Is Canadian Soccer at Tipping Point?

Montreal Impact

With three very successful franchises (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver) and rising TV ratings, Canadian soccer is poised to overcome the Canadian Football League in terms of fan interest.

That would make soccer the second-most popular sport in Canada, potentially surpassing the CFL. The league’s TV broadcasts already draw more viewers per game as the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and are approaching the popularity levels of CFL TV broadcasts. A recent Toronto-Montreal playoff broadcast drew roughly a million viewers; a CFL playoff game in the same period drew 1.2 million viewers. And in the three MLS markets, the MLS teams outdraw their CFL counterparts at the gate.

That’s all well and good. But with youth participation in soccer leagues continuing to grow in Canada, there are some significant opportunities for growth. The Canadian USL and NASL teams don’t exactly kill it at the box office (Ottawa Fury may have been a disappointment in 2016, and FC Edmonton was second-to-last in NASL attendance), but with the player academies run by MLS kicking into high gear in recent years, there’s a solid pipeline of players at all levels. From The Globe and Mail:

Beyond the success of their first teams, Canada’s pro teams are also churning out a new crop of homegrown prospects.

All three MLS clubs have Canadian-born senior players – most also play in the national side – but more than that their academy systems are paying dividends.

Earlier this month Canada Soccer announced a 30-player roster for its 14-and-under Excel program, all but three are on the books with Canadian pro sides (the others are attached to U.S. teams).

[Peter Montopoli, the general secretary of Canada Soccer,] is fond of saying the development of soccer has involved a four-pronged strategy: participation (such as youth involvement), professionalization (including at the club level), performance (success) and properties.

What will be needed to sustain the growth? Upping the fan experience was a tremendous success in Toronto with the renovated BMO Field, and there’s certainly room to do more there in Montreal and Vancouver. Good performances in CONCACAF Champions’ League don’t hurt. And participating in the next World Cup would boost national interest as well.

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August Publications