we do not have 20 players from Quebec who have the caliber, we have one guy, Patrice Bernier, who used to play in Europe is playing for us now. He has been in the starting 11 maybe 30 percent of the time so far, and he has been doing pretty well. The marketing people want him to play more, want our coach to play him more. But at the same time we’ve just announced a player who grew up here who has now gone from the academy to the pro team. That’s an important challenge for us: to develop Quebec-grown players.”
Sounders reserve goalkeeper Andrew Weber played 2006-06 with the USL Montreal Impact (one of the reasons the name was kept by the MLS club is that it works in both languages), and he said the language issue was no problem.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “Everyone on the team spoke English there when I was there. They all spoke like three different languages. … Honetly most people speak English there. They understand where you’re going. Or if you just tell them the name of the restaurant, they know. It’s weird because there’s really no street lines like we have. You just turn in and out of traffic. But they’ve got the Metro. I enjoyed it. I was young, so it was cool to experience a new culture.”
Earlier this season, I asked former Sounder Tyson Wahl about the language issue in his switch to the Impact.
“It’s an adventure,” he said. “I think a lot of us are going to put in an effort to learn some French. I’m going to. I don’t know any at this point, but I think it will be fun.”