Group explores CPL expansion
Editor’s Note : – Originally posted in 2017 – The CPL since launched its first season in Spring 2019 with seven clubs: HFX Wanderers, York 9 FC, Forge FC, Valour FC, Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton, and Pacific FC. Atlético Ottawa joins the circuit for 2020.
MONTRÉAL (17 May 2017) — A group lead by the former president of lacrosse club Saskatchewan Rush is looking at the options for bringing a Canadian Premier League soccer team to the Prairies. Lee Genier thinks if there is room for lacrosse in the province, there is also space for professional soccer.
Genier, left his post as Saskatchewan Rush president in February 2017, and heads up the potential ownership group.
He said the group has not decided if the ideal location would be Regina or Saskatoon. An adequate stadium in either metro area would be needed, and it should be one that is expandable over time, starting with around 7,000 to 8,000-seats. The league was recently approved by Canada Soccer as a first-division league in Canada. Concacaf recognises Major League Soccer as a first division league in the US and in Canada.
“Right now, it’s completely exploratory,” Genier said. “But exciting in the same respect.” Genier said there’s a local in-province investors in the prospective ownership group, but he wouldn’t go into further details on who he’s working with.
Genier was also a long-time executive with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, prior to moving to Saskatoon with the Rush when they relocated from Edmonton prior to the 2016 National Lacrosse League season. The team, now in its second season, consistently plays to sell-out home crowds of 15,000.
“I have a real gut feeling,” Genier says. “Just given the numbers in amateur soccer in this province … when I came here (with the Rush), there was 1,500 people involved in lacrosse across the province. There’s 30,000 in soccer. I’m not a rocket scientist, but that says there’s a huge interest.”
“There’s a lot of moving parts to this,” he said during a stop-over in Saskatoon, where he’s staging a series of meetings.
As the Canadian Premier League labours to get off the ground, it has two confirmed teams — one in Hamilton, and the other in Winnipeg. The former team is headed up by Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young, and the latter will be tied in with the Winnipeg Football Club, which operates the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The CPL currently does not have an official office. It expects to launch its inaugural campaign in Spring 2019, currently employs just one person — Paul Beirne, who was instrumental in launching Toronto FC’s as an expansion team in Major League Soccer. The proposed league, Beirne said Wednesday, is designed in part to strengthen the men’s national-team program, which is a non-factor on the world stage.
“We’re going to create a professional soccer industry that currently exists on a very small scale in this country,” says Beirne, who is the CPL’s project manager and at present the sole employee. “The outcomes will be a league that lasts for another 100 years, and a Canadian men’s national-team program that rockets up the international charts. Right now, we’re 108th in the world. We’re the highest-GDP nation in the world without our own pro league. It’s just shameful. We challenged each other: Instead of saying why we can’t do it, we said ‘what will it take in order to make it work?’ ”
Canada Soccer, which unanimously endorsed the CPL, believes there will be increased interest in the sport as a result of Canada’s joint World Cup bid for 2026, alongside the USA and Mexico. The same scenario was seen back in 1994 when the US hosted the World Cup just prior to Major League Soccer being launched.
The CPL has yet to outline its teams’ budgets or the salary range, but Beirne says it has already received expressions of interest from 10 locations across the country, including Genier’s Saskatchewan group. He foresees a gradual growth from a few original teams.
“I knew we were going to get support and I knew it would be loud,” Beirne said of the feedback he’s received. “What surprised me was how far and wide it’s coming from. Every city in the country and every corner of the country, there is strong vocal and emotional support for this. This is a really emotional thing for a lot of people. They love the game, and they love their country. They want nothing more than to cheer for Canada at a World Cup. If we do our jobs right, we’ll be able to deliver that on a regular basis.”
As for Genier, it’s unclear if Saskatchewan would be of primary interest to the new league, but he is optimistic. “We’re doing our due diligence across the province,” he says.
“I’m confident, from what I’ve seen. Wherever we end up, or if we do end up, this will be a whole province-wide thing. This is going to be a Saskatchewan team. There’s a lot of working pieces to put all that together.”