Postcript - Part 1

“Want to know how you make a small fortune in football in Canada?” asked a member of the country's football intelligentsia. "Easy," he said, "you start with a large fortune."

Investors looking to establish a new professional football league in Canada, where three U.S. based and controlled leagues already operate teams in Canadian cities, face numerous challenges. Canada has not proven to be a strong national football market in the past, and there are no indicators to suggest this will change in the near future. Moreover, the failure and disappearance of previous leagues only adds to the skepticism that it can be done at all.

Typically, a North American professional sports league takes 20 or more years to move to stable profitability, if it survives at all (which most do not). MLS is nearing completion of its 18th season and is just now beginning to look like a financially stable and viable entity. Without a group of committed owners, sharing a common vision and endowed with financial strength to absorb inevitable early year losses, it is doubtful a new professional league in Canada can last more than a few short years.

Generally speaking, professional football teams generate income from three main, concatenated sources: game-day, commercial, and broadcast. Traditionally, game-day receipts were a team’s primary source of revenue, and in the lower tiers of professional football, this is still largely the case. This is because commercial and broadcast revenues are heavily dependent upon the level of fan interest; if fan interest is not sufficiently large it will be difficult to attract sponsors and to get broadcasters to pay for media rights.

Canadian professional football leagues of the past – even when faced with historical evidence to the contrary – failed because they banked on overly optimistic game-day attendances. As clubs struggled to draw at the gate and generate sufficient revenues to cover their costs, they became increasingly dependent on the private wealth of their owners to survive. However, because franchise fees were set so low, it allowed some owners into the league who did not possess the necessary financial resources to operate at a national level.

Moreover, the inability of these past leagues to develop a committed fan-base also meant they were unable to attract large sponsorship interest or negotiate lucrative television rights deals, further reinforcing their low profile, further reinforcing their unattractiveness to sponsors. Avoiding this interminable negative spiral, a concept marketers refer to as “double-jeopardy,” is the single biggest challenge facing any new professional football league in Canada.


CSA Accepts Rethink's Findings & Recommendations

Today the CSA released the following press release:

For Immediate Release.

The CSA has released today a 32-page summary report on the viability of division II soccer in Canada. The study was commissioned to Rethink Management Group in late 2011.

Directed by former national team player James Easton, the study had for its objective to determine if a national division II type league would be economically and logistically viable in our country, as well as identify the most coherent and sustainable pathway for Canada’s young talents to reach an elite level in soccer.

Conducted in two phases, the study looked at the soccer landscape in Canada, both past and present, consulting with participants at all levels of North American soccer – from federation Presidents to club youth coaches, players to influencers, writers to supporters – before composing and detailing potential model options.

It was ultimately recommended by Rethink Management Group that the Canadian Soccer Association look at a regional semi-professional development-focused league, competing at a division III level and operating in Canada’s largest soccer markets, focused on providing players aged 18-23 a structured and meaningful competition environment.

“The Canadian Soccer Association acknowledges the work of James Easton and the Rethink Management Group. We consider the model outlined in the study provides a realistic and economically responsible starting point for our organization,” said Victor Montagliani, President of the Canadian Soccer Association. “We also believe that, in time, it could become a fantastic vehicle to link and harmonize our development structure with existing soccer partners for the benefit of Canada’s up-and-coming athletes.”

According to James Easton, Rethink Management Group, “the new association of region-based, semi-professional, development-focused league concept recommended in the study, while not the national professional model some might have hoped for, has the potential to be an important stepping-stone in the elite player pathway along which young Canadians can rise to the top tier of professional football.”

The 32-page report produced by Rethink Management Group, titled In a League of Our Own, is available to the public below.


Phase I & II Final Reports

We have now received permission from the CSA to publish excerpts from both the phase I & II final reports. Phase I deals with the identification and description of possible models and concepts that emerged from a review of other leagues and from consultations with a wide range of footballing interests; and an an analysis of the relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of each of the options that emerged. In phase II of the study we build on the findings from phase I and seek to determine the viability of the phase I advised options.



Out Of The Inbox - Finding New Markets In Old Places

Dear Rethink,

A different code of football and a different country for sure, but perhaps there are still lessons to be learned that could help Canadian soccer grow and develop. The game of Rugby League Football is one of the most popular sports in Australia. The Australian national rugby league team represents Australia in international competition. The team's nickname is the Kangaroos, and for the past decade they have been one of the most dominant national teams in the world.

