Dare to dream: Canadian Premier League approved by CSA

Hamilton and Winnipeg granted first franchises in CPL

By Matthew Gourlie

For the first time in 25 years Canada once again has its own nation-wide soccer league.

The Canadian Premier League received unanimous approval from the Canadian Soccer Association Saturday at its annual general meeting in Whistler, B.C.

In addition to granting status to the league, Hamilton and Winnipeg have been unanimously accepted as franchises by the CSA.

“The leadership of the Canadian Soccer Association has shown outstanding commitment to its vision for the future of soccer in Canada with the decision to ratify the Canadian Premier League today,” said Bob Young, the owner of the Hamilton team in a release on the Hamilton pro soccer web site. “I’m really excited the Canadian Soccer Association has approved Hamilton’s application to become an official member of the CSA. This approval allows our Hamilton team to apply and join the CPL at the appropriate time. When that time comes, our club will play out of Tim Hortons Field, which has proved to be a world-class soccer stadium and has consistently provided a best-in-class live viewing experience for all of its events.”

Two teams don’t make a league, but more franchises are expected to be announced in the coming months. In a presentation in Halifax, a six-team proposal with teams in Halifax, Ottawa Hamilton, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton was to play a half-season following the 2018 World Cup in Russia was disclosed.

The CPL could also wait and play a full season and debut in the spring of 2019. Major League Soccer was due to launch in 1995 to try to capitalize on the success of the 1994 World Cup, but delayed their inaugural season until 1996.

There was no surprise in the two inaugural franchises.

The work being done in Hamilton had been more public than in some of the other prospective league cities.

Led by Young, who is the ‘caretaker’ of the Canadian Football League’s Tiger-Cats, Hamilton has been at the forefront of news emanating about the new league.

Former Canadian international John McGrane went to Hamilton city council more than a year ago with an “unsolicited submission” on behalf of John McGrane Services Ltd., in partnership with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, to put a dome over the football field at Tim Hortons Field during the winter months. That submission wasn’t approved, but it stoked the fires in the Steel City that a new league and team was more than smoke and mirrors.

Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell has spoken in the press about the league and Kevin Matchett, the team’s director of new stadium development, has attended meetings with Hamilton’s Barton Street Battalion supporters group.

The Canadian Soccer League was launched with high hopes in 1987, but could have used deeper pockets to survive their growing pains. The league folded in 1992 with the Vancouver 86ers, Toronto Blizzard and Montreal Impact all joining the American Professional Soccer League.

Even CSL commissioner Dale Barnes feared the league was doomed to fail from the start.

“Upon taking the position of commissioner of the CSL, I quickly learned that a team owner had falsified his letter of credit. Then I was put in the position of having to loan the league, personally, $10,000 so it could meet its TV financial contract commitment. This before we had even kicked a ball. I sadly realized we were terribly under-funded and we were in for a very hard and long battle just for the CSL to survive,” Barnes said in Soccer In the New World.

The Canadian Premier League looks to have enough capital to make a real run at having a domestic league succeed for the first time.

CanPL-Hamilton-Winnipeg.jpg-large

Joe Belan, (left) Canadian Premier League investor, Bob Young, Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner, Scott Mitchell, Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO and Wade Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers president & CEO pose after Hamilton and Winnipeg were granted the two inaugural franchises in the Canadian Premier League Saturday. CanadaSoccer/twitter

Hamilton will certainly be well-financed.

Young purchased the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2003. He founded Red Hat Inc., open source software company, with Marc Ewing. Young would go on to sell Red Hat for nearly $1 billion. Young also launched a self-publishing and distribution company called Lulu.com

Young was the CEO of  Raleigh, N.C.-based drone developer PrecisionHawk for two years after being an early investor in the company.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be involved with the Winnipeg CPL franchise, but that raises some interesting questions.

For a start, the Blue Bombers — or more specifically the Winnipeg Football Club — is a corporation without share capital. The not-for-profit organization is governed by a 13-member volunteer board of directors. The board then hires the president and CEO, which is currently Wade Miller who was present at the CSA AGM.

“For the past 18 months, we have been working with the group that is spearheading this venture and have indicated our interest in founding a club here in Manitoba,” said Miller in a release on the Bombers’ website. “We know from hosting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup that this community has a passion for the sport.”

In a release, the Winnipeg Football Club confirmed that they were “working alongside the group” which was bringing soccer to Winnipeg. That would suggest involvement from another party — with True North Sports & Entertainment, who owns the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets being the most obvious partner — in bringing a team to Winnipeg.

At the end of 2015, the Winnipeg Football Club had net assets of $12,453,040 and cash and cash equivalents of $6,518,706.

The new league also unveiled a new web site: canpl.ca.

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