What if you are being tested without knowing that you are being tested? It happens all the time, of course -- secret shoppers, Tinder profiles, your judgy Aunt at Christmas -- but is it fair. More importantly, is it accurate?
This is an important question for proponents of the Canadian Premier League to ask themselves because it's happening right now.
You see, Rangers are playing Benfica in Hamilton on October 6 at Tim Hortons Field in the 2017 Eusebio Cup. That's the basic story, anyway. The more complicated story is that this game is a test of the very business model that the CanPL hopes to use to entice more reluctant ownership groups into the fold. If you follow MLS, or have followed CSN's reporting of the CanPL, you'll recognize this model as the "SUM Canada" approach.
The idea behind "SUM Canada" is that, like MLS and Soccer United Marketing, owning a franchise in CanPL will also include an ownership stake in a separate soccer marketing company. The primary role of that company will be to bring big name clubs and countries into CanPL stadiums to play "high" profile friendlies. The profits from those friendlies would then be distributed among the CanPL owners to off-set losses from the main product.
It's worked wonderfully in the US. In fact, it's why claims of MLS owners that they are losing money still (and thus can't increase salaries) are a tad disingenuous. They are losing money on one very specific part of their ownership stake, but earning quite a bit on another.
So, make no mistake, this game in Hamilton is a test of the viability of the business model.
In general, it's a good model and one that most CanPL fans should be supportive of. However, it's fair to also have some questions about the execution of the model in this circumstance.
In the US they are bringing in truly huge clubs and countries. We're talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Brazils and Argentinas of the world. You truly can't put a cap on how much people* will pay to see these teams.
*Even if it's not the same people that pay to see MLS games, as it often isn't
This is Rangers v Benfica, and probably not really a great representation of either as the game will take place during an international break.
Yet, they are charging prices that would barely be tolerated -- actually, they probably wouldn't be -- if the game was actually a competitive fixture. The low end price to get intro the stadium is $50 -- for standing tickets -- with the average price well over $100 and the high end price a mind-blowing $350. Put charitably, this is ambitious pricing. There are a significant amount of Benfica and Rangers fans in the region and even more Scottish and Portuguese ex-pats, but these are A) sophisticated fans that understand what the true value of a mid-season friendly is and B ) often working class folks that can't throw hundreds of dollars into 90 minutes of entertainment.
Compounding this is that the game is being sold in short order, in an unpredictable climate, smack dab in the middle of the busiest sports time of the year (with the local-ish MLS team playing out of their head, thus taking away attention.
And, this is without touching on the fact that the operators of Tim Hortons Field -- the Hamilton Tiger-Cats -- are not having a good PR month in the local community. Any general fans that might have been inclined to buy in a month ago are less so now.
As stated, ambitious.
Here's where it gets worrisome for CanPL fans. What if this is a bust? What if they've out priced their audience? What does it mean about the people that are running the league and their knowledge of the market.
I can't in good faith encourage anyone to spend money they don't have on this kind of game. I can, however, worry about what it might mean if people don't.
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We now know the six Canadian stadiums and cities that are biding to host games in the 2026 World Cup.
Toronto’s BMO Field
Montreal’s Olympic Stadium
Vancouver’s BC Place
Edmonton’s Olympic Stadium
Regina’s Mosaic Stadium
Ottawa’s TD Place
There’s a not a lot of surprise on the list. Calgary declined to pursue the bid further, which may be bad news for their Canadian Premier League bid (as getting a stadium built is key to it and failing to bid now suggests that they are not yet sure if it’s going to happen).
With Canada set to get six games in total there is a certain logic to suggest that each city is likely to get a single game. Although the caveat to that is that Olympic Stadium will need serious work to be World Cup ready.
Another issue is that only one stadium – It’s almost certain that all of the five stadiums will need to put in temporary grass.
Of course none of this will matter if Morocco wins the bid.
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It’s a bad day to be a soccer fan in Winnipeg or Hamilton. Ironically, the first two cities to commit to being part of the Canadian Premier League were the two notable cities not included on the list of cities Canada has approached to apply to be a host city in the 2026 World Cup.
Obviously, this will be a moot point if Morocco somehow takes the bid away from the hugely favourite United North America bid, but few think that will happen. So, it’s basically the end of any dream that either city will ever host a World Cup.
It’s a double blow for Hamilton in that they were also left off the Women’s World Cup rotation in 2015. It’s a shame because the city was a wonderful host to the Pan Am tournament and a women’s pre-tournament friendly between England and Canada.
It’s a bit baffling, actually. Tim Horton’s Field is only 24,000, sure, but it can be expanded to 40,000 (and possibly even more for a major event like a World Cup). Since it seems unlikely that the CSA is springing this on these cities blindly, it could be that the City of Hamilton turned down the chance to bid. In fact, that's the noise that many are suggesting -- that Hamilton turned down the chance to bid. That seems short-sighted, but I’m not a Hamilton rate payer.
Much of what was written about Hamilton can be extended to Winnipeg. Two new stadiums in cities that don’t traditionally get looked at to host major events….surprising, to say the least. And, once again, it appears that Winnipeg came to the conclusion on their own.
There weren’t a lot of shocks among the cities included. Both Toronto and Montreal were invited to apply with two stadiums – BMO Field/Stade Saputo and The Stadium Formally Known as SkyDome/Olympic Stadium – and the rest of the cities – Ottawa, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are basically the default cities that pop up in these conversations.
