Joey Saputo is the kind of guy you’d like to have as a next door neighbour; solid, trustworthy, and deeply committed to his family. What may not be obvious is that the man who created The Impact, Montreal’s successful professional team, is also a brilliant business executive.

“I grew up on the West Island and like most kids my age – I played hockey. Organized soccer wasn’t at the level it is today, and so I gravitated towards hockey.

I really enjoyed the game, and I still play three times a week.” Almost apologetically, the President of The Montreal Impact Soccer Club states; “I never played soccer.” However, that lack of personal playing experience hasn’t diminished Joey Saputo’s passion for “The Beautiful Game” and his commitment to developing soccer at all levels, including the national team.

“There are 200,000 kids registered in soccer programs throughout Quebec. That doesn’t include coaches, referees, volunteer organizers and parents. With just the players, there are more youth playing soccer than hockey, football, and baseball combined.”

“The biggest issue we have is that there aren’t enough infrastructures to support all the players and teams. We need more qualified coaches, volunteers, and referees.” Joey adds; “we need more soccer pitches and indoor playing fields so that our players are able to train year round.” Municipalities across the Island of Montreal are converting little-used baseball diamonds to soccer fields in order to meet the demands from their constituents for more playing fields.

“Our challenge with The Impact is to translate that high participation rate into ticket sales here at the Stadium.”

It’s ironic that the boy who never played soccer would eventually be the man who would bring soccer sponsorship and eventually ownership to the Saputo family business.

“Saputo was a sponsor for the Montreal Manic from ’81 to ’83; and I was the link between the company and the team. We at Saputo became a major sponsor of The Supra in the late 80s until the club ceased to operate at the end of the 1992 season. Since we had become so involved with the team with our sponsorship, the next logical step was for us to become an owner.”

Warming to the topic, Joey continues; “I brought the proposal that we become owners to my family. Soccer was growing rapidly as a participatory sport, and it was a great way for us to give back to the community. We’d been blessed with our business success, and we were able to underwrite the project.” The Montreal Impact began their 1993 season with Joey Saputo at the helm as Founder and President; and with Group Saputo as sole shareholder.

“Montrealers love their Champions, especially The Montreal Canadiens, who have an organization that is the envy of hockey and other sports teams. I’ve believed from the very start that The Impact can set standards of organizational behavior and business practices.” This isn’t new to Joey Saputo. “My Dad always believed that he had a responsibility to the people who worked for him; that it was important that he make business decisions with his employees and their families as part of the equation. I grew up with his thinking and his influence. When I was going to Concordia, I couldn’t wait to get back to the office at Saputo after classes.”

Joey answers my next question before it’s asked… “No – I wasn’t sitting in the Board Room with my Dad and senior executives. I did whatever needed to be done, whether in the office, in the plant, the warehouse or on the loading dock.”

“The Impact has always been the team that everyone in our league wants to emulate. In addition to our players, I have a responsibility to the 35 people who are employed here and their families to make the correct decisions.”

“In 2002 we re-organized as a not-for-profit organization. The surpluses go back to the development of soccer in Quebec thorough bursaries, Soccer Academies for U14, U15, U16 (Ed. Note: Under 14 Years of Age and so on) and the Sport Etude program.”

“We select two schools that have the program, one for English students and one for the French-speaking youth. The students study together and train together. They may go to different schools, but after school the English-speaking and French-speaking kids train and compete together as a team. We’d like to take this program to the CEGEP level next.”

One of the bigger decisions made was to build the team’s own stadium. Completely self-financed, the Saputo family built the $17 million Stade Saputo in the Olympic Park. “We had outgrown the Claude Robillard Stadium. It had a capacity of 9,500 and we regularly drew 11,500! We used to sell tickets on the grassy burms – so that’s had we exceeded out sales.”

Gesturing to the sun-drenched Stade Saputo from his office, Joey says; “We built this stadium with a capacity of 13,000 and played our first game on May 19, 2008.” He explains how the decision to build only 2,000 more seats than the former capacity at Claude Robillard. “I asked The Canadiens about their experience of going from 16,000 at The Forum to 21,000 at the Bell Centre. They told me that it took them 10 years to actually fill the stadium’s extra 5,000 seats at full price ticket sales! I was astounded. If it took The Canadiens with a rich a history and a loyal fan base to consistently sell the extra 5,000 seats, I decided that we’d better be careful. Plus it’s always better to have a full house and a demand for tickets.”

In 2012, The Impact will move up to Major League Soccer, joining Vancouver and Toronto in North America’s best league. Using another hockey analogy, Joey states; “This is like going from the American Hockey League to the NHL. Our challenge as an organization and team this year is to build all aspects of our organization, so that we hit the ground running in our first year in the MLS and that we’re competitive on and off the field. On the field our fans will see a team that’s both competing for a Championship and also improving to be competitive next year in the MLS.”

The stadium will be expanded to a capacity of 20,340 seats as part of the step up to MLS. “The government is helping out with the construction for the expansion through a Public Private Partnership, and we’re paying the $40 million franchise fee.”

It is evident that Joey derives a great deal of satisfaction from his involvement with The Impact – but the team and the stadium are only part of his life – albeit a big part. “I make the necessary time to enjoy my family. We have four boys aged 14 to 3, and I believe that it’s important to make the time to be with them. They’re very sports oriented, and we spend a lot of time going to soccer tournaments and hockey practices and games. At the end of it all – family is all we have.”

“I’m very close to my brother and sister, both in age and emotionally. My brother and I are competitive but at the same time supportive and we complement each other. I’m really proud of him. He runs the cheese business, and has taken it from being a 1,000 person company that our Dad built from scratch up to 10,000 people today.”

“I have a holding company that enables me to own several companies and make a living.” Extending his arm to encompass the Stade Saputo stands and pitch; Joey says; “I do this for free – but I sure get a lot of satisfaction from it.”

“My Dad has always been supportive, but had the condition that whatever we started – we had to finish…and it had to give us satisfaction; to make us happy. I could tell that when I told him that I wanted to build the soccer club that it wasn’t his first choice for me; but since then I’m pretty sure he’s ok with it. He doesn’t hand out compliments to readily, but I find out from people in the stands at games that it makes him feel good to see so many fans and families out having a good time in Saputo Stadium. He and my Mom listen to the post-game shows on the way home, and my Mom will call to say that he’s sitting in the car in the garage; still listening to The Impact post-game show. So I guess that tells me what he thinks.”

It’s refreshing to meet someone who considers it a responsibility to share his good fortune, to give back to his community. That Joey Saputo’s commitment to give back comes from his own family heritage makes it even sweeter. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Saputo, but I have a hunch he’s quite a guy… because I’ve met his son Joey.

If spending a warm summer evening or sunny afternoon watching The Beautiful Game appeals to you, tickets and ticket packages are available at: or 514-328-3668.