News was leaked earlier today of a soon-to-be Canadian Premier League (start date: 2018) based out of Hamilton, Ontario. Sanctioned by FIFA, the league will require a minimum number of Canadian players and feature a salary cap rumoured to be in the region of $1.5-million.
— Hamilton Spectator (@TheSpec) February 3, 2016
The league’s flagship franchise is all but confirmed to be a CFL-affiliated one Hamilton.
— steve milton (@miltonatthespec) February 3, 2016
The major question now facing the CSA-backed league and its potential supporters is; which five to seven other cities will take the pitch in the inaugural season? Will established Major League Soccer clubs Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and the Montreal Impact jump ship from a top-flight American league to a fledgling top-flight Canadian league? What about North American Soccer League clubs FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC; will they run from the ever-changing second-division league in favour of an all-Canadian circuit?
That depends on a number of factors:
- How strong will the league’s Canadian Football League link be? The CFL has a wicked television deal in place with TSN–Canada’s pre-eminent sports network–and if the big-wigs there are willing to splash the cash for an unproven soccer product, it could entice MLS teams to make the switch. With Hamilton’s team all but already wearing Tiger-Cats CFL colours and an ownership group in Calgary expected to announce a Stampeders-led team in cowtown, it looks like the link will be a very close one.
- League stability. It remains murky how the league will try and sell owners on the idea of league stability. With MLS experiencing a clear boom, why would any of its three Canadian franchises abandon it for a prototype domestic league? It seems more likely that the two NASL clubs–FC Edmonton, already decimated by heavy travel costs, and Ottawa Fury FC, already owned by a CFL group–could make the move to the Canadian first division. Even then, there are obvious risks associated with leaving an established league.
- Salary commitments. Depending on the level of play the Canadian Soccer Association is aiming for, the salary demands on ownership groups might be too much. FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury FC were both in the bottom third of NASL spending last season. The Hamilton group–which already has a stadium in place–is predicting a five-year investment of $20-million or more. The whispered salary cap of $1.5-million would be prohibitive for mid-level Canadian markets, which may be targeted by the league if all three MLS markets prove unfruitful.
All that said, Ottawa hits every point on my self-styled ‘Canadian Premier League’ checklist: a modern stadium (check), established fan base (if you can count two seasons including an unexpected run to the league finals, check), central location within the country (check), and pre-existing CFL ownership (via OSEG, check).
A move to an all-Canadian league based out of central Canada would not only (speculatively) reduce Fury FC’s travel costs, but positively force the team to truly develop its academy and feature more Canadian players.
Media and fans alike are buzzing about the possibility of a true Canadian first division. Despite the potential pitfalls of any new league, it is undeniably an exciting time for Canadian soccer. Details and a statement from Ottawa Fury FC to come.