Editorials - May 2018

May 21 2018


If Soccer Can Do It Why Can't Rugby - New Canadian Pro League to Launch April 2019

The MLR pro rugby league seems to be doing well 5 weeks in, it varies by region but in the Pacific Northwest the Seattle franchise are sold out this season and selling tickets for 2019 now. Those of us in the PNW area but north of the border aren't too surprised by this, rugby sells in the area. If you compare attendance figures for the 7 franchises Seattle are doing best at around the 3,500 mark. Utah second, then Houston, Glendale, San Diego around 2,000, Austin and New Orleans above 1,000. Vancouver and Victoria pro franchises would have no problems being above average based on those numbers. The question is does it have to be MLR or can Canada go alone with its own pro league. It's what soccer is doing in Canada.

This came across the desk last week, an article in the Times Colonist on May 17th - "Sources say Victoria is set to be awarded a franchise in the new professional Canadian Premier League, which begins play next April." Sh@t why can't rugby get its act together in Canada?

So what is this Canadian Premier League, we don't follow soccer here so this is a bit of news to us. The article goes on to explain that 6 franchises have been announced Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Halifax. There's some CFL involvement apparently in some cities. If you check Wiki, that bounteous storehouse of knowledge, it tells us the league is an "upcoming fully professional, FIFA-sanctioned soccer league expected to begin play in April 2019. Eight to ten teams owned and operated, at least in part, by a mix of NHL and CFL ownership groups are expected to initially compete in the league. The league's focus will be to fully "Canadianize" itself to improve talent and the sport in Canada."

What are we doing in Canadian rugby? Pining for inclusion into the US based MLR, running exhibition seasons in Toronto trying to look attractive, writing up press releases in Vancouver trying to look proactive. Why not start our own pro league? Some are saying RCSL, we had it. No we didn't - that was teams playing in amateur venues, no attempt at professionalism. You start with a 3,000 seat venue minimum and work around a model that generates revenue based on attendance and sponsorship. Has our solid amateur infrastructure made us complacent about pro rugby? Where are the rugby entrepreneurs in Canada? The Arrows have a good start in Toronto, are there other groups across Canada willing to step up?

It's a struggle and a gamble to start a pro league, the Americans are already on Version 2.0 but they're trying. The size of the country and travel is an issue, the weather difference between east and west is another issue, but none of these issues are insurmountable. Down the road if Canada had it's own fledgling pro league there could be discussion around regional play with the MLR to reduce travel cost, East/West scenarios. It would put the Canadian markets in a stronger bargaining position with the MLR if we could put together a couple of seasons in our backyard and put 2,000 to 3,000 attendance figures up across the board. If you build it - they will come, there has to be some dreamers out there, some financial backers willing to take a risk, some TV networks looking for new content.

Pemberton Holmes
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