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Canadian Premier League: What we’ve learned recently

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Rocket Robin has everything you need to know about David Clanachan’s recent Q&A session at McMaster University

David Clanachan, commissioner of the CPL.
Courtesy of Canadian Premier League

It’s been two weeks since Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan appeared at a Q&A meeting at the 39th World Congress at McMaster University with Dr. Nick Bontis. That was also a few days after him appearing as a guest on the Raw Mike Richards Show. With those two appearances and the dust settling with no new CPL announcements since then (probably because it would be hard to compete with the 20+ hours of Olympic coverage every day), I felt I could summarize some of the things Clanachan said about the league which is scheduled to kick off in April 2019.

The CPL is still is an enigma in that there are so many unanswered questions about the basics of the first national soccer league in Canada in decades.

Well at those two events we got some answers.

So far there are only two teams announced, Hamilton and Winnipeg. Their ownership groups were approved in May 2017 by the Canadian Soccer Association. No other teams have been revealed up to now, but Clanachan promised that the league will kick off with 8–10 teams. He was happy to say that interest has increased from 12–15 cities originally to as many as 18 communities coast to coast.

Clanachan cautioned that not all prospective teams were at the same development point. When the number of teams reaches closer to that ideal number, the league will have promotion and relegation. That will instantly please those that like the non-North American league model which became a plank of some reformers running for president of the US Soccer Federation.

The owners’ potential relegation fear was addressed by Clanachan in that the owners do understand what that means for revenue, but they are on board. That will be a long term (10 year) goal.

David Clanachan and Nick Bontis talk CPL at the McMaster World Congress.
Robin Glover

He didn’t give anything away about what other cities would be joining but some speculation of a second wave of cities like London, Windsor, and Barrie were named at the Q&A. There has been talk of pop-up stadiums in towns so as not to have the burden/expense of building the old style concrete buildings.

He said the unrevealed ownership groups are passionate and patient (knowing that the league will expect to lose money in the first few years). The owners are looking at leaving a legacy.

Clanachan revealed that there will be an April to October season with no playoffs. That season works great in this country; I was at the MLS Cup in December and expect to be at the CCL game on a weeknight at the end of this month, and Toronto is one of the warmest cities in Canada!

CPL teams will play in the Canadian Championship. They are looking at obviously competing against the MLS teams, which have won the competition every year for entry into the CONCACAF Champions League. There have also been discussions of the champions of the CPL getting a place in the second-tier CONCACAF League.

Clanachan is looking for the CPL to average six to ten thousand fans in attendance. The CPL will be working with supporters groups that have sprung up in each city. This involves choosing team colours and uniforms, because it is important to channel their passions in a community-based sport.

CPL executives are few at the moment, with Clanachan’s hiring announced on January 10 and James Easton given the post of VP of Soccer Operations just the day before the McMaster conference. They join the CPL’s first employee Paul Beirne who had been working without a portfolio but was finally given the title of President earlier this year.

There are negotiations going on for broadcasting games but it is quite possible that traditional broadcasters will take a pass on telecasting over the air. That leaves the possibility of new media technologies like streaming (new MLS franchise Los Angeles FC announced just the day before that they would be doing that on YouTube).

Voyageurs Cup (Pulicicchio/Getty)

Ideally Clanachan said they’re talking to everybody to maximize exposure. He said there were some foreign companies who see a huge opportunity to break into the Canadian market.

Of course one of the biggest reasons for a league is for having a place for Canadian players to play without having to leave the country. Also number one is to help the national team. It will provide employment for Canadians players, coaches, staff, and match officials. Negotiations are underway about having a “young player” rule to ensure that each team plays some under-20s (could be U23s).

Finally, I get the idea that the rosters will feature a majority of Canadian players. I remember watching the MLS Cup with one Canadian starter and the game finishing with no Canadian players. The U-20/23 rule should be an attraction for those young Canadians on the bench on MLS and USL teams.

Player names are currently being compiled from among hundreds. “We know where the players are,” Clanachan assured us. Canadian and foreign coaches have already shown interest in the league. It should not be a problem to attract foreign players either, and work visas can be issued just like they are for other sports leagues. He said that players will want to come to “desirable” Canada.

Academies for CPL teams are being considered although Clanachan said the model might be a problem in smaller cities.

There are no plans at the current time for an equivalent women’s league.

Not discussed on the radio show nor at the Q&A were budgets for player salaries. Other reports have outlined that this will NOT be a semi-pro league. They are looking to attract back Canadian players who have gone overseas.

After the Q&A, Clanachan was mobbed by a groups of supporters and player agents but I got in one point (as there was no answer of how the team rosters would be initially stocked). I said if there’s a draft, some players in Southern Ontario may not be too enthused to get chosen by an out of province team (unless the pay is attractive), and if there are open tryouts the Southern Ontario teams will be swamped.

I follow League1 Ontario (wooo 62 games attended last year!), and there are a lot of older players that are hanging around or have returned to L1O to bide their time. I expect them to wait for news of this new league.

This year a League1 Ontario team will be in the Canadian Championship. Oakville Blue Devils’ path will be to beat the Quebec champions, then beat the Ottawa Fury (USL) before a semi-final date with defending champions Toronto FC. The captain of Oakville is a school gym teacher. Some of his teammates would be prospects for CPL teams.

It is expected that announcements for teams will be made one at a time over the coming months to maximize coverage, much the same as the way other sports leagues drag out their player awards over a week to stay in the headlines.