Canada’s CPL kicks off first season with a local look and a passionate commitment

By Paul Nicholson

April 29 – The world’s newest tier 1 national league kicked off at the weekend with the Canadian Premier League (CPL) officially opening its inaugural season in Hamilton with a 1-1 draw between Forge FC and York 9 FC.

The seven-team CPL will run until October with each team playing 28 games and operating a Spring and Fall season format that will climax with the two winners of the season ‘halves’ playing off for the title.

It is a major step forward for Canadian football in terms of developing a local and governable top tier, professional leagues structure. Currently Canada’s top teams play in the MLS in the US – Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver.

The CPL teams will face the MLS teams in the Canadian Championship for Canada’s spot in the Concacaf Champions League, while one CPL team is guaranteed to play in the Concacaf League against clubs from Central America and the Caribbean for a further spot in the Champions League.

In a country where travel involves huge distances, the league has to be underpinned by owners with deep pockets. At the forefront of the club investors has been Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner and computer software businessman Bob Young who was on the initial league project committee with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA). It has been a long term project that was promoted initially through its former president and now Concacaf’s president Victor Montagliani, and followed through with current CSA president Steven Reed.

With Canada co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and the US, the league is a logical step towards building the domestic football pyramid to take full advantage of the heightened attention of the World Cup build up.

Early signs are that this Spring’s seeds are already germinating. 17,600 turned up for the opening match and the league already has Macron as its official kit supplier for all its teams, while Volkswagen has signed up as a founding sponsor and title partner.

The league also has a heavyweight media partner in Mediapro’s OneSoccer streaming service which will broadcast all matches with season tickets passes from $49.99 and a day pass costing $5.99.

League commissioner David Clanachan says league expansion talks are already underway but will be gradual with 10 clubs by 2020, followed by 14 clubs in 2024 and 16 clubs in 2026. The league will not be franchise-based but has said it will work towards a promotion and relegation structure, but that is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon.

Attending the first game, Clanachan concluded: “For the league opener, pretty damn good.”

Being good and being local is at the core of the CPL’s mission.

In terms of marketing the league is making a lot of noise around its ‘We are Many we are One’ tag line, emphasising that in such a multi-cultural country that for the most part too often seen dependent on the US for its sports destiny and consumption. “This is a league we can call out own. For Canadians, by Canadians,” says the league mission statement.

Forge FC (Hamilton), York 9 FC (Toronto area), FC Edmonton, HFX Wanderers (Halifax), Valour FC (Winnipeg), Cavalry FC (Calgary) and Pacific FC (Vancouver Island), will compete this inaugural season

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