In Australia, the country’s aboriginal population has shown not only an interest in playing rugby league, but also a natural talent for it. A few years back I remember reading that over 10% of players competing in the country’s top league were of aboriginal heritage. Furthermore, almost 40% of the country’s national team were aboriginal, this despite the fact the First Nation community makes up less than 3% of the country’s total population.

Early in the 20th century, First Nation athletes in North America such as Jim Thorpe gained national and international visibility playing sports like American football, baseball and track and field. After 1930, however, native athletes largely faded from the public eye. The difficulties Canadian and US First Nation youth encounter trying to reach the elite levels of sport reflect some of the larger social forces that hamper their achievement in other realms of life. While First Nation professional athletes are less celebrated than they were a century ago, sport continues to play an important role in the culture of many tribes, as witnessed by tournaments like the All Native in Prince Rupert, and contributes greatly to community pride.

There are at present over 550 federally recognized Indian tribes in the U.S. and over 600 in Canada. At the last census, almost 3 million Americans identified as being of aboriginal heritage, a third of whom live in just three states: California, Arizona and Oklahoma. While in Canada, the 2006 census counted a total aboriginal population of 1.2 million. In Saskatchewan, First Nation people comprise over 16% of the province's total population. With over 50% of the native community under the age of 25, the First Nation population is also young. Additionally, native reserves are filled with many gifted athletes - what has been too often missing has been a lack of proper sporting infrastructure to support and nurture their talents.

In addition to a growing and untapped talent pool from which to develop top young soccer prospects, native communities also represent fresh new capital investment opportunities for any future Canadian league. After more than a century of dependence and subjugation, a number of First Nations are starting to achieve sharply increased possibilities for political and economic self-determination.

I believe any new Canadian professional league, and Canadian soccer in general, would benefit from finding ways to include the country's First Nation community into the Canadian soccer family.




This email is one of more than two dozen we received while the survey ran regarding potential new league options. The email is posted here unedited in its entirety.


Out Of The Inbox - Missing The Boat

Dear Rethink,

Unfortunately you are missing the boat. You only have to take a look to the Quebec semi-pro league (première ligue du Québec) being in jeopardy before starting the first game and you will understand what I am trying to say. Pro Soccer like any other pro sports is a business not a development system for a national team. The focus should be on marketing and make sure that the business model can help owners and clubs to survive in long term. Then you will benefit from a structure that will develop players and eventually the national team will win more games against Honduras!




This email is one of more than two dozen we received while the survey ran regarding potential new league options. The email is posted here unedited in its entirety.


Out Of The Inbox - NTC, PDL Mashup

Dear Rethink,

With regards to the Club Canada option, why not use the existing National Training Centres? At that point with the current 9 PDL clubs, the 5 NTC's would make a nice 14 team base.




This email is one of more than two dozen we received while the survey ran regarding potential new league options. The email is posted here unedited in its entirety.


Out Of The Inbox - Yikes

Dear Rethink,

Yikes, I don't want to be mean but why would the PDL even be an overall option? The CSL get's 16 semi pro clubs with less travel and higher quality in the same area that the pdl manages to get all of 4 or 5 amateur teams. Obviously in remote areas the PDL is a good idea (Winnipeg), but Quebec, BC, and maybe Alberta and Mainland Maritimes could probably support a semi pro model.

On top of that, our PDL teams tend to be very strong in attendance and quality compared to american PDL teams. This means we are sometimes propping up our RIVALS lower regional divisions just to be apart of a pyramid geared and run by the USSF (they won't and shouldn't consider us in their decision).

Also, I don't know why everyone insists that the regional leagues be u-23, where it fits, sure, but in Ontario, it would kind of be a step back for the CSL to go stringently U-23, it should be U-23 or better no?




This email is one of more than two dozen we received while the survey ran regarding potential new league options. The email is posted here unedited in its entirety.


Out Of The Inbox - Advocating For A National League

Dear Rethink,

Of the four models presented, I would advocate strongly in favor of the creation of a national professional league, and would caution against options that focus on the development of junior players, as opposed to the employment of senior ones. I understand that these four strategies are not mutually exclusive, however, please consider the following:

Why focusing on youth development alone, without seeking to establish domestic professionalism is limited, and I believe ultimately a non-solution (i.e. Options 3 & 4):

There are currently four professional clubs in the world, at which Canadian players are not considered “foreign”. This presents a young Canadian elite soccer player, without an American or European passport, with sparse options for pursuing a career, and as we’ve seen the representation of Canadian players even on these clubs is not necessarily always in line with the national interest. We can produce as many elite junior, and U23 players as we like, but unless they have domestic professional opportunities, they will continue to face the same barriers currently faced when looking to progress in the game. A Canadian player would still need to live a vagabond life and overcome the odds in order to ply his trade professionally; the Canadian National team would still be faced with a greater propensity towards loosing it’s top end talent; and assembling a hodgepodge of players from across the globe, as well as “club conflicts” would remain the norm when assembling the national team. In my opinion, the “CHL type” comparison falls short, because no such barriers to opportunity are encountered by Canadian hockey players as a result of their nationality.

