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  • Bill Manning on the Canadian Premier League

    Duane Rollins

    Bill Manning sat down for a long form interview with the Vocal Minority Podcast this week. There's lots to unpack from that interview. You should listen to it in full. Part 1 herePart 2 here.

    However, the part most will be interested in is Manning clarifying his position on the CanPL. Below is the transcribed portion of that conversation. You can listen to it starting at 16:55 of part 2 of the interview. 

    BM = Bill Manning, KZK = Kristin Knowles, MH = Mark Hinkley, DF = Duncan Fletcher, TW = Tony Walsh

    KZK - CPL time!

    BM - Yes!

    KZK - Most requested topic by our listeners and readers and...of course that's how...

    BM - This has become such a hot topic

    KZK - (laughing) I wonder why! 

    BM - So tell me what you guys know about the CPL, 'cause I don't know a lot, so.

    KZK - (laughing) So this is always your argument. So this all started, this whole reason you're here and everything, started from a conversation you and I had after the President's Breakfast

    BM - Yeah, Yeah.

    KZK - ..when I asked you some questions about the CPL in terms of the comments you made about it.

    BM - Yeah.

    KZK - So, very quickly, you are for the formation of a professional league in Canada, yes?

    BM - Yes, absolutely!

    KZK - Just wanted to get that out there, just so I don't have to throw anything at you (clearly joking)

    BM - No, no, no, absolutely

    (joking not relevant to topic omitted)

    KZK - The main sticking point with all of this -- and I know it sort of feels like re-visiting -- but, we just want...your views regarding the potential of a Toronto based team

    BM - Yes.

    KZK - And you said you really want TFC, more specifically TFC2, to be part of the CPL when it happens -- cause it is going to happen. Yes, we know it's all shrouded in mystery, but it is going to happen sometime in the next year, we hope.

    BM - Yep

    KZK - And you are very specific about why you think it's good for TFC to have a club, but not someone else.

    BM - Right, so here (it) is...in a nutshell. So, the CPL, the reason they are starting this league, if you talk to Victor Montagliani, is that they want to provide more opportunity for Canadian players so that they can have more of a pool of players for the Canadian national teams, right? It invariability is going to be a younger league because the better Canadian players will play in MLS and they'll play in some of the top leagues in Europe. So, what is TFC2? It is our younger players, who are just kinda knocking on the doorstep of playing in MLS. And, so the league is going to provide, I think, great opportunities for Canadian players, but it's still not going to get the best Canadian players. And, so I say with MLSE I believe that we can provide such local talent...p;layers that come up through our academy system -- and I see what's coming up in out 98 age group and up -- that we can field what I think would be a competitive team, based mostly of Canadian players, that would play good soccer. And, so that's why I don't understand why we'd want another group to come into Toronto and compete with us.

    KZK - But, why not because they aren't going to be playing against you so your...competing for players.

    BM - But...we're already offering what they would get...for lack of better words, I think will happen is -- and look, I love the USL and the minor leagues and all that , I started my career in that and I think it's a really important part of soccer in Canada and the US. I believe we could do it well. What I want to do, when this league starts, I don't want to see this league fold three years later.

    KZK - No one wants to see that.

    BM -- I think it's really important. I think if another owner comes into Toronto I think they're going to struggle. I think it's going to be very difficult in this market - this is a...Toronto (is a) alpha city, it doesn't compare itself to Vancouver and Montreal it compares itself to Chicago and New York and L.A. -- In this city they had a number of USL teams and...the Blizzards (sic) and the Lynx and everybody else -- I used to play against the Lynx -- those teams couldn't make it. And, my biggest fear is that they're going put a team in this market and they're going to try and compete with us and it's not going to work for them.

    KZK - But, how are they competing with you? They're not playing against you.

    BM - They compete with ticket sales, they compete with sponsorships, there are different ways. And, so I guess where I struggle is I think we can deliver all of that, you know. I do. I think we can deliver all of that.

    DF - I think the main think you have with it potentially being TFC2 is that - and presumably what you do with TFC2 is that there are players coming back and forth and it's not going to be the team that...

    BM - We would pay attention to regulations and all that and Victor didn't want...part of the thing is they don't want a second team cause they don't want the league to appear minor league. But, in my opinion, fans are going to know Major League Soccer (is higher). And they've said they don't want to compete with Major League Soccer, but then they don't want to be second tier, right? One thing I've learned in all my years doing this is that fans aren't dumb and they know what the highest level is. We're not the English Premier League is. So, they know what