Editorial Note: It seems like there is one of these at the top of every article now, but that is probably a good sign. Please welcome James Hutton to the Waking the Red team. James' passion for Canadian soccer was sparked when he attended a game in 2007 in which Danny Dichio scored a late goal to get Toronto a point against the New England Revolution. He has travelled the globe pursuing his passion of soccer, and will bring stories and insight to Waking the Red.
It has long been debated among Canadian supporters what cities the national teams should call home, boiling over into the fourth round of World Cup Qualifying. With many viable playing locations across the country it has been a struggle for the Canadian Soccer Association to please Canadian fans and players alike.
Historically, the CSA has taken a home base approach to both the men's and women's national teams with each team seeing the majority of their home games in one location. Since 2010 the Canadian men have played sixteen games in four different "home" venues with Edmonton, Montreal, and Vancouver each hosting a game with Toronto hosting the remaining thirteen.
While the CanMNT has adopted Toronto as their "home" a similar model was used with the Women's team. In the same time span the CanWNT played fifteen games in six locations prior to the Women's World Cup. Despite diversifying to Moncton, Winnipeg and Hamilton, over half of the games were played in Vancouver.
If the CanMNT were to adopt this model it would jump in line with a number of North American sports teams already operating under this system. Franchises such as the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors continue to reemphasize that their teams represent Canada as they tour around the country during the preseason.
The Blue Jays recently announced for the third straight year that they will be concluding their preseason matches in Montreal while the Raptors have played games in Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal over the last two years. The objective of these tours is to help build a national brand, one that is attained by allowing new fans to experience Canada's teams that can only be attained through variety in home venues.
Canada's neighbours to the south have also seen rotating venues as an opportunity to bring the game to a wider audience. In the last twelve USMNT home games only one venue has been used twice with eleven different states hosting games. While eleven different venues for Canada may be ambitious, the message is clear: Make the National team more accessible to the entire country.
This variation in home games helps promote the team through local media while allowing for soccer fans not living in the Toronto & Vancouver markets to experience the national teams live. Often these cities are deprived of other sporting events allowing for Canada to dominate the headlines.
When Canada plays in Toronto they compete for media space with the Leafs, Argos, TFC, the Blue Jays and the Raptors while other cities such as Hamilton, Winnipeg, or Edmonton do not have the competitive sporting market seen in the larger cities.
Frequently these big events in smaller markets lead to higher attendance. Taking a look at the Women's friendlies in Hamilton, Winnipeg, and Moncton all games were near sellouts as locals jumped on board for the rare events. Both Hamilton and Winnipeg drew attendances of 20,000+ while the average attendance in Vancouver over those games fell just under 16,000. While Hamilton and Winnipeg have yet to be rewarded for their successes markets such as Ottawa continue to be snubbed for games despite proving through the Ottawa Fury Cup run that there is a soccer market in the Nation's capital.
The Fury broke the NASL post season attendance record in the NASL semi-final and managed to sell over 9,000 tickets within two weeks of clinching the Fall title. Ottawa, Hamilton, and Winnipeg are all prime examples of markets that can pull in large crowds while at the same time pulling in fans new to the national team.
With BC Place the rumoured venue of the next CanMNT home game, there will be six home games remaining if Canada qualifies for the hex. That is five more games than the country is used to seeing in qualifying allowing for five more games that can be used to tour the country.
These games should be used to reward soccer fans, spark interest in the next generation of Canadian players and help build the Canadian soccer brand. This is Canada's journey to the World Cup, it is important that all of Canada is able to experience it.