March 30th meeting in Halifax with S|E|A CEO Derek Martin and CPL representative Paul Beirne.
No official number on the amount of people there, but I’d say a little under 100.
These notes were taken chronologically. These are summaries and paraphrases on what was said. Quotations denote direct quotes.
Paul Beirne took the floor first. He stated that he was going to discuss the opportunity this league will offer our country.
He began by asking us to raise our hands if we knew a pro hockey player. Then if we knew one from our region. Most in the room had their hands up.
He then asked the same questions in a soccer context. Very few hands were raised in comparison.
He stated that this is not about the business, the giant stadiums or the billionaires. This is about the players, and specifically the Canadian players. It’s about getting Canada from being the 117th ranked country to a perennial contender.
He hates comparing Canada to the US but in this case it’s hard not to do so. The US had to build up a feasible league in a short amount of time. That league is MLS. There were hiccups. They launched the league, it almost failed so they reorganized the business structure and made it work. They now have a blueprint on how to build a successful league in North America. It’s now time to adapt those lessons to a Canadian league. They can look back on 20 years of the MLS and see what worked, what didn’t.
MLS now bigger spectator sport than the NHL in the US.
There are a handful of stadiums in Canada that are appropriate for this league. Halifax is on their way to getting one.
We have some Canadian owners who have the right financial model and will to put their capital at risk. “These are reasons to be optimistic”.
The business model they’re going with for the CPL has an “emphasis on fans”. It is about the fans. We have more fans (percentage) in the country now, than the US had in comparison before MLS started up. This is now a mainstream sport in Canada. People in Canada “are craving this”. He Mentioned Portland Timbers as the ultimate fan experience - something we should all should strive for.
There are over 200 opportunities for Canadian players to make a living at home once this league becomes a reality. With an emphasis on developing these players, they can thrive. This in turn makes the CMNT a regional power.
With the new changes for WC qualifying, there will be 7 CONCACAF spots available. “After 2026, we will never miss a World Cup”.
The vision we have for Halifax is remarkable. It will be a privately funded stadium in “a unique and appropriate site as he’s seen in any city”. While dealing with the city, he’s learned that “Halifax has its own way at looking at things” (referring to development.) “And nobody’s knocked it down” (this stadium proposal).
Derek Martin now took the floor to discuss the opportunity for the city.
Derek’s presentation revolved around going over the PowerPoint presentation he presented to city council on the 23rd, “The Halifax Document”. He made a joke about how this should be new to most of you, aside from the Wanderers who were able to dig it up. Worth noting this version of the PowerPoint did not have “The Original 6” slide.
He started by praising the work Paul has done in getting this league together and with TFC when they were struggling mightily on the pitch. Paul, behind the scenes, made sure the team stayed afloat.
S|E|A has been working on this for 6 months. They met with Paul who sold them on the idea of Halifax becoming a part of this league. They’ve been encouraged by the Wanderers SG propping up organically on its own, with no instruction from anybody.
Derek was bothered by Halifax’s lack of an outdoor sports facility. Wanderers Ground is the absolute perfect site. It’s in the centre of Halifax and will be the heartbeat of this city. It’s the perfect site so that we can hit the pubs downtown before the game, then march up Sackville Street to the grounds. As the Scotiabank Centre (home of the Halifax Mooseheads) has demonstrated, these sports venues are good for downtown.
Halifax is undergoing a monumental shift in development. We don’t have an outdoor version of the Scotiabank Centre. This new stadium will be a gathering place for sports and entertainment in the city. S|E|A is not changing the use of the grounds, they are bringing it back to what it was. And having a stadium located in the heart of downtown is exactly where it needs to be to be viable. MLS initially tried putting their franchise stadiums in suburbia and this proved to be the wrong approach.
The popularity of soccer in Canada and North America has never been bigger and will only keep growing. As demonstrated in the fall, the MLS Cup sold out in 5 minutes, the Grey Cup had tickets available at the door on game day. Those events were held in the same stadium, just a week apart.
He praised the Mooseheads “they have done an amazing job”. They are excellently marketed and routinely get big crowds even when the team is having a down year on the ice. However, their season runs from September to April. There is a void in this city when it comes to sports and entertainment from May to September.
The way the CPL will be doing its business is smart. Expecting to fill 15-20k seat stadiums is not realistic, especially for a medium sized marked like Halifax. This has always been the issue with getting a CFL team in the city. The plan set forth by the CPL sees having 3-4k seats filled will make it financially viable. Keeping ticket prices low is also a priority. Price ranges for Halifax will be 10$ on the lower end and 35$ on the upper end.
This stadium will not only be for soccer however the soccer team will be kept at the pinnacle. S|E|A will assume the costs for 3 years with a possible 3 year extension. They will be offering sponsorship opportunities for the structure on Wanderers Ground. “We will be blank Stadium on Wanderers Ground” blank referring to a yet to be determined sponsor.
They have been using the Phoenix Rising FC stadium as an example but the model they are following the closest is the one in Charlotte, NC. The Charlotte Independence plays its games at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex. S|E|A has experience with temporary venues. They hosted Sandjam. A beach volley ball tournament and were able to set up a 2000 seat grandstand in two days and tear it down in 1. The stadium at Wanderers Ground doesn’t have to be perfect in all aspects, but the most important detail is they want the fan experience to be top notch.