An additional consideration is the establishment of a domestic base of soccer expertise on the coaching, technical and administration side of things. We need Canadian soccer professionals employed alongside knowledgeable mentors, bringing soccer expertise from elsewhere, and ultimately augmenting our domestic soccer knowledgebase. It’s not that a U23 development model would fail to foster this base, but this would be more readily accomplished in my mind under a professional/profit driven model.

Why I am strongly not in favor of the “Club Canada” approach (i.e. Option 2):

I would argue that the creation of a “Club Canada” would at first provide a useful stop-gap solution, but would not foster the grassroots changes necessary to develop the game to a global standard, and would ultimately in fact become an impediment to the development of those changes. Club Canada would serve a useful purpose for the MLS clubs, providing them with a reservoir for player development between the ages of 18 to 23 (currently non-existent in Canada/USA at the professional level), but beyond this finite nucleus would do little to provide greater professional and/or development opportunities to Canadian players (and coaches). Furthermore, I would argue that with buy-in to this model from the three MLS clubs and the CSA, it would in fact become institutionalized as an impediment to the expansion of domestic professional soccer, beyond this narrow interest group.

In summary, I think there is a significant risk that “Club Canada” would ultimately detract from, as opposed to serve the national interest.

A national league format I would be in favor of:

Perhaps a mutually beneficial hybrid could be arranged between Option 1, and the player development focus proposed in option 2. In Germany, B1 and B2 clubs can enter their reserve teams into the lower professional divisions. Likewise, the MLS clubs could be granted “farm team” franchises in a Canadian domestic league. This would provide the league with three prospective clubs (and their deep pocketed and experienced ownership groups) upon which it could build its foundation. The MLS clubs would benefit from a player development standpoint, and would also be given a larger stake in – but not a controlling interest in – the expansion of professional soccer in Canada.




This email is one of more than two dozen we received while the survey ran regarding potential new league options. The email is posted here unedited in its entirety.


Survey - What Is Your Choice?

Each of the four options offers a different level of financial risk, potential for player development success, workability with Canada and North America’s existing football pyramid, media exposure and, finally, fan interest. History tells us that aggressive ambition and financial risk does not typically translate into either long-term stability or a viable means for player development. On the other hand, an overly cautious approach risks maintaining the current status quo.

What one of the four options presented do you feel will better facilitate the process of development and help Canada's most promosing footballers progress to a higher level?

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Option I - National League 0%
Option II - Club Canada0%
Option III - Under-23 Development League0%
Option IV - PDL Expansion0%

Create your own poll

The survey is now closed. Thank you for your participation.


Option 4 – PDL Expansion

Like the Club Canada and Regional Under-23 League frameworks, the PDL Expansion option also has an under-23 development focus and seeks extension of the existing USL Premier Development League (PDL) into more Canadian markets. The PDL is one of two large amateur leagues sanctioned by the USSF, the other being the NPSL. The PDL presently operates 64 clubs across North America spread over four conferences with nine clubs operating in Canada. Although the PDL is an amateur league, the new PDL-Pro program allows teams to field professional players drawn from athletes not restricted by NCAA eligibility regulations. Little detail is necessary here since this option merely expands upon the existing framework for USL PDL clubs already operating in Canada.



Option 3 – Regional Under-23 Development League

The Regional Under-23 Development framework also has a youth development focus and draws upon many of the features of the three Canadian minor hockey leagues (Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and two largest U.S. minor hockey leagues (American Hockey League, Central Hockey League) but also includes features that are specific to the Canadian football market. A possible league model could feature:

• Four regional leagues that are principally located in Canada’s four largest provincial football markets (BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec)

• Each regional league would be comprised of five or six teams, one of which would include a development team from the region’s nearest professional club.

• Clubs could be privately owned, community owned in the form of a supporters trust, integrated within an existing amateur club structure, or a blend of all three models.

• Opportunity for each team to field two or three over-age players who are nearing the end of their careers and who have an interest in staying in the game as player-coaches.

• Teams would travel to away matches by motor-coach.

