CanPL.ca sat down with league commissioner David Clanachan for the first instalment of this exclusive bi-weekly series, asking for updates on the league’s current progress, roster rules, kit deals, media rights and the situation surrounding the Ottawa Fury.
CanPL.ca: Commissioner, could you give us an update about the state of the league roughly seven months from the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season?
Clanachan: “At this time, we’ve announced seven teams that are ready to go, and we’re continuing to work with other groups to get to eight. We’ve had huge success with the membership movements created in each of our cities, and on top of that, we’re talking to a number of other regions and potential owners: St. John’s, Newfoundland, Moncton, New Brunswick, Montreal/Laval and Quebec City in Quebec, as well as the ‘Grand River’ region of Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, the Niagara Region, Durham Region – encompassing Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax and Pickering – as well as Mississauga, who already have a very engaged supporters’ group.
“We’re also having discussions with Regina and Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, as well as Lower Mainland B.C., which is a very active opportunity with interest from Kelowna. And we’ve had interest from Ottawa from multiple parties, which is very important to us. Frankly, we believe that the nation’s capital is a great place for a club, so we’ll be looking at that as well.”
Would the Canadian Premier League be content launching with seven clubs in 2019?
“We’re still chasing that eighth team and we have a couple options in the mix. We are fully equipped to launch with seven clubs and our schedule will still be strong and varied.”
Could you provide an update regarding the Ottawa Fury’s decision to remain in the USL?
“Let me start by saying that we are committed to the city of Ottawa and think it will be a great Canadian Premier League market. Let’s be clear, in order for us to be a truly successful Canadian league, we need to be in our nation’s capital. We have a positive relationship with OSEG overall and value the financial commitments they have made to soccer in Ottawa, and we will see where this goes in the future.
“As far as a specific ownership group goes, we’ve had many discussions with the Fury and with OSEG through the last three years. They were very much included in all information and strategy over that time. As for a transition to the Canadian Premier League, we were quite willing to adapt in a number of areas, because we recognized the fact that they were an existing team playing in the USL this year, under different circumstances. We were prepared to accommodate them, specifically around details like players, soccer operations and player salaries. We had actually offered to have them operate under the exact same circumstances as they are now. We felt like we presented a series of accommodations on a number of different things in order for Ottawa to feel confident about playing in the Canadian Premier League. We did everything we could to help them feel welcome. Unfortunately, they made a different decision and we were surprised after the accommodations we had proposed, when they notified us last week that they were prepared to continue to operate in the USL.
“There are very few countries in the world that operate their own, independent domestic professional league while also permitting two different foreign leagues to operate inside their borders. To reach our potential in world soccer, we as Canadians need to become the agent of our own soccer future. In the USL, the focus of control is based in the U.S. and Canadian interests will always be subjugated by the interests of American soccer. This would continue to leave us dependent and underdeveloped as a soccer country.”
Have roster rules been finalized, and what will each club’s Canadian quota look like?
“We are working on roster building right now. You’ve seen the quality of the coaches that the clubs have hired, and our work with the Got Game Open Trials. I’m buoyed by the work of our Soccer Operations department, which is in full swing. I can be definitive at this point and tell you, we are a league that has been built by Canadians, for Canadians. It’s a philosophy we’re taking right through the player and coaching levels. Our owners have committed to more than 50 per cent of our rosters being Canadians, and our starting lineups will also field more than 50 per cent Canadian players, because the Canadian Premier League is about developing the game for Canadians. Obviously, you’ve already seen the evidence of that commitment to Canadian content on the coaching side.
“From a salary and soccer operations budget, we’re north of seven figures. We have a very robust payroll package setup for our clubs. It’s important that we do that. We’ll have players at different levels of payroll based on their experience and their abilities. And, I’m pleased to say we are getting enquiries from Canadian players that have gone abroad and are playing in leagues outside of Canada, that now want to come back home. There’s no better sign of a positive attitude toward what we’re creating here than Canadians who are already playing professionally wanting to come home. Frankly, I don’t blame them.”
The Canadian Premier League has yet to formally announce any player signings – when can fans expect to see roster decisions?
“You’ll start to see players signed and rosters being built as we get to the end of our Open Trials. As you know, we are a group of storytellers. It’s a journey, and we’ve brought a lot of our supporters and members on this journey with us, so part of it is how we unveil how this all happens. After our coaches get a good look at the Open Trials, and certainly through the winter FIFA transfer window, people will start to see a lot.”
Does the league have a deal with a kit manufacturer in place?
“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time dealing with global kit manufacturers, and we are very close to making announcements on our kit deals. I will say this, the companies we’re talking to are prepared to develop bespoke uniforms for our clubs with unique designs. It’s something that hasn’t necessarily been done around the globe, so we’ll be one of the few that have custom-made kits league-wide. We’re involving clubs, ownership and coaches in the design process too, so you’ll start to see announcements on that in the next 10-to-14 days.”
Will we be hearing anything about a TV or broadcast deal in the coming months?
“We’re excited about where we’re at in terms of our media strategy going forward. Having both the Canada Soccer and Canadian Premier League assets as an aggregated opportunity and being able to include and grow properties like the Canadian Championship, which is really exciting, creates a fantastic opportunity for global and domestic media companies. Over an eight-year cycle, leading up to the 2026 FIFA World Cup, there are more than 2,000 live matches available, which is a huge amount of quality live content, with both international and domestic appeal.
“Specific for our supporters to know is that we are currently in a very important but confidential RFP (request for proposal) process that has garnered great interest from media companies from all over the globe and in Canada, and some very significant players at that. There will be some important news about a media acquisition we are making next week, and then we anticipate having a specific media partner or partners in place by the end of this year. Ultimately the goal for our supporters and partners will be a multiple platform distribution strategy that will enable every game to be available to a broad audience.”
Finally, the Canadian Premier League’s #GotGame Open Trials are coming up – are you pleased with the response you’ve received from coast to coast?
“I’m proud to announce that almost 1,000 players have already signed up for the Open Trials, and some interesting ones at that. We can’t reveal names, but we’ve even had registration from outside of North America, which I find fascinating. I think that it speaks to the quality of our set-up. The fact that our coaches will be at all the trials is key. Do we expect to sign full rosters out of these trials? No. But what I would hopefully like to find are those young Canadian kids who have fallen between the cracks over the years but are still great talents. There will be great players out there and we want players to put it all out there. Don’t leave anything off the field. Show us that you’ve got game. I know there’s going to be some great results that come from those open trials.”
The CPL’s #GotGame Open Trials are coming to a city near you, kicking off in Halifax from September 20-21, before making stops in Montreal (Sept. 27-28), Hamilton (Oct. 1-2), Toronto (Oct. 11-12), Winnipeg (Oct. 18-19), Calgary (Oct. 25-26) and Vancouver Island (Nov. 5-6).
Think you’ve #GotGame? Register at CanPL.ca/GotGame.