The PowerPoint had a new rendering of the stadium, as now seen on hfxfootballclub.ca
East end will be supporters section, which will be general admission standing. We’ll have our own entrance and access to it before games to set up and “do our thing”. West end will be beer garden based on shipping containers as we have already seen in this city. Cheapest tickets will be for that section (10$). North and South ends will consist of two 2500 seat grandstands with 15 rows each. Stadium will remain below the tree line. VIP section is planned and will be placed at yet to be determined area.
It was very important that they get support from the Province. They will work with Soccer Nova Scotia. “It would be stupid if we don’t work with them”. Rugby Nova Scotia is on board as well and this stadium will be a great benefit to them.
They used the Wanderers Supporters Group in their presentation to show council that support already exists for a stadium and a team, long before both are even in existence.
The city has agreed to fix and resurface Wanderers Ground regardless if S|E|A gets ok to build stadium.
At this point Derek was done going through the PowerPoint presentation. He and Paul now opened up the floor for a Q&A.
Q – When will season tickets be available and what prices can we expect?
Derek – “We don’t know how many games we’re playing at this point”. Season ticket prices will mostly likely be determined by number of games times single-game seat price, minus a discount of 20-25% (Paul Beirne indicated that he thinks that discount is too deep).
Q – When can we expect to hear any official announcement regarding the formation of this league?
Paul – The annual general meeting for the CSA is in May. That’s the only time you can accept a new member league.
Q – Where do you intend to draw players from for league startup?
Paul – The composition of this league will be different in the first year, the 5th and the 10th. Initially they’ll have to depend more on import players but they do intend on having a max allotment of import players. The number is flexible. 50% was a number floated out there. The league will have to balance salary, quality and development. They don’t intend on attracting 3rd division players in Europe and South America because they won’t be high enough quality for the expected level of play. They will be targeting 1st and 2nd division players, especially Canadians who will now have a chance to blossom and develop in their own backyard.
The intended composition of the league will be drawn from existing Canadian pros playing in other leagues, high performance youth playing in Canada and the US and international players. Paul stated that from his experience, the best value for the dollar comes from South and Central American players. The league will have to balance developing players and ensuring a high quality performance on the pitch. Ultimately, long-term goal is to have teams developing high performance players from their own communities.
Q – When is this league starting and how many teams there be? Can you name the other markets?
Paul – It will start when it’s ready. No less than 6 teams at launch of league. Aspiration is to have 16 teams in 10 years.
Q – What will be the targeted age bracket for Canadian players?
Derek – We can’t answer that because at this point, we’re businessmen pitching a stadium, then working to get a team together. When the time comes, we’ll bring on technical staff and soccer experts to put this team together.
Q – What is your take on Bill Manning’s comments?
Paul – Paul and Bill are friends. It’s Paul’s intention to coexist with MLS. The CPL will not be a development league for MLS (everyone clapped). At this point, MLS teams are becoming financially viable and have many resources at their disposal. The goal is for the CPL to be seen as an equal to MLS and other div 1 leagues in Europe. Smaller countries have very successful domestic leagues and national teams, why can’t we? He acknowledged that MLS does not necessarily care about developing Canadian players, CPL will.
Q – What type of turf will the stadium use for its pitch? Astroturf is not the solution and natural turf is not suitable for this climate. Synthetic hybrid would be way to go.
Derek – Disagrees. His intention is to have natural grass.
Paul – Natural grass is doable in this climate and preferred. You can spend a lot of money on turf and making it work. It is a source of pride to have a natural turf. Even the supporters can use it as fodder against opposing supporters “we have natural turf and you guys don’t”.
Q – Will this be a cap league and are S|E|A prepared to spend up to that cap ceiling?
Derek – Yes and yes.
Paul – Jokes that he could go on for 20 minutes about the subject but Derek answered it fittingly.
Q – Will supporters be permitted to drink alcohol at the stadium, use smoke bombs and flares?
Derek – Absolutely you’ll be allowed to drink in the stadium. Not sure about the other two. Will look into it.
Paul – Flares are out—they burn too hot; they are dangerous. On smoke bombs he half-jokes that we need a different name for them. When using them, safety is paramount. They want to make sure they’re not toxic so the league/teams will be vetting which smoke devices can be used. He adds that whatever the league approves could always be over-ridden by the fire marshal. Tongue in cheek, he says he can’t control what we do outside the stadium.
Q – What corporate investment and marketing opportunities are going to be available and do you have any established already?
Derek – We’re working on it. First we need to have approval to put up a stadium. Opportunities will absolutely be available. They will have food deals, beer deals. Stadium naming rights.
That was the end of the Q+A session. We were able to mingle and shoot the breeze. It was mentioned in conversation that the AGM for the CSA would be on May 6th.
So that’s the meeting in a nutshell. A lot of it was Halifax centric (obviously) but S|E|A’s immediate goal is to have the stadium approved by council (looking very positive) and then they move onto forming a team for the league. Very little CPL specific info was made available.