It’s been twenty-two years since Canadians have had a domestic soccer league to call their own. In 1992, the semi-professional Canadian Soccer League folded after only six seasons. Since then, the Canadian soccer landscape has been dotted with mostly short-lived teams trying to make their way as part of dodgy American leagues. Yesterday, news broke on Canadian Soccer News that the long winter of domestic soccer in this country may finally be drawing to a close.
The report, somewhat limited in details, says that the Canadian Soccer Association is in talks with the Canadian Football League and the North American Soccer League (current home of FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury) to bring domestic soccer to Canada as early as 2016.
If accurate, this could be the most important moment in Canadian soccer since the men’s national team qualified for the ’86 World Cup. Canada is one of an incredibly small number of countries to have qualified for a World Cup without a domestic league, and a Canadian league is seen by many as an important step towards getting back to that stage. The establishment of a stable league would be a massive coup for the oft-maligned CSA.
The viability of a Canadian league is certainly not a given. Historically low soccer attendance figures in many major markets, combined with the huge distances teams necessarily need to travel in this country, make the financial prospects far from rosy. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that the CSA may be enlisting the aid of the CFL.
The report says that the league will initially comprise seven teams, each associated to a CFL team. A CFL partnership makes sense for a few reasons. First, if anyone knows how to run a nationwide league without going broke, it’s these guys. Second, having respected institutions like CFL teams (well, CFL teams not nicknamed Argonauts) using their marketing muscle to support a fledgling league would be just what the doctor ordered. Third, there is the very real possibility that they can bring TSN — a network that almost single-handedly saved the CFL in the not-too-distant past — along for the ride.
TSN is in an odd place right now, having recently announced that they’re expanding their channel lineup while also being outbid for National Hockey League rights by Rogers Sportsnet. They already have easily the best soccer production crew in the country, so it makes some sense that they might look to the most popular game on the planet to give their subscribers something to watch.
If I have one major concern about the report, it’s the tidbit that teams will be playing in CFL venues. This seems like an awful idea at first glance. Even the smaller stadia like Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium and Hamilton’s not-yet-completed Tim Horton’s Field seat upwards of 20,000 people, when division two soccer in this country has always hovered around 3,000-5,000. The biggest task for the league will be to find a way to get attendance high enough that the atmosphere doesn’t suffer.