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Canadian Premier League: What's The Worst That Could Happen?

Canadian soccer supporters work in worst case scenarios, so here is a look at what those would be for the Canadian Premier League to be launched within the next few years.

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Whenever the possibility of a Canadian professional soccer league is brought up, inevitably, there are Canadian soccer fans that chime in to say it's a bad idea, it will never work, we aren't ready yet, we don't have the player pool yet, etc. You see comments like this underneath articles no matter which website the article is on and even in Voyageurs forums.

I'd like to speculate at what could possibly go wrong with such a league. Is there any good reason to turn Canadian soccer fans against a potential Canadian soccer league?

Scenario 1: The CPL fails after a couple of seasons

In this scenario, the existing 5 pro cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa) continue on with business as usual in their respective leagues (possibly with an additional CPL team as well), and they survive until after the CPL folds. This scenario is a no harm no foul situation. We get a couple years of live pro soccer in our home town (well, in 6 to 8 cities), player jobs for 90+ players (minimum 6 teams with a rumored 75% Canadian player quota, I'm guessing at least 20 player roster which would mean 15 Canadian players per team, so 90 domestic positions available at the very least based on what we've been told), coaching jobs, referee jobs, administration/executive jobs, etc.

I guess the only harm you could argue is that it could make investors shy about trying to start a league further down the road. The reality is that it's been 24 years since our last league folded, and if we don't try this now, how will we know when the right time is? We have 5 pro teams that have sprung up in the recent past, and 3 of them are hugely successful (off the field at least), another is quite successful, and only 1 struggles. In my opinion, the CPL failing after 2 to 5 years is definitely significantly more good than harm in what is a complete failure scenario.

Scenario 2: The CPL fails, and kills one or more pre-existing pro teams along the way

We currently have 5 pro teams (not counting the reserve teams in USL) in Canada. The CPL would not be able to kill any of the 3 MLS teams while still failing itself. If the CPL kills the Whitecaps, Impact, or TFC, it will be because it is an enormous success. So that leaves us with the possibility of it killing off FC Edmonton or Ottawa Fury.

Let's start with Edmonton. There are 2 ways FC Edmonton could be killed by the CPL. One way is by introducing a 2nd pro team in Edmonton, which then divides the fan base and neither team survives. The second way is for FC Edmonton to move to the CPL and for the league/team to fail there.

However, it's important to note that so far, FC Edmonton has not been successful. They have played 5 seasons so far and still don't have things like a shirt sponsor to bring in revenue (their shirt sponsor is the Fath Group, which is the FC Edmonton owner's company). They have also said that they need 5000 fans per game to break even, and they have only had over 3000 fans per game one season (3433 per game in 2014). All this to say, FC Edmonton could potentially die off on its own in the next few years with or without the CPL. T

That being said, if they move to the CPL and fail there, at least they would have tried something different. In the CPL they would presumably have games against rival cities like Calgary which might be a bigger draw than the teams that are in the NASL. I casually follow Edmonton a bit, and they don't seem to have any rivalries in NASL aside from possibly Ottawa.

Another thing that the CPL could potentially (hopefully) bring to FC Edmonton is national exposure for the league. If there are games on TV, and/or highlights on TSN and Sportsnet's news shows, that would be great advertising for the team. A third thing they would gain is dollar parity with the league they play in. The weak Canadian dollar is a problem for Canadian teams in American leagues, but wouldn't be an issue in an all Canadian league (aside from perhaps persuading players to sign with your team). With revenues (ticket sales, merchandise, concessions) earned in Canadian dollars, and lots of expenses (travel, hotels, possibly even player salaries but I'm not sure) in American dollars, it is a problem when the Canadian dollar is relatively weak compared to the American dollar.

Now, what if Ottawa fails due to the CPL? This is the one scenario that would be an actual negative. After 2 seasons they have been relatively successful. Last season they averaged over 5000 fans per game and they made it to the soccer bowl. They put Marc Dos Santos (head coach) in the spotlight and opened up new opportunities for him, as well as of course playing Canadian players (which FC Edmonton has also done of course). It would be a shame if we ended this adventure without the CPL and without the Ottawa Fury.

So, what is the alternative that the naysayers would have us work towards rather than the CPL?

From what I have heard, people believe in getting more teams in American leagues (MLS, NASL, USL) and either stay put there, or once they are successful, move them into a Canadian league or a Canadian division (for example, within the NASL). The problem with this as I see it, is that we don't control our own fate. Basically we have to ask permission from the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) to allow us to pick up some of their scraps. We need permission from them to join the leagues they sanction, at least in terms of relaxing some of their rules like 75% of teams in their leagues needing to be American, or meeting minimum city size requirements that very few Canadian cities can meet.

We've also heard Don Garber say that there are a lot of American markets that MLS is interested in expanding into, but he doesn't see any room for more Canadian teams. Of course there are other issues like the contentious domestic player rules in these American leagues (MLS and NASL). The other problem is, let's say we get several more teams in American leagues, and they become successful. What would be their motivation to leave a successful situation to join a Canadian league?

When we talk now about the CPL, we all understand that TFC, VWFC, and IMFC won't move to the Canadian league because it would be a step backwards financially and in terms of level of play. So any other teams that would subsequently join MLS probably wouldn't move to the CPL, and I would argue that if NASL keeps growing to the point where it has 4, 5, 6 Canadian teams and they are all successful, those teams likely wouldn't want to throw that stability away either.

In my opinion, if you aren't interested in the CPL, that's fine. I understand that people have a limited amount of time to spend following soccer, and they can choose whichever teams and leagues that they like. However, I really don't understand the reasoning or benefit behind trying to convince everyone that there is no hope for the CPL. All that anyone gets out of that is to be able to say "I told you so" if/when it does fail. The thing is, even people that support the idea of the CPL know there is a significant chance it will fail, so saying "I told you so" won't even mean anything at all anyways.