• An end of season tournament among the top clubs in each league to determine a national champion (similar to hockey’s Memorial Cup) with the winner getting the opportunity to play their way into the Amway Canadian Championship and compete for the Voyageurs Cup.

• Possibly inter-league and/or tournament-play against NASL and USL Pro clubs.

• Possibly coordination with CIS football programs in the form of playing season, access to facilities, talent supply and scholarships.



Option 2 – Club Canada

The Club Canada framework has a youth development focus and does not require the establishment of a wholly new and independent football league in Canada. Instead, it simply proposes expansion of two new Canadian teams into already existing North American football leagues. A possible model could feature:

• Two new teams known as Club Canada, or some similar brand, that would focus on developing a cohort of Canadian under-19 and under-23 players for international competition.

• The Club Canada under-19 team would compete in the USL Pro, while the under-23 team would compete in the NASL.

• The two Club Canada teams would be managed and paid for by the existing Canadian MLS and NASL clubs in cooperation with the CSA and feature Canadian national team eligible players not playing regular first-team football with their respective clubs.

• Players would be able to move freely between Club Canada and their professional clubs as needed or as performance dictated.

• Facilities could be shared with one of the existing professional clubs or could be separate, smaller facilities that still meet league guidelines.



Option 1 – National League

The National League framework is based largely on the structures of previous attempts to create a national professional football league in Canada with some modern innovations that could increase its likelihood of success. The features of the National framework are quite similar to those of the current Canadian Football League (CFL) and a possible league model could feature:

• Clubs owned by private investors that must meet the budget and capital requirements imposed by the CSA for a Professional league ($1.5 million annual budget, $500,000 player payroll, $200,000 letter of credit, etc.).

• Eight to ten clubs, growing eventually to 12 (as specified by CSA guidelines), that are geographically dispersed and located in Canada’s large metropolitan centers.

• A sufficiently flexible import player quota that allows owners to acquire foreign talent to enhance attendance and media coverage.

• Minimum facility size of 4,000 - 5,000, possibly expandable, as stipulated by CSA guidelines.

• Western and Eastern Conferences that play a majority of games within conference.

• A playoff format with a championship game between the Western and Eastern Conference champions.

• The anticipation of sufficient attendance, media revenues and sponsorship monies to cover expenses without revenue sharing of local revenues.



Need For A Bespoke Solution

Once all of our data had been grouped into categories, our analysis began to identify patterns, commonalities and differences within the collected information about possible league archetypes. However, no one sports league design that we studied or any of the models that were shared with us by interviewees was able to capture all of the variable interests and complexities of the Canadian football landscape.

Canada is a relatively unique sports market compared to most other nations. The country’s large size, relatively small economy, lack of a long football history and competition from other football leagues and sports indicate that a new Canadian football league entity might not necessarily be best served by following the exact mold of others but rather by a bespoke solution that combines elements and best practices from a variety of different models. Additionally, the various concepts proffered to us by members of the football community were often tilted to meet the goals or interests of the person or stakeholders group that presented them. Instead of recommending any one particular model, therefore, we chose to develop four league frameworks that are composites of the various models we studied or that were submitted to us by study respondents. In no particular order, the four general league frameworks are:

1.National League
2.Club Canada
3.Regional Under-23 Developmental League
4.Expansion of PDL League

We will expand on each of the four frameworks in the coming week.



Changing Your Environment To Improve Performance

Much has been written and reported on in both the academic and popular literature with respect to how talent is determined in sport. Traditionally, it was believed exceptional ability was innate; a gift from nature. More recently, however, research conducted by Ericsson, Bloom and others, and popularized in the mainstream by authors like Coyle in the “Talent Code,” and Colvin in “Talent is Overrated,” has contradicted this earlier view and suggested that what separates extraordinary performers from the merely ordinary is not an inherited ability but rather environmental factors, such as purposeful practice, coaching and opportunities to learn. To quote Coyle, “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.”

We at Rethink do not subscribe to this particular argument or that the nature-nurture talent debate needs to be an all or nothing proposition. Rather, our position is more closely aligned with Csikszentmihalyi, who determined “there was no conclusive support for either account, and it is doubtful that talent could be explained exclusively by one of them.” Between the two anchor-points of nature and nurture there is a continuum of innate and environmental factors, the dynamic interplay of which go into determining the level of one’s talent. Natural born ability in and of itself is not enough to become an elite footballer; what nature bestows, nurture must gestate, augment and polish. To the extent that a young footballer’s abilities are inherently determined there is little that can be done to boost it within the current rules of sport - our DNA is our DNA. The Canadian football community, however, does have within its sphere of control the power to build and enhance those structures that facilitate exceptional performance and to reform or decommission those constructs that encumber the development process. As stated by Durand-Rush and Salmela, “we cannot change our makeup, but we can change our environment to make it as conducive as possible to improve performance.”



