CPSL Reloaded
May 15, 2003

In 2002 there was talk of expanding west, a women's league and an Under-21 division. This year the discussions centred around the amalgamation of two clubs, the Ontario-only Open Cup and solidifying existing markets.

Dick Howard emceed the proceedings, which included short speeches from the likes of Lynx co-owner Bruno Hartrell, CPSL President Vince Ursini and the league's new marketing man, Cary Kaplan.

There wasn't much in the way of breaking news at the noon press conference, which was held at Metro City Hall. The main points included:
  • Dick Howard was disappointed that Mel Lastman did not show up. Dick wanted to show the mayor his support for bringing the MLS to Toronto - the MEL LASTMAN STADIUM.  It was his way of stating the obvious, that it is a travesty that Toronto does not have a soccer stadium suitable for top class competition.
  • As had been reported earlier, the Vaughan Sun Devils and the York Region Shooters were amalgamated under the ownership of Tony DeThomasis. They will use the Vaughan Sun Devils name and play out of Dufferin-Clark field.
  • The Government of Canada-sponsored Open Cup will kick off this weekend in London. The league decided to go ahead with the Cup after the CSA postponed its attempts for another year. The plan is to eventually include the Toronto Lynx and have this tournament be a regional qualifier for a true Canadian Open Cup. If the CSA doesn't come through, the CPSL will look to expand their competition into other provinces.
  • There are no immediate plans to expand out of the current Ontario-Quebec territory. Western expansion is on indefinite hold, and the women's league and U21 division weren't even mentioned.
  • The league is in discussions with 'a number' of groups interested in expansion within the existing region. However, self-imposed stricter ownership and facility requirements mean more discussions will be required before any new franchises are awarded.
  • The league made a big deal out of their hiring of former Hamilton Bulldog president Cary Kaplan last fall. Today was the first evidence of his existence to the soccer media as he outlined his plans for making professional soccer viable in Canada. Hopefully he can inject some youthful enthusiasm into the the league's public image.
  • The regular season will kick off on Saturday May 24 at Civic Stadium in Oshawa. The Durham Flames will host the St. Catharines Roma Wolves.
As mentioned, there was not much in the way of new information. Most of the discussion centred around vague long-term plans. I've been following the league closely for the last year and a half, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share what I think the CPSL should have presented at this press conference.  Here are five realistic, short term ideas that I feel would benefit the league and may have even created a buzz going into the 6th season of Canada's only 'professional' league.

1. Convey a Consistent Image
The league unveiled a slick new website last year, which was a positive development. Should someone be looking for more information and happen to visit their favourite team's website (if they even had one), the experience may not have been memorable. The sites vary wildly in terms of quality and information available. Before last season, one 'official' team site even published 'news' stories accusing the league of being out to get them as a club. Certainly not the image you want to portray as a league.
I believe the league could easily improve this by controlling the flow of information and ensuring the teams provide basic information to their fans. Kaplan touched on this by saying it is unheard of in other sports for teams to not have a marketing representative. Teams should provide press releases to local media outlets and have information on hand to support media coverage.  Some teams, like Ottawa and Montreal, had quality websites that were updated frequently. Most of the others were not.

2. Hold a 'Game of the Week' at the OSA Centre
Casual soccer fans may be confused by the concentration of teams in the GTA (Where do they all play? Which team is my home team?). I believe the CPSL as a whole needs to capture the fan's imagination before the individual teams can. I think the best way to showcase the league is to schedule a weekly matchup just outside their league offices at the OSA Centre in Vaughan. Make it a prime time on the same day every week along the lines of Monday Night Football. The game would be televised, and league officials would be available for interviews, photo ops, etc. Once Toronto finally gets a decent stadium, the games could be moved there with the league and all of the teams splitting the cost in exchange for the increased exposure.

3. Impose Strict Roster Limits
I will not pretend to be an expert in the CPSL roster requirments, but judging by the events of the past few years and the level of frustration among some players, not many people are. There are two rules I would enforce to help build the CPSL fan base and also support the development of young Canadian soccer players.
Firstly, I would force all the teams to have at least 8 players on the roster and 4 players on the field at all times who are under 23 years of age. The CPSL is, at best, a second division, and the goal of the lower divisions in sport has always been to develop players. Second, I would also impose the same quotas on home-grown talent.  Each team is affiliated with a region/district, and it's important to foster community support by providing opportunities for local talent.

4. Foster a Rivalry with Amateur Clubs
There are a number of amateur teams in this province that have long, rich traditions of soccer excellence. The CPSL Open Cup is one way of promoting competition between CPSL and amateur teams, but it's not enough. Not every amateur team can afford to enter this tournament, and the individual CPSL teams should make an effort to demonstrate their product in their own community against local competition.  The Sun Devils could challenge the Azzurri in Woodbridge, or London City could take on Portuguese. Either way, it's a chance to win over some fans that would not otherwise give the CPSL a second look.

5. Start an Under-19 Developmental League
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I think the CPSL should look at running an Under-19 developmental league and forget the Under-21 idea. Players 20 and over should be playing in the CPSL itself, not stuck on in a glorified men's league. An Under-19 league would help to develop 16, 17 and 18 year olds that can no longer improve playing against boys their own age. Along the lines of the Ontario Hockey League, this league would serve to prepare our elite youth players for a professional soccer career.

Regardless, I am looking forward to the 2003 season and I hope that the CPSL will have another successful year. See you on the pitch!

Lino Terra, Editor
Ontario Soccer Web

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