Football and soccer spar for rights to Clarke Stadium

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Football and soccer spar for rights to Clarke Stadium

It's football versus soccer in the battle for a spot at Clarke Stadium, and city councillors may end up being the referees.

FC Edmonton is asking for primary tenant status and naming rights at Clarke Stadium as it prepares to join the new Canadian Premier League in 2019.

The city's community and public services committee is looking at the requests outlined in a report, which include doubling the stadium's seating, upgrading the lighting and sound system in the play-by-play broadcast area and providing permanent locker room facilities for the team.

The president of the Edmonton Eskimos, Len Rhodes, showed up to the meeting Wednesday to caution councillors not to make a hasty decision.

"We're going to stand firm in terms of what we need for football," Rhodes said after the meeting. 

The Eskimos use the field for practice when Commonwealth Stadium has concerts or other events, or is undergoing maintenance.

Rhodes said he's worried the FC Edmonton request to be the primary tenant will block the Esks from accessing Clarke Stadium.

Rhodes was one of nearly 20 people representing soccer or football to speak to the committee about the stadium.

The Esks have a lease with the city until  2021 and said they pay $1 million a year in rent.

"People don't often know that," Rhodes said. "They think we use the facility for free. We rarely ask for dollars from the city, we've invested over $25 million since 2009."

Tom Fath with Fath Sports said his FC Edmonton team has been "historically quite good at negotiating and working with people."

FC Edmonton folded last fall because of a lack of fans but is rekindling hopes of playing as a professional team again in Edmonton with the advent of the new Canadian league.

"We've always felt it was important to be collaborative," Fath told reporters.

It's one thing the two sides agreed on. 

"Dialogue is everything and we want them to succeed, but not to the detriment to football," Rhodes added.

He said he wants to make sure FC Edmonton doesn't push the Eskimos and amateur teams out of the way.

"Clarke Stadium is a multipurpose stadium for multiple sports, as per the definition."

Several of FC Edmonton's requests could have significant budget implications for the city.

City councillors said they will consider FC Edmonton's requests and the use of Clarke Stadium.

Teams have until mid-April to express interest in participating in the Canadian Premier League's first season.