Discussions & Findings

As initially envisaged, the primary goal of the study was to investigate the viability of a new professional football league in Canada. While this problem has remained central throughout our inquiry, we also found that the project took us beyond providing a binary answer to this question to include assessing other, perhaps more apposite, frameworks and innovations. Indeed, a large majority of people we consulted, including many of the major actors in Canadian football, argued not for a new Canadian professional league, but rather for the establishment of a more flexible, youth focused solution. While the specifics and architecture of the envisioned models take protean forms, the underlying message we heard was clear - - if Canada’s achievement in world football is ever to match its ambition, then creating suitable playing opportunities from which promising talent can be realized must lay at the very top of the CSA’s list of priorities.

Many of the volunteered models, however, do not necessarily meet current Canadian professional football league sanctioning criteria which require each team to have, at a minimum: access to a stadium with permanent seating for 4,000 paying spectators; operate on an annual budget of at least $1,500,000; and pay at least $500,000 in player salaries. Even though the predefined goal of the study was to determine the viability of a Canadian professional league, the broader objective has always been to identify a coherent and sustainable pathway that would help Canada’s emerging footballing talent reach the game’s elite level. Given that goals and actions must constantly be reassessed and adapted if high-level objectives are to be achieved, it became, perforce, necessary to reframe the study to acknowledge the new information and viewpoints that became available to us. To downplay the genuine practical knowledge and collective wisdom of Canadian football’s body politic and to continue to forge-ahead, myopically focused only on a professional league-based approach, would, we believe, only further arrest the game’s development in Canada.



Some Global Examples

It is insightful to compare Canada’s football development with that of Australia. Canada’s population of 33.1 million is larger than Australia’s 22.7 million, yet both countries have very similar income-per-capita, $39,171 and $39,764 for Canada and Australia respectively. Figure 1 in the image below charts the FIFA rankings of both countries since 1994. Although Australia placed somewhat higher than Canada from 1994 through 2004, the two countries’ national team programs shared much of the same excessive variability and inconsistency. In 2005, Australia lobbied successfully to transfer from the Oceania zone to the Asian Football Conference (AFC), which has since afforded Australia the"opportunity for higher quality and more consistent preparation of its national teams in a rapidly growing economic and football region,“ and the FFA, with "greater opportunity to enhance its credentials and influence in world football.” It was also in 2005 that the Hyundai A-League and National Youth League were established, replacing the country’s old and failing National Soccer League (NSL). In the 26 years that the NSL operated, 43 teams participated incurring losses totaling over A$140 million. By any measure the improvement in Australia’s national team program since moving to the AFC and the inception of the A-League has been impressive and the lack of volatility in the country’s FIFA ranking remarkable.

Some might argue that it is unfair to compare Canada only to Australia, one of the world’s most successfully improving football programs. Yet if we plot Canada’s FIFA ranking history alongside two other non-traditional football powers, Japan and South Korea, we find that both country’s national teams have also been positively affected, albeit more modestly, by the founding of a new professional league, the J-League (1993) and the K-League (1998) respectively. Again, using the graph below, both Japan and South Korea’s national teams show marked cyclical behavior, where there are prolonged periods of improvement followed by quick reversals. This, we posit, reflects two national team programs developing with a consistent nucleus of players, whose talents have been honed and incubated within their respective country’s professional leagues, and then that generation of players being turned over suddenly to make way for a new group: what economists call a talent cycle. Canada shows no such cyclical behaviour, but instead, a random walk.*

Beyond this casual evidence, there is also a growing academic literature that supports the idea that investing in a domestic professional football league can strengthen and improve a country’s national team. Indeed, the willingness and ability to create a sustainable robust league might be the single most important tool a country has to positively transform its national team program. Recent research by Leeds and Leeds, for instance, concluded that “the stronger the structure and performance of a country’s domestic football league, the greater the national team’s international success.”

Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that prevent Canada from establishing a similar league organizing structure to the ones adopted and leveraged by Australia, Japan and South Korea to strengthen their national team programs. The A, J, and K-leagues all sit atop of their respective countries’ football pyramids, with each league having a number of lesser leagues operating below it. To a great extent, the A, J, and K-leagues are adaptations of the multi-tiered league models that have been in place in Europe for many decades. European leagues are characterized by their use of a relegation / promotion system to maintain competitive balance, which is different from the closed league models that predominate in North America, which seek to achieve parity by revenue sharing, restricting the movement of players, and capping salaries.

