EDITORIAL: CPL needs to thrive if Canadian soccer wants to grow

Apr 18, 2024 | Editorial, OP-ED, Sports

The Canadian Premier League (CPL) has gone crawling back to Mediapro as the 2024 season approaches.

In January, the CPL’s business side, the Canadian Soccer Business (CSB), which represents the national teams and their broadcast production and distribution partner, Mediapro, filed a notice of action to terminate their contract.

In a statement, CSB said Mediapro was defaulting on contractual obligations like payment of rights fees.

In its statement, Mediapro said CSB was unable to sustain its end of the agreement.

However, Onesoccer, the website created for the Canadian market by Mediapro, will broadcast CPL games in April. There is no mention by either party as to the long-term propriety of Canada’s soccer rights.

If this is to be the last year CSB works with Mediapro, then they need to take this season to come together with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to build soccer viewership in Canada and push Canadian soccer forward.

Without a thriving CPL, Canada’s hopes at the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup will continue to stagnate.

Canada needs the eight-team league to create opportunities for young players to get experience and improve enough to compete internationally.

The CPL’s mission statement said they were there to create a “pathway for our homegrown players to develop and showcase their skills.”

We see the effect of a strong domestic league in Japan, a nation that moved to 18th in the FIFA world ranking from 66th in 1992 when they created their professional league, the J League.

Partnering with the CBC will increase its exclusive content that they can market as Canadian content.

This is part of the CBC’s mandate. The corporation was designed to inform, enlighten, entertain, contribute to a shared national consciousness and identity, reflect the regional and cultural diversity of Canada, and contribute to the development of Canadian talent and culture, according to the government.

That includes Canadian sports.

The CPL will in return receive production help and a platform for their content with a partner experienced with promoting Canadian content and Canadian sports.

The CBC has built up experience producing Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays and with the work they are currently doing with the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

The PWHL is an excellent example of a recently developed league using the CBC to promote its content and increase its viewership.

The PWHL said in a release it has partnered with CBC and Radio-Canada, TSN and RDS, and Sportsnet, to broadcast national content in Canada.

The league also said it has regional deals in the United States with MSG Networks, NESN, and Bally Sports North.

The PWHL allows CBC to display select PWHL games live and as comprehensive condensed highlights on their website, CBC Gem.

“The visibility offered across our broadcast and streaming schedule is unprecedented in women’s hockey and reinforces the growing interest in our sport,” said PWHL Advisory Board member Stan Kasten in the PWHL release.

CBC broadcasts these games to the public for free on CBC and CBC Gem and has allowed the PWHL to broadcast their games on YouTube.

This is only the first season, so long-term benefits or costs have yet to be seen, however, already results are being seen.

Toronto versus Montreal in the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto broke the record for attendance to a women’s hockey game by selling out all 19,285 seats, the PWHL said in a press release. A game at the Bell Centre this week is expected to break that record.

Boston faced Ottawa on March 16 in Detroit, to set and break USA attendance records with a crowd of 13,736 fans, the PWHL said in a press release.

The CBC has an average digital viewership of close to 17.4 million and made a profit of 223 million in 2023, said the CBC 2022-2023 annual report.

If the CPL can tap into the CBC’s production, marketing and viewership, the league will significantly increase its broadcast viewership.

In addition, a partnership with the CBC may incentive other big names like TSN or Sportsnet to take an interest in covering games as well.

Joining with the CBC would also increase the number of supporters who may then in the future be willing to attend live and in person.