CPL commissioner David Clanachan looks ahead to 2019 inaugural season and beyond

Commissioner David Clanachan reached for the red and black box that rests on a coffee table inside his downtown Toronto office.

“Imagine this … ” the CPL’s top boss started.

It wasn’t just a gift package from Liverpool Football Club. It was a suggestion, Clanachan recalled.

Inside is a picture of Senegalese international Sadio Mane donning a Liverpool kit featuring a Canadian sponsor — a suggestion, Clanachan believes, that serves as a testament to soccer’s growth in this country.

“Who would ever think they’d send that to a Canadian company and say, ‘Will you be our jersey sponsor?’” Clanachan asked. “It’s the recognition of Canada. They understand (how important Canada is to the future of soccer).”

Clanachan used the package as a segue during a discussion with about the upcoming season and the league’s growth potential.

“Right from Day 1 I’ve said the league will have eight to 10 teams starting in April next year,” he said. “We’re closer to eight at this point in time.

“We have seven (clubs) we’ve already launched. There’s another two or three that we’re working with. I don’t want to say who they are, but we’re hoping to see one get to the finish line so we launch with eight.”

The CPL became Canada’s only coast-to-coast sports league last month with the addition of Vancouver Island’s Pacific FC. Before that, Cavalry FC (Calgary), FC Edmonton, Valour FC (Winnipeg), Forge FC (Hamilton), York 9 FC (Greater Toronto) and HFX Wanderers (Halifax) were revealed as the league’s founding clubs.

According to Clanachan, an ideal situation will see the league reveal two expansion clubs for 2020, prior to the CPL’s inaugural match next spring.

The league’s top brass are currently “talking” with more than a dozen other regions outside the eight to 10 clubs that will compete in the CPL’s first season. Some of those communities or regions have populations of fewer than 100,000.

“They’re in much different places along the pathway to actually launching a club,” Clanachan explained.

However, the interest is there. And it’s interest Clanachan admits he didn’t necessarily expect from the outset when he took the job.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the biggest impediment to (an expansion) club?’ I can tell you it’s not appetite. It’s not fans. It’s not supporters. It’s not municipalities or regions looking for it. It’s not even ownership,” he said.

“We’re not seeing any blockage there whatsoever. The blockage we see is stadiums — the existence of appropriate stadiums.”

As part of a potential solution, the CPL is looking at the viability of constructing venues similar to Phoenix Rising’s 6,200-seat modular stadium, which could act as a blueprint for Canadian clubs.

“The big goal for us was to be coast to coast,” Clanachan said. “Now we need to be represented in every province. It’s not lost on us that people will say we’re not in Newfoundland, New Brunswick or Quebec.”

Clanachan added the idea of being in the aforementioned provinces, including Saskatchewan, “is one (the CPL) is feeling from Canadians across our country.”

His goal is for the CPL to include 26 club’s by 2026, at which point the CPL could split into first and second divisions.

“If we can do it sooner we’ll do it sooner,” Clanachan added. “It’s all about talent and level of play … By the time you get to that you could be in communities of 100,000 people.”

He’s inspired by more than one Premier League club.

“Think about this: Burnley, in the EPL, has about 70,000 people who live in that town,” Clanachan said. “They get 21,000 fans whenever they’re at home. I believe when we get to the point where we have a second division we can be in cities and regions in Canada that have 100,000 people or more.”

-Follow Kurt Larson on Twitter at @kurtlarsonCPL 


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