While the promotion and relegation between the different league levels in Australia, Japan and South Korea is more restricted than in other countries, all of the tiers, and the teams competing within them, are governed primarily by the country’s national association. The economic advantage of organizing in this manner is that its gives each of the respective league entities territorial exclusivity over their home marketplace. This is not the case in Canada, where the US controlled and based MLS, NASL and USL all operate teams in Canadian cities to varying degrees. Because no foreign-based leagues operate teams in Australia, South Korea and Japan, the A, J and K-leagues operate as virtual monopolies, excepting competition from the lower level leagues in their own countries. Since they have little to worry about in the way of foreign and domestic competition from rival leagues, the three leagues have tremendous bargaining power when it comes to negotiating television, apparel, logo and other rights. Furthermore, because investors are much more willing to invest in a business model where monopoly status is virtually guaranteed, the A, J and K-leagues have been reasonably successful in securing private investment and sponsorship in their relatively closed economic markets.


*19 of 23 of Japan and 13 of 23 of South Korea’s 2010 South African World Cup squads played their club football in their country’s respective domestic leagues.


An Abbreviated Historiography Of Pro Football In Canada

There have been numerous attempts to establish a viable, professional, coast-to-coast football league in Canada since the turn of the twentieth-century, and each in turn has failed to leave a lasting impact, with most surviving fewer than five years. While the circumstances behind the collapse of each failed league differs, there are several broad similarities that contributed to their premature end that are worth noting as we consider an optimal design for the future. These factors include: the ad-hoc way the various entities were formed, the relatively low franchise fees charged for entry, the tendency for league founders to put the interests of individual clubs above the league entity as a whole, and the general disregard of existing amateur leagues and teams (even though some had been in existence for decades).

This lack of detail and attention meant the club-controlled leagues were only as solid and enduring as the teams that operated within them. It also meant there was little concrete discussion of the role the leagues should play in the wider long-term Canadian player development strategy, what their national mandate should be, in short, what they would be for. These shared missteps meant the leagues were too unstable to survive low attendances, several requisite lean years, economic recession, or the lure of other leagues promising better profitability for club owners.



Our Research Approach And Method

The research stage of the first phase of the study was undertaken in four parts – a review of the historical football literature to better understand why previously established Canadian leagues proved unsuccessful, a comparative study of contemporary North American and world leagues structures to gain insight into their positive and negative features, a series of targeted semi-formal interviews with key influencers within North America’s football industry and an online questionnaire developed to gauge support levels and interest within the broader football community for a new league. Our intent was that this initial research would provide a broader theoretical framework for the rest of the study.

Keeping in mind the dictum that 'those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,' it was deemed important to first examine and understand why previous Canadian professional football leagues have failed before recommending a viable, model for the present. We did this by gathering information on leagues dating back some 50-years. Specifically, our historical study samples included looking at the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League, 1961-65; the Western Soccer League, 1969-70; the North American Soccer League, 1968-84; the Canadian Professional Soccer League, 1983; and the Canadian Soccer League, 1987-92. We were guided in our study of previous leagues by the doyen of Canadian football historians, Colin Jose, whose expertise and vast knowledge of Canada's footballing past aided us greatly.

A quick scan of the current sporting landscape reveals that there is an amazing diversity of leagues that have been organized in a multiplicity of different ways. It was felt that a comparative analysis of some of these leagues would be useful and provide available choices of how a new football league might best be structured in Canada. Research into foreign football leagues in markets similar to Canada, such as the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, where football does not command the foremost position in the nation’s professional sports space, were deemed to be of particularly importance.

Our study utilized individual and semi-structured interviews. Our list of interviewees was drawn up to be inclusive to reflect the breadth of and diversity of opinions that exist within the North American football community. Our data includes contributions from people at all levels of the game, from federation presidents down to club youth coaches. Ideally it would have been preferable to conduct interviews face-to-face; however, due to time constraints and the physical distance between interviewer and individual, some interviews were conducted by telephone. The interviews took on average 60 - 90 minutes to complete. In the weeks following the initial interview, some follow-up questions were sent and answered by email. This data was supplemented by answers we received from an eight-question survey sent by email to those persons whom, for a variety of reasons, we were unable to meet with or arrange a telephone call with.

