In this day and age you don’t often hear of a new Professional Football league starting up but that has happened in 2019 here in Canada. Starting any new professional sports league is not an easy task as we see every few years in the United States, almost every league doesn’t survive. The Alliance of American Football is the latest example, so why should the Canadian Premier League (CPL) be any different? Especially considering the league includes a road trip for two teams is 4,476 km (2781 miles) by air and 5793 km (3600 miles) by car.
At first view, I was of the opinion that this league couldn’t possibly work. However, after researching for this article, I’m more convinced that this could actually succeed. Before we look at the pros and cons, let’s look at the teams that are in the CPL in its inaugural season. It currently consists of just seven teams, which are HFX Wanderers FC, York9 FC, Forge FC, Valour FC, Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton, and Pacific FC. To me, the names right off the bat are an issue. They don’t include, except one, the City’s name, and from anyone looking at the league from outside of Canada will have a problem identifying the team’s location. Even for some people in Canada will be confused. At first glance it seems the CPL just started with nicknames and said let’s go with that.
The Canadian Premier League – Can it not only survive, but can it grow?
When I look further into the team names, they are aimed at connecting within the region they are located which is good but don’t you want to connect with a larger audience? I don’t think this aspect of things has been fully thought through by the league, and that has been the downfall of many a start up league.
Geography is one of the obvious problems with only having seven teams in a country that is the second largest in area in the world, behind only Russia. HFX Wanderers located in Halifax have to travel 4476 km one way, to play Pacific FC located in Victoria on Vancouver Island. That’s over four time zones, and for our readers in England, it is the equivalent to flying from Halifax Nova Scotia to Manchester UK. Believe it or not, this is only the third lengthiest trip in world soccer behind #1 Perth Glory FC vs. Wellington Phoenix FC in the A League at 5,259 km, and a 4723 km trip that occurs in Indonesia Liga 1.
Another major problem is that the MLS is already in Canada with three teams, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps. Stadia or lack thereof is also an issue as Football specific venues are not at abundance in Canada. Hockey rinks yes, but football grounds for professional teams no. So if you walked into The Shark Tank or The Dragons Den with this business plan you would be laughed out of the studio. Before we explain why it can and will work let’s look at the league and the teams.
About The Canadian Premier League Business Model
CPL - The league has club based private ownership vs. the franchise model in the MLS and most North American major leagues. It also has a salary cap to keep wages and owners in line. A key component for the CPL is each team must have a minimum of six Canadian players to start a match and three domestic players on the squad must be under twenty one. Hopefully this will encourage local players to stay in Canada to develop for the national team.
The CPL play a 28 game season (14 H & 14 A) from April to October and if anyone knows about Canadian winters you will understand why. They have a split season, and the winner of each season competes in a two leg championship. If the same team wins both split seasons, then they play the team with the second best overall record.
About The Canadian Premier League Clubs
HFX Wanderers FC - based in Halifax Nova Scotia in a 6,200 capacity stadium. Average attendance is 5973.The name is based on the local Wanderers Amateur Athletic Club founded in 1882. No nickname at the present. I like The Citadels, which is a national historic site.
York9 FC - located in York Region just north of Toronto and part of the Greater Toronto Area and play in a 8,000 capacity University stadium. Average attendance is 2942. The name is based on the nine municipalities in York Region which includes where I live, Newmarket. Nickname is The Nine Strips, I think we can do better.
Forge FC - calls Hamilton, Ontario its home and plays in the home of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League (CFL), for CPL purposes the capacity is 10,000. Average attendance is 8511. The name represents the city’s industrial heritage, based on the steel industry much like Sheffield UK and Pittsburgh PA. In keeping with that theme their nickname is The Hammers, although it makes sense, hardly original.
Valour FC - located in Winnipeg Manitoba and plays in the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL with a capacity of 33,200. Average attendance is 6578. The name is linked to Valour Rd in Winnipeg where three soldiers lived who received the Victoria Cross in WW1. No nickname yet, but may I suggest The Bombers?
