Soccer-Saints just like Green Bay Packers, new chief says

Reuters

By Ossian Shine

SOUTHAMPTON, England, March 14 (Reuters) - Southampton's new chairman Ralph Krueger wants the small south coast soccer club to be the Green Bay Packers of the English Premier League.

The Canadian-born former German ice hockey international was appointed by Southampton's owner Katharina Liebherr mid-week, and has big plans for his new charges.

He says the Saints can punch well above their weight - the way the Packers do in the NFL - and that they can similarly earn a place in the nation's heart.

"If we took NFL football, we can be a little bit like the sentimental favourite in the organisation, like the Green Bay Packers," the former NHL coach said.

"It is a small organisation, doesn't have all the options of the big clubs, but they won the Super Bowl."

Krueger believes Southampton's success will be centred on their backbone of English talent; but he is looking further afield to address what he describes as a "huge gap" between where the club is commercially, and where it should be.

"I believe the potential is unlimited," he said. "This league is going worldwide. One of the areas I hope to be able to help the club in is growing outside of Southampton," the 54-year-old told local media.

"Growing the company outside of England is something I am very active about. There's the local market, there's the international market, there's the work with sponsors and partners," he said.

"I'm really excited to get involved and support that. It's going to be one of my major focuses, to support that arm of the organisation. The sky's the limit there."

The Green Bay Packers, founded in 1919, are the third-oldest NFL franchise and the last remaining "small town team" in the league. They have won the Super Bowl four times, most recently in 2011.

Renowned for the passionate support of their diehard fans, the Packers, who operate in the smallest market in North American professional sport, are the only non-profit community-owned major league sports team in the United States.

Krueger, who acted as a coaching consultant for Canada's ice hockey team when they won the Sochi Winter Olympics last month, sees a lot of potential in North America for the Saints.

"The number one growing sport in America and Canada is football... not American football," Krueger told local BBC news.

"Soccer is booming and there is an opportunity there for us because the Premier League is by far the most respected league in the world.

"We have opportunity for growth so let's find opportunities to expand."

Southampton, ninth in the 20-team Premier League, host 15th-placed Norwich City on Saturday at their 32,000-capacity St Mary's stadium. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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