In addition to targeting the region’s football leaders, players, thinkers, influencers and writers, we also felt it necessary to engage with those who may not be directly involved or employed in the game, but who are nevertheless passionate followers of Canadian football. We did this by inviting Canadian football supporters to answer five questions in an online questionnaire. The questions were intentionally open-ended to encourage respondents to be as candid as possible in their response and to answer questions in their own words. To further encourage people to respond, those who submitted answers directly on the Rethink website were automatically entered in a draw to win match tickets to see Canada play against St. Kitts at BMO Field or an autographed Canada jersey.



And the Winner of the Signed Canada Jersey Is!

Rethink is delighted to announce that Dennis Laurie from Ottawa was randomly chosen as the winner of the autographed men's Canadian national team jersey. We thank everyone who took time to respond to our new football league study questionnaire. We have now begun collating and synthesizing all of the information and feedback we have received. We anticipate being able to post a progress report of the work completed before the end of the year.


A Few Question, Many Answers

Below is a small sample of the responses to the questionnaire we have received thus far. Rethink does not necessarily endorse any of the views we have put forward here. Rather, we are presenting them to highlight the diversity of opinions that exists within the Canadian football community.

  • If a new league were to be established in Canada, what do you think would be the best administrative and legal framework structure to ensure the league had the best opportunity to succeed, (e.g. national versus regional; single entity versus club owned; closed fixed-membership versus promotion/relegation) and what would be an optimal number of teams?

Regional would be more efficient due to the amount of travel needed to cover Canada. East & West Divisions. Club owned and relegation/promotion with obvious standards and requirements.

If you are using a promotion/relegation structure then I think you have to have a club owned framework.

It makes more sense to me that we put additional teams into the US Division 2 League rather than try to build our own league.

Given the travel costs I believe regional leagues with each league winner competing in a national final tournament would be the best model. (Similar to Major Junior Hockey) I prefer club owned "franchises". While soccer purists (myself included) would love promotion/relegation, we do not have the depth of teams to be able to accomplish this nor are we likely to anytime soon.

I believe a national, single-entity setup (like MLS) would be optimal. Teams should hopefully be placed from coast-to-coast.

I would prefer the promotion and relegation model, as not only is it more traditional/familiar in soccer but it would also offer something different to Major League Soccer.

  • What other leagues, football or otherwise, should Canada look to as possible archetypes to model its own league and why?

Canadian Junior Hockey, it has worked for years in our national game, future young stars get a taste of NHL daily training and disciplines and those who are ready move on.

A D2 league might want to examine the CIS leagues more closely (football, hockey, b-ball, v-ball) as a model for regional and then national competition. The CFL is a good model for regional marketing practices as well.

Probably the Australian soccer league, given the similarities in population, size of country, and relative status of soccer in their national sports “hierarchy”. What they did in eliminating “ethnic” clubs was essential: the only “ethnicity” in a Canadian soccer league should be “Canadian”.

None, Canada should participate as actively as possible in the NASL, which creates a larger, more stable league for teams to play in. What Canada needs is a national D3 league based on two conferences whose teams can participate in the Voyageurs Cup for a CCL spot.

A combination of the MLS (in it's infancy - minus the bizarre rules) and the CFL.

Sweden maintains both a strong football and hockey culture, they should be our model with respect to having the two sports co-exist. Believe it or not, the English lower division is a great model of regionally organized D3, D4 club football.

  • What do you see as being the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of div. II football succeeding in Canada, and what steps can be taken to mitigate these barriers to success?

Somewhere along the way someone has to decide what stays and what goes in an effort to streamline this whole pathway.

All boils down to one thing: can a business case be made for a self-supporting CDN D2 League within Canada. And IF that is the case are there enough well-heeled investor groups out there to sustain the inevitable losses in the early years. Without the participation of the MLS/NASL clubs, I doubt it.

Finding communities with appropriate facilities for hosting games (work with Universities and Colleges to share facilities?), finding committed and stable ownership groups (look to current Victoria Highlanders model) would seem to be the most obvious challenges.

In order for the this D3 league to work, there needs to be assistance from the media.

The biggest obstacle is the sheer size of this country. The travel from coast to coast, the spread out nature of the fan bases, and the distance from one major centre to the next. The best way to overcome this would be with smart scheduling, strong marketing, and trying to form clusters of clubs when at all possible.

The greatest problem would just be the status of the league as a lower level. I think most Canadians are used to only being passionate about professional teams.

