Monday, September 20, 2010

Can a domestic league work in Canada?

I've been pondering this question for quite sometime now and I not sure if I'm any closer to finding an answer than I was when I began looking into the idea. I have quickly learned that to build a coast to coast professional first division league in this country is extremely difficult. The logistical issues of a proper balanced fixture list, finding financing, getting corporate Canada on board, T.V rights, Stadium expenditures, travel expenses for the clubs, which cities merit a club etc,  make this dream look impossible.

There is also the issue of local interest, are there enough people in cities outside of the big three of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver who care enough to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching their local club? Just as importantly would they travel to see their side take on an out of province team? Unlike the leagues in Europe it is not as easy to travel along with your club as this country is massive in size.

On my recent travels in Europe I observed not just the results of matches, but the culture and logistics of the domestic leagues. In England and Spain travelling to away matches was just as important as going to their home ground. Now this is made easy by the fact that neither country is that big which makes driving to games or traveling by train fairly easy and quick. However what I found to be the biggest factor in the success of these leagues outside of money, is the density of clubs in a particular area. For example within the greater London Area there are 5 teams in the Premier League (Chelsea, Fulham, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham) This creates a sense of rivalry between the clubs and supporters and it's ends up being a league within a league so to speak. Those 5 clubs vie to be not only the best club in England, but also of London.

It got me thinking of how that could be applied to a coast to coast soccer league here in Canada. I started to look at an alternative way of setting up the league outside of the traditional open country model. The idea of the open country model has been suggested in the past, however I have my doubts on the idea working mainly due to high travel expenses both for club and supporter, lack of rivalry building and securing financing for such a big venture.

What I propose is a national league based on regions, my idea is inspired by of all things Major Junior Hockey. Like the CHL the country would be split into regional pools 4 in this case. Western Canada (B.C Alberta, Saskatchewan), Central Canada (Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec,)Territories (N.W.T, Yukon, Nunavut) and Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, P.E.I). Each pool could see 4-6 teams playing each other within their respective pools. From that the top two teams compete in a national playoff tournament, I propose a straight knock out format though I can see an argument for 2 legged ties.At the end you crown a league champion. You could also use these pool standings to see who enters the hunt for the Nutrilite Championship, however that's another post for another day.

Obviously Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact would not be involved in the league as they will already be in the MLS, but this is a chance to build a soccer culture outside of the big three cities. This is not to say that clubs in anyone of these cities could not have a club, as it will eventually become important to have teams in these cities, however the idea is to grow football interest in less traditional markets.

I know my idea for a national championship is different and a bit hard to swallow for the people who want a single table league, it would seem that we're trying to split the country in order to build a league. Though I would ask you to look at it this creating a more regional system of play you build true rivalries between teams, you also cut down travel time and distance for supporters who wish to travel with the club. The national "playoff" or "tournament" between the top clubs from each pool build the anticipation of playing against the rest of the country, it can also truly be considered a "national" championship as top clubs from across the country compete against each other in an knock out style tournament.

From a financial perspective it also keeps costs down for each club as they can minimize on the length of travel and lodging. Clubs can concentrate on growing a home support base without worrying about the bigger city drain that other sports have had to deal with (i.e hockey with the Leafs or Canadiens).

Regardless if you agree with my position or not, what I hope this does is start the debate on the importance of building a proper domestic league in Canada. We cannot rely solely on the teams entering the MLS, we need to develop our own system in order to push the game forward.


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