Canadian Premier League announces winners of inaugural CPL Business Awards

The Canadian Premier League (CPL) today announced the winners of the league’s inaugural CPL Business Awards, which honour outstanding achievements at both the team and the executive level in areas such as ticketing, partnerships, merchandise, fan and community engagement, and more. 

“Every year we recognize outstanding performances on the field, but there is so much more than on-field success that goes into making this league what it is,” said Glen Johnson, Executive Vice President, Canadian Premier League. “It was important to us to start recognizing the off-field achievements that can go under-appreciated, and it was a pleasure to give just some of the hard-working people in this league the credit they deserve for making the CPL’s milestone fifth season our most successful yet. 

“In launching both a league-wide business summit and the CPL Business Awards in 2023, we are building relationships and establishing best practices between our member clubs from coast to coast that will help inspire and incentivize all of our teams as they continue to look for ways to evolve in their individual markets.” 

The 2023 CPL Business Award winners include: 

Club of the Year

Awarded to the club that best represented the CPL in 2023 by fostering a strong internal culture, making a difference in the community, establishing meaningful relationships with fans and partners, generating revenue, interest, and engagement, encouraging innovation, demonstrating a long-term vision for sustainable business growth and contributing to the growth of soccer in Canada. 

Winner: Atlético Ottawa

After hosting the largest crowd ever to attend a CPL Final in October 2022, Atlético Ottawa set league records in 2023 for year-over-year increases across several categories in 2023, including tickets sold, ticket revenue, group tickets sold and sponsorship revenue. Ottawa not only welcomed more fans to its environment this season, the club found new, inventive and impactful ways to engage with its community by introducing Wally the T Rex as the club’s new mascot, organizing another Pay What You Can Home Opener in support of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and Lil’ Kidneys and launching a poignant “Making it to Safety” jersey in support of Shelter Movers Ottawa and dedicated to survivors of Intimate Partner Violence.


Business Executive of the Year

Awarded to the business executive who best represented the CPL in 2023 by leading a club that had success in all areas of its business and contributed to the continued growth of the league and soccer in Canada, while setting the example for what it means to be a valued and respected colleague throughout the CPL.

Winner: Derek Martin, Halifax Wanderers FC

Derek has created an atmosphere at Wanderers Grounds that is the envy of the league and produces a home field advantage like no other in Canada. Under Derek’s leadership, Wanderers Grounds and the club also proved a welcoming host for the Canadian Women’s National Team when the side met Brazil in a friendly in Halifax in October, a match that sold out just 20 minutes after tickets went on sale to the general public. Derek consistently ensures his club works with local partners to create new fan engagement opportunities, such as this season’s New Canadians Night, and is continuously empowering his staff to take the risks necessary to make Halifax a leading club in the CPL. 


Rookie of the Year Award

Awarded by the Commissioner to a business executive who is new to the CPL or has recently moved into a new role and has made a major impact on their club’s off-field success. This winner has made an immediate impact in their new role, raising the bar within both their club and the league through dedication, smarts and a team-first mentality.

Winner: Nicole Demers, Forge FC 

In her first season as Vice President, Business Operations for Forge FC, Demers — who oversees all business verticals for the club, including ticket sales, community programming and marketing  — led Forge to a record-breaking season. She and her team brought in the highest revenue for a Forge home opener and set club records for attendance at a CPL Final and revenue. Nicole also founded successful community-minded initiatives like the Spark Summit, which connects and inspires professional women in the sport and entertainment industry, and led numerous new initiatives to enhance the fan experience at Forge matches, including the championship medal giveaway at the club’s home opener and international night.


Commissioner’s Award

Awarded by Commissioner Mark Noonan to a person or group within the league for their selfless contributions to building the CPL through extraordinary commitment and contributions to the enterprise.