  • Implicit in the goal of developing a new division II league is the need to engender a commercial base of local committed supporters. What socio-demographic group should a new league focus its marketing efforts and resources on and what strategies and actions could a new entity take to broaden its appeal?

It should be geared to everybody, but it's imperative you get the true soccer supporters (young, university aged males) who make up the supporter groups.

Existing supporters of the Canadian game, though not necessarily ones involved in existing supporter's groups.

The league should focus on the soccer community both within the club systems as well as the online community.

There is a huge opportunity here to have strong financial backing from amateur/youth clubs who can reliably count on membership to subsidize such a project based on a levy or fee incorporated into playing fees.

This could vary region by region, but D-2 league should be marketed to families.

It should be geared to everybody, but it's imperative you get the true soccer supporters (young, university aged males) who make up the supporter groups.

  • What role, if any, should the CSA play in the founding and ongoing operations of a new division II league?

Set the standards and step back and be a part of the big picture but don't put your hands into the individual Div.2 franchises.

The CSA's role should be that of governing the rules of play and squad eligibility, as well as assigning referees and monitoring disciplinary actions. No business operations. No say in club membership.

They could establish sanctioning requirements, but the business side should be up to a players union and the owners.

They must play a major role in any and all developments that will be of benefit to the game. The national governing body should and must reach out to players/coaches who have represented Canada on the international playing field, played significant roles and have much experience to share and contribute. Their input is vital – one way or another.

The CSA would provide expertise as opposed to any financial support and could possibly play a role in pre-screening applications before they are submitted to the League.

The CSA's role should be that of governing the rules of play and squad eligibility, as well as assigning referees and monitoring disciplinary actions.


And The Winner Of The Tickets Is!

Rethink is delighted to announce that Rob Otto was randomly chosen as the winner of two tickets to see Canada play St. Kitts and Nevis tonight in CONCACAF round two World Cup qualifying. We thank everyone who has responded to our Div II study questionnaire thus far. We will be making the draw for the signed Canada jersey on December 1st, so if you haven’t yet submitted your answers please do so soon.


Get In League And Be Entered To Win A Prize

We here at Rethink are eager to hear your views on the viability of a Canadian division II league. We want people to feel comfortable in providing feedback without restriction; however, we would kindly ask respondents to keep their comments concise and directed, and refrain from using the exercise as a vehicle for criticizing the CSA. Entrants who respond before Nov. 13th will be automatically entered in a draw to win two tickets to Canada's upcoming match against St. Kitts at BMO Field on Nov. 15th. Respondents who enter before November 30th will be entered in a draw to win a signed Canada jersey.

Specifically, we would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. If a new league were to be established in Canada, what do you think would be the best administrative and legal framework structure to ensure the league had the best opportunity to succeed, (e.g. national versus regional; single entity versus club owned; closed fixed-membership versus promotion/relegation) and what would be an optimal number of teams?

  2. What other leagues, football or otherwise, should Canada look to as possible archetypes to model its own league and why?

  3. What do you see as being the greatest obstacle that stands in the way of division II football succeeding in Canada, and what steps can be taken to mitigate these barriers to success?

  4. Implicit in the goal of developing a new division II league is the need to engender a commercial base of local committed supporters. What socio-demographic group should a new league focus its marketing efforts and resources on and what strategies and actions could a new entity take to broaden its appeal?

  5. What role, if any, should the CSA play in the founding and ongoing operations of a new division II league?


A Tale Of Two Footballs

These are the best of times and worst of times for fans of football living in Canada. How else do you describe a period when more people are playing and participating in the sport than ever before (Canada ranks 10th in the world in youth registration while ranking 37th in population); where there are two, soon to be three, Canadian teams competing in MLS, the region's top tier league; and where those who have an interest in overseas leagues have an unprecedented array of viewing and consuming choices to follow their favorite teams and players by way of new media. Yet in the face of this seeming growth and interest in football earlier in the year Canada’s national team sat 102nd in the FIFA rankings; the country was eliminated from the Gold Cup in the first round without scoring a single goal from open play; and the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, the country's two MLS teams, turned out on the same day to play Colorado and Houston respectively and failed to start a single Canadian player. Therein lies the tale, or two tales, of football in Canada. One where interest in the sport is at an all-time high, side-by-side with an elite end of the game trapped in a cycle of mediocrity.



Rethinking Tier II Football

The Canadian Soccer Association announced today that it has commissioned Rethink to independently study the viability of a division two league in Canada. Former Canadian youth and senior international Mr. James Easton will head-up the project. Read the media release below.

Read More - D2MediaRelease