FC Edmonton - located in Northern Alberta and plays in a football specific stadium with a capacity of 5,100. Average attendance is 3753. The club was founded in 2010 as a member of the NASL based in the US. No nickname but I like The Drillers based on the provincial oil industry and a previous NASL team.
Cavalry FC - based in Southern Alberta and play in a football specific stadium in Spruce Meadows with a capacity of 5,300. Average attendance is 3463. The name was inspired by Calgary area’s military history and aims to honour the armed forces and first responders of the region and country. No nickname at the present, I think The Cav’s would be too easy.
Pacific FC - based in Victoria BC on Vancouver Island and play in a multi-purpose stadium in Langford BC with a capacity of 6,500. Average attendance is 3547. The name is based on the location to the Pacific and represents region and capital of BC.
Expansion and Future Plans
The Commissioner, David F Clanachan, has an aggressive plan for expansion with plans for 10 teams in 2020, possibly another two or three if stadia are available. He wants at least 14 by 2024 and 16 in 2026. Interest to join the league is actually quite high and cities expressing interest are Regina/Saskatoon, Moncton, Quebec City, Sherbrook, Laval, Mississauga, St John’s NL, Durham and Niagara Regions and quite possibly Ottawa Fury FC of the USL as early as next season. The CPL is for promotion and relegation but that is well into the future, he would need 20 to 30 teams in total to implement this plan and that isn’t happening anytime soon.
CPL and the MLS - the big question can the CPL exist and thrive with three Canadian teams in the MLS namely the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps and the answer is yes. It’s a different business model and the CPL look to set up in smaller communities outside of the three largest cities in Canada. With a salary cap it doesn’t require the larger crowds of a MLS team and that is reflected in the ticket prices. In the CPL the prices start around $20 (12 GBP & $15 US) compared to the MLS, prices for Toronto FC start at $65 (38 GBP & $50 US).
The MLS is at the level of the Championship in England and wants to compete with the higher European leagues but the CPL at this stage and foreseeable future is more like League One and Two in England on several levels, ticket prices, stadium size and average attendance. In fact four teams in the CPL are similar size to Accrington’s Wham Stadium but with a higher average attendance and they are Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton, HFX Wanderers FC and Pacific FC.
I have seen a little of the CPL on the national television network CBC as they are carrying 20 games in total and I must admit it is similar caliber to League Two in England. It seems to be the model they are aiming at and even League One.
Canadian Premier League Pros And Cons
Pro’s - for the first season the average attendance is 5,077 and their ticket pricing seems to be right based on the attendances for each team. The CPL is promoting Canadian content which will keep more young players in Canada which will benefit the National team so they don’t have to bring in players like Scott Arfield, formerly of Burnley, who had never set foot in Canada until he played for the National team. This league has a true Canadian identity, with the exception of the CFL, unlike other major sports that are based in the US, with. This is a private ownership and club based league much similar to the English model.
Cons’ - Geography, plain and simple this is a huge country with a small population in comparison to England and the US and with only seven teams the league will struggle. Although expansion is needed the plans are aggressive to say the least, as we have seen in other professional leagues if you don’t expand correctly you are doomed to failure. The salary cap with prevent attracting top talent but I’m not sure that is what the league is all about, so it could be argued that this is a Pro since it will keep expense down and stop a rogue owner from trying to bring in a top player.
Final League Analysis
Instead of try to compete with the MLS the CPL is offering a quality product to areas of Canada that doesn’t have a MLS team. The pricing is cheaper than League One and Two in England and seems to be attracting customers based on the average attendance. The key is to continue to provide a quality product on the field. It is important they act on the success of the first season but do it in a controlled environment and add teams in areas that will attract 4000 to 5000 fans, plus establish local rivalries such as they have now with FC Edmonton and Cavalry FC as well as Forge FC and York9 FC.
I’m not a fan of the just using a nickname if you will, such as Valour FC, but it’s seems to be identifiable with the fans in their own region and when you look on how the names were chosen you understand the reason why. I think it gives the league a unique character and I’m okay with that.
So in conclusion I think based on its business model the CPL will succeed. Good luck, you are off to a flying start. I will be keeping an eye on you.