Winner: Josh Simpson, President, Pacific FC, Dean Shillington, Owner & Investor and Rob Friend, President, Vancouver FC 

Simpson, Shillington and Friend helped bring much needed soccer infrastructure to two communities in British Columbia, serving not only the needs of professional soccer players but players at the grassroots level. The trio helped fund: the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board Mini-Pitch Turf Field near Brentwood, B.C., working with local indigenous leaders and city leadership to help provide more opportunities for future stars in the community as well as encouraging healthy lifestyles; and the stadium at Willoughby Park at the Langley Events Centre, which not only plays host to Vancouver FC but this year hosted the 2023 League1 Canada Women’s Inter-Provincial Championships, among other events. Commissioner Mark Noonan commends Simpson, Shillington and Friend for their commitment to using their own resources to create an ecosystem where Canadian players don’t have to leave home to find an opportunity to play professionally, like Simpson and Friend, both alumni of the Canadian Men’s National Team, had to do during their professional careers. 


Community Impact Award

Awarded to the club that best demonstrated a desire and commitment to engaging with, and understanding, its local community through innovative, consistent, and relevant outreach that resonated with supporters and community members. 

Winner: Atlético Ottawa

Atlético Ottawa made an impact on its community right out of the gates for the third season in a row, by hosting another Pay What You Can match for its 2023 home opener. A portion of each ticket sale at TD Place Stadium on April 15 was donated to CHEO, with additional funds raised from in-game events. As part of the match, Atlético Ottawa also honoured Lily Millett, a patient at CHEO, who represented the hospital at the home opener. Lily, who was diagnosed with a kidney disease, launched a fundraising effort called Lil’ Kidneys to help purchase new equipment for CHEO. Atlético Ottawa’s fundraiser for the hospital allowed it to support a cornerstone in the Ottawa community.


Fan Engagement Award

Awarded to the club that that produced the best fan experiences on match day through partnership execution, and/or new and innovative ticketing campaigns.

Winner: Cavalry FC

Cavalry FC created the 1975 Club, presented by Carscallen LLP, for fans of the 2023 regular season winners to have a premium experience when visiting ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows on matchday.  The 1975 Club is a new members’ club, located at Canada House near to ATCO Field, which features a wide range of benefits and exclusive experiences, from “Chalk Talks” with head coach and general manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr. to exclusive merchandise to player and coach meet and greets.


Partnership Activation of the Year

Awarded to the club that produced the most impactful and engaging partnership activation.

Winner: Forge FC

Forge FC celebrated its third CPL Championship during its 2023 home opener, when fans in attendance were all provided with a limited-edition replica championship medal. The giveaway helped the club achieve record numbers for a regular season match in several categories, including highest ticket revenue, highest match-day revenue, most single game tickets sold and highest merchandise sales per person.


Social Media Activation of the Year

Awarded to the club that produced the most impactful and engaging social media campaign and/or activation.

Winner: Atlético Ottawa

Atlético Ottawa turned a beloved fan-led initiative into a beloved new mascot when it introduced Wally the T Rex in August 2023. From engaging the Capital City Supporters Group to tell Wally’s origin story to engaging “Dino Expert” Dr. Henry Wu of Jurassic Park lore to help usher in a new era at the club, Ottawa found creative and engaging ways to connect Wally with fans through social media and other digital platforms. The work the club put in to not only select the right mascot for the franchise but introduce him in a lighthearted and fun way, with the backing of their supporters, quickly made Wally a success both on social media and in person. 


2023 Canadian Premier League Business Award Winners

Top Group Sales (Tickets Sold) – Atlético Ottawa

Top Group Sales (Revenue) – Forge FC

Top Single Match Sales Promotion (Tickets Sold) – Atlético Ottawa

Top Single Match Sales Promotion (Revenue) – Halifax Wanderers FC

Top Season Seat Member Net Growth – Forge FC

Top Season Seat Member Retention – Halifax Wanderers FC

Top Partnership Sales Team – Cavalry FC

Top Jersey Sales (Units) – Forge FC

Top Jersey Sales (Revenue) – Pacific FC

Fan Engagement Award – Cavalry FC (1975 Club presented by Carscallen LLP)

Partnership Activation of the Year – Forge FC (Championship Medal Giveaway)

Social Media Activation of the Year – Atlético Ottawa (Wally the T Rex Campaign)

Community Impact Award – Atlético Ottawa (Pay What You Can Home Opener)

Business Executive of the Year – Derek Martin, President & Founder, HFX Wanderers

Club of the Year – Atlético Ottawa

Commissioner’s Award – Josh Simpson, President, Pacific FC, Dean Shillington, Owner, Vancouver FC, and Rob Friend, President, Vancouver FC