Path clear for Calgary, Halifax, Port City and York to join the Canadian Premier League
By Matthew Gourlie
The inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League continues to take shape after four more franchises were approved for professional club membership at the Canadian Soccer Association’s annual general meeting in Yellowknife Saturday.
The CSA has now sanctioned six Canadian Premier League clubs after Hamilton and Winnipeg were green lit at the CSA’s AGM on May 6, 2017 in Whistler, B.C.
The four teams were listed as Halifax, NS; York Region, ON; Calgary, AB and Port City, B.C. The CPL is expected to debut in the spring of 2019.
York9 FC will be the first franchise to be unveiled when they hold their official launch on Thursday, May 10 at Vaughan City Hall.
York9 FC executive vice-president/owner Jim Brennan and president/owner Preben Ganzhorn were in Yellowknife for the AGM. The Baldassarra family of Vaughan, Ont. are the primary financiers behind the group bringing professional soccer to the York region.
Carlo Baldassarra co-founded Greenpark Homes in Vaughan in 1967 after emigrating to Canada from Italy in 1958 at the age of 19.
York9 FC is expected to be based in Vaughan at their own stadium, but may begin life at the York Lions Stadium just south of Vaughan on the York University campus. The stadium has a running track and held 12,500 with temporary seating during the 2015 Pan-Am Games.
The Halifax franchise has their stadium situation sorted at the Wanderers Grounds and is expected to be christened Halifax Wanderers FC. Sports & Entertainment Atlantic, a Halifax-based sports and entertainment production company, will operate the club. Canada and the United States will meet in a rugby match on June 23 in the first event on the revitalized Wanderers Grounds.
While Halifax has a definitive site to play, there has been much speculation about where a possible B.C. team might find a home south of the Fraser River in the lower mainland.
While they have been characterised as a “Fraser Valley” team, the Port City group has also been linked to three possible locations in Surrey: the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, Bridgeview or the city centre. In addition the CPL head office has said that the B.C. group was investigating options in other municipalities in the Fraser Valley.
Former Canadian national team striker Rob Friend, who is from Kelowna, has been linked to the B.C. group. Friend and Dean Shillington, the founder of Knightsbridge Capital Group in Vancouver, were at the AGM. Shillington, who originally hails from Saskatoon, founded Knightsbridge Capital in 2007.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr., the technical director of Calgary Foothills FC and the head coach of Foothills’ under-23 Premier Development League team, was also in attendance representing Calgary. Wheeldon grew up in Liverpool, but came to Calgary to play for the A-League’s Calgary Storm in 2002 and remained in the city.
Ian Allison, the senior vice-president of Spruce Meadows in Calgary, was also in attendance. Spruce Meadows is a 360-acre equestrian facility just south of Calgary. Spruce Meadows was opened by the Southern family in 1975 and they continue to own and operate the facility. Linda Southern-Heathcott competed in equestrian jumping at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and serves as president and CEO of Spruce Meadows.
While patriarch Ron Southern passed away in 2016, his estate was worth an estimated $2.3 billion by Canadian Business in 2017. Linda’s sister Nancy Southern has been president and CEO of the family business — which got it’s start with the ATCO portable trailer company — since 2003.
FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC were both professionally sanctioned by the CSA as they were created. Those two clubs have been expected to be amongst the CPL’s charter members since day 1.
Their inclusion would give the CPL eight teams for its inaugural season.
Before leaving for the CSA AGM, the CPL held league meetings in Edmonton. When they wrapped up on Friday CPL commissioner David Clanachan told Steven Sandor from the11.ca that the league could kick off with anywhere from 8-10 teams.
Ottawa Fury FC president John Pugh and the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group have said little publicly about the CPL while they continue to field a team in the United Soccer League.
After a promising 30-day membership drive, FC Edmonton owners Tom and Dave Fath are looking to field a team in the CPL for 2019.
The Faths will have been buoyed by the membership drive that FC Edmonton general manager Jay Ball said surpassed their entire membership/season seat deposits that the team had for the 2017 NASL season. FC Edmonton’s average attendance rose from 2,020 in 2016 to 3,408 in 2017 before the senior team went on hiatus.
The biggest stumbling block for Edmonton appears to be finding a long-term home. The club had been playing at Clarke Stadium since 2012. The Faths invested to upgrade the capacity, but at less than 5,000 seats the city-owned stadium is less than ideal for the CPL. When FC Edmonton asked the City to be the primary tenant they received stiff opposition from the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos and the local football community.
Built in 1938, Clarke Stadium became the home of the Eskimos until Commonwealth Stadium was built next to it in 1978. The field was also home to Edmonton high school football and the Edmonton Huskies and Edmonton Wildcats who have played junior football in the Prairie Football Conference for more than 60 years each.
The two old grandstands were torn down in 2000 and replaced by 1,500-seat venue that was used in conjunction with the World Track & Field Championships. The Faths expanded the capacity with new seats and Clarke remains the Eskimos practice facility and is still used by minor, high school and junior football teams.
Friday Clanachan also addressed the possibility of FC Edmonton moving into Re/Max Field, a 9,500-seat baseball park in the river valley, five blocks south of Jasper Ave. and downtown.
Built in 1935 as Refrew Park, the ballpark was named John Ducey Park for most of its life. In 1995 it was rebuilt on the same site as Telus Field before being re-named Re/Max Field a year ago. The stadium was home to the AAA minor league Edmonton Trappers from 1981 to 2004. The independent minor league Edmonton Cracker-Cats/Capitals played there from 2005-2011. In recent years the Edmonton Prospects of the Western Major Baseball League have called the stadium home.
The WMBL is a collegiate wood bat summer league that fields American and Canadian college players for a two-month regular season. The Prospects joined the 10-team Alberta and Saskatchewan-based league in 2005 and spent two seasons in St. Albert before returning to Edmonton.
Last season they drew an average of 1,685 fans, but nine games drew crowds below the 1,000 fan mark — including a low of 374 — but also crowds of 3,226 and 7,289. The Prospects drew some sizable crowds in the playoffs as they advanced to the league’s championship series.
Prior to playing at Re/Max Field, the Prospects played at the 1,500-seat John Fry Park in Edmonton for three seasons.
Re/Max Field has an artificial infield and a natural grass outfield and the grandstand was constructed with baseball in mind. Despite that, there are several stadiums with an L-shape grandstand that have adapted well to soccer. Providence Park in Portland was built with football, track and baseball in mind, but has become a great venue for the MLS Timbers. The Tampa Bay Rowdies converted Al Lang Stadium for soccer, the Rochester Rhinos spent a decade at Frontier Field and the Kansas City Wizards spent three seasons at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.