The two biggest questions among the included cities might be Montreal and Calgary. The Big O is an old 43 years now. It’s hard to imagine it not being held together by duct tape and empty bottles of Old Vienna by 2026. Saputo is the smallest of the stadiums included. It would take a major renovation to get up to the required size (although with the Habs having never hosted an outdoor NHL game that might be of interest to the city).
Calgary has no legitimate option other than to build something new. McMahon Stadium is already 57 years old and it’s never been called anything other than functional, even by its fans. It seems likely that Calgary has been included to add further support to an ongoing effort to completely overhaul the city’s sports infrastructure. Calgary wants to build a new hockey rink, multipurpose stadium and host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Hosting a couple extra World Cup games a few months after the big party would be the icing on that very expensive cake.
Mexico only put three cities forward, so you’d imagine they plan an even split of games. That’s not in Canada’s nature – the games here will be split equally between the east and the west.
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Julian de Guzman is getting a head coaching position a little earlier than most people would have thought. Also, earlier than the Ottawa Fury probably wanted, as it comes with the announcement today that Paul Dalglish has resigned from the position, effectively immediately. He had informed the club of his intention to leave the Fury at the end of 2017, but both sides agreed that it was best to leave immediately.
Dalglish had a 14W-16D-22L record in his season and a half in charge of the Fury. His was never a comfortable fit, taking charge after the hugely popular and successful Marc dos Santos. Making things even more difficult was that the Fury dumped a great deal of salary just before Dalglish took over, effectively stripping a Championship team to its bare bones.
Still, Fury fans never warmed to Dalglish. Stylistically, he preferred a direct brand of the game, trying to utilize longer balls directed towards tall target men. The tactics were considered boring by many Fury fans, and statistically provided mediocre results. The Fury scored just 59 goals in the 52 games Dalglish was in charge.
For his part Dalglish had positive words on his exit:
"I will always be grateful to OSEG, the Fury, my staff and players for the experience my family and I have enjoyed here in Ottawa," said Dalglish. "I also want to thank the fans for their continued support of this great club. I wish nothing but the best for Fury FC and hope fans get to enjoy playoff soccer in Ottawa this fall," he said.
It’s been speculated by many that he will take the head coaching position at the new Austin club, which will begin USL play in 2018. Dalglish played professionally in Texas and maintains roots in the region.
It’s a quick turnaround from player to coach for de Guzman, who retired just last year. In fact, he played a testimonial with the Fury last month. However, he’s been working on his coaching qualifications over the past couple years and has experience working with younger players at the national team level. During the last few years of his career, de Guzman effectively was a player-coach and was widely seen as having a future patrolling the sidelines.
Julian has proven that he will be a strong coach in this game," said Fury President John Pugh. "He has the attention and respect of the players and he has our full support."
De Guman will make his managerial debut Aug 16 against Orlando B.
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Look at the photo above. That’s Estadio Merkatondoa, home of Club Deportivo Izarra of the Segunda División B. That’s the third tier of Spanish football.
Located in the Basque region of Spain you can never accuse it of not being beautiful. It’s incredibly charming, actually. I’d love to play in that stadium.
It would be appropriate for me to play in that stadium, as there are only 3,500 seats. It’s in every way a small, community-like stadium, like you find everywhere.
In this particular case it also plays host to a third tier professional team. The third tier professional team that Samuel Piette most recently played for.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course. The third tier of Spanish professional soccer is about 60 times better than the level than likely everyone reading this played at. Well, unless someone from the Montreal Impact is reading.
The Impact, of course, represent Piette’s new team, having inked him to a deal earlier this week. It was the worst kept secret in MLS for a couple days as Piette’s 6,000 relatives in the Montreal area were telling anyone that wanted to listen.
Montreal fans badly wanted this signing to happen. The link started just after Piette played for the national team in Montreal in early June and intensified as the summer grew as long as the Impact playoff hopes.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. What I’m about to write in no way should be interpreted as me wishing Piette failure. Nor, is it meant to suggest that I don’t think Piette has talent. I, like many, am impressed with the player’s improvement over the last year or so and think a move to MLS is very good for his career.
However, I do have concerns.
As suggested off the top, Piette was not playing at MLS level before the move. The third tier of Spanish soccer is, despite the screaming of MLS haters, not at the same level of the Montreal Impact. Thus, why I’m happy for Piette. He’s making a move up. Awesome for him and awesome for the Canadian national team.
But…this is not a normal signing in that if Piette wasn’t a Montreal native it would have either flown under the radar or actually been criticised. If I was being cynical, I’d suggest that the Impact are caving to fan pressure to sign the local kid to distract from what is turning out to be a terrible season.
Kind of like when TFC signed Julian de Guzman all those years ago. Now, JDG was playing at a higher level than MLS at the time, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but the element of local kid comes home to play for struggling team is the same.
As is the fact that Piette isn’t a goal scorer. Many, many Impact fans are sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtleness of a destroyer’s game – comparing him to Donadel, as the Impact have, will help that. But, fans will always fan and some are going to want offensive production from a signing that got as much attention as Piette did.
It’s worth a reminder that Piette is just 22. He’s improved, but he’s still going to need to earn his time at MLS. Hopefully, the Impact made this signing with his best interests in mind and they have a plan to bring him up to speed.
Even more hopefully, he is already ready to make an immediate (sorry) impact for the Impact.
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