CFL teams to play big role in new Canadian soccer league

This is massive news in the soccer world, and it should be just as impactful in the CFL world.

On Saturday in Whistler, Alta., Soccer Canada — also referred to as the Canadian Soccer Association — unanimously ratified the new Canadian Premier League for membership. And it also accepted the first two CPL teams — in Hamilton and Winnipeg — for full membership in the national governing body for soccer.

That means there likely will be a professional men’s soccer team playing games in its own league at Tim Hortons Field as early as late summer of 2018.

“It was a hugely significant day,” Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell told The Spectator. “I don’t think there is any question that it will accelerate things. It puts everything in motion.”

With the membership vote, the CPL officially becomes Canada’s Tier I league in Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world governing body of soccer.

That, in turn, sends a strong message to prospective team owners, players and municipalities that this league has changed adjectivesfrom “proposed” to “very real.”

“It puts us at the same table as all the other great premier soccer leagues in the world,” Mitchell added.

The first two official teams in the CPL are essentially owned by Canadian Football League teams.

The Hamilton soccer team will be owned by Bob Young, who owns the Tiger-Cats.

The Winnipeg Football Club, which owns the Blue Bombers, will also own the soccer team and play out of Investor’s Group Field, where the Bombers play.

Why were only two teams named Saturday?

“Winnipeg and Hamilton represent exactly what we’re after in this league,” Mitchell said. “Great ownership, great management, phenomenal facilities and an operation ready to go.”

Other teams could be announced within the next couple of months.

Paul Beirne, the league’s project manager and the first official employee of the CPL, was also the first employee of Toronto FC which is, and will remain, a member of Major League Soccer, the Tier I league in the United States.

“It feels like the early days of Toronto FC where the demand and excitement are sincerely there,” Beirne told The Spectator. “It feels like Day One, like the momentum is just starting and will only go in one direction from here: Up.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store right now. It’s exciting.

“We got 10 expressions (including Hamilton and Winnipeg) of interest from across the country. And there are definitely more in the pipeline. We’ve got more demand than supply. We will continue the process of assessing potential members: looking at ownership, and facilities and markets.

“We get one shot at this, and we want to do it right, which is why we haven’t said too much before this.”

Speculation in soccer cyberspace had the league starting next summer or fall, with six teams: Winnipeg and Hamilton, plus Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax and Ottawa. But that might not be the exact opening lineup.

Some of the other four might not be operational in the first year, and others not mentioned in public could be in. And there could be more than six, especially after Saturday’s vote formalized the league’s existence.

Mitchell said that since that vote, there have been calls and emails from other potential owners, former players and municipalities wondering how they can get involved. The league is looking for financial strength of ownership, long-term commitment and marketplace sustainability.

Young, who was a minority owner of the United Soccer League’s Carolina Railhawks, sent out a long message to Hamilton fans on social media that read in part, “The CPL will fill the existing void in the national Canadian soccer development platform by operating a top-level professional league, both on and off the field. The CSA and the CPL’s shared commitment is to foster the development of Canadian players.”

From the beginning of discussions on forming a national premier league, the focus has been on developing Canada’s senior men’s national team, which has slipped into virtual irrelevance on the international scene, and on increasing the number of people playing soccer in Canada.

Because the CPL, like the CFL, will have some form of Canadians-must-play ratio it’s expected to develop more Canadian talent, more quickly, than Major League Soccer, which doesn’t have a similar leaguewide rule.

“The success of the CPL is totally intertwined with the success of the men’s national team,” Mitchell said. “The CSA is absolutely a partner in this venture. Canada needs to be a top-30 team in the world of men’s soccer and a top three or four team in CONCACAF.”

CONCACAF is the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Soccer Canada president Victor Montagliani who is now the president of CONCACAF — making him arguably the most powerful Canadian in world sport — stepped down from his Soccer Canada post Saturday. Mitchell praised Montagliani’s commitment and work toward establishing the CPL.

The Hamilton team does not yet have a nickname but Mitchell says, “We’re looking forward to engaging with the Hamilton soccer community on picking a name.”

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
Steve Milton
Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (116 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.

15 Comments on CFL teams to play big role in new Canadian soccer league

  1. mrnehnehincognito // May 8, 2017 at 2:23 pm //

    So how does this help the CFL exactly?
    Canada has tired professional soccer before and it’s been a disaster. Remember the CSL? Nothing says top tier soccer like playing on field with numbers, yards markers and the logos of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

    • Just because something was tried and failed doesn’t mean it won’t work. Perhaps things were poorly managed before, perhaps the right leaders weren’t in place, perhaps there was not a strong enough financial backing to make it work… I don’t know the history of previous soccer endeavors, but lots of things may differ this time around. And pro soccer has more of a foothold in Canada than it ever did before, so fan (= revenue) potential is higher.

      Neither field has permanent football lines. It would be a simple changeover mitigated by schedule timing.

    • It doesn’t help the CFL and the story doesn’t mention about “helping” the CFL.
      Times have changed and soccer is hugely popular in this country.
      Every high school across this country has a soccer team, not too many with football teams.
      The millenials love soccer and it’s proven by the attendance at TFC, Impact, Whitecaps.
      The TV ratings for the EPL are good.

      If you don’t like soccer then don’t watch it, no one is asking you to attend or pay for it.

  2. the paw // May 8, 2017 at 3:08 pm //

    It provides an additional revenue stream for the CFL Club that utilized already existing facility capacity. It also allows them to tap into an immigrant demographic that is more naturally aligned with soccer, and with a youth demographic where soccer popularity is outstripping hockey and football in terms of number of kids playing.

    • mrnehnehincognito // May 8, 2017 at 3:18 pm //

      It also creates additional cost in terms of operation of these teams. Does the youth and immigrant population as you say, support this enough to make this profitable? Youth soccer has been ahead of hockey for years but that hasn’t helped other Canadian soccer leagues.

      • Additional costs?
        Hopefully, they will sustain themselves.
        It’s a lot cheaper to run a soccer team than a football team, 11 Players that actually stay on the field the whole game with 3 subs, they aren’t going to carry 80 players like a CFL team.
        Crowds of a few thousand just like a AHL or Junior hockey team, would seem logical.
        With more games than a CFL team they will attract more advertising dollars.
        I am sure Bob Young has looked at the numbers, he’s not going in to lose money

    • And with some good cross-promotion and marketing, it may help draw more new fans to the CFL, while attracting “traditional” football fans to the other brand of football.

      It’s going to take time for this to develop, but I think there are way more positive opportunities than potential drawbacks.

  3. mrnehnehincognito // May 8, 2017 at 3:27 pm //

    Time will tell but I wouldn’t hold out hope for it’s success

  4. Robert Shmigelsky // May 8, 2017 at 3:35 pm //

    I doubt the CPL will even be considered fit for the “kid’s table” so to speak.

    Huge mistake: there’s simply not enough available talent for a Canadian men’s league.

    A real gambit would be a women’s league.

  5. Solara2000 // May 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm //

    This is about business and not about strengthening the CFL other than amortizing overhead over a new separate business stream. While there may be some operational and financial crossover opportunities to be realized, the advantages to the sport of Canadian 3-down football are not obvious and in fact are not even alluded in Steve Milton’s column. Now if we were looking for synergy between games, I could see the formation of a senior-level Rugby league – rugby, 3-down football, super sevens – now your are bringing people of similar interests together.

  6. I agree with Solara200, I would have liked to see a super sevens league. The other thing is ticket dollars. The CFL is already having to deal with bringing in a younger demographic. I haven’t been to a pro soccer game but the atmosphere looks like one that would be attractive to a younger group. That’s just my observations. I hope they can exist and thrive together.

  7. Just as long as the soccer teams aren’t a money drain this new league should be a boon for the CFL. Attracting thousands of new fans to CFL stadiums, even to watch soccer helps pay facility fees and overhead expenses. If soccer is growing as quickly as suggested, CFL teams can insulate themselves into the future by having a financial stake the new soccer league.

    • Do you think that Bob Young would be involved if he thought it would be a money drain? the guy has lost millions every year on the Tiger Cats.
      Soccer is a millenial sport, just go to a TFC game and see 30k mainly young people screaming and having fun.

  8. Not every CFL city will be involved with this league.
    Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have MLS teams and Toronto already has a Tier 2 team in the NASL.
    Ottawa and Edmonton have existing NASL teams.
    Calgary & Regina would be the other two cities.

  9. Whistler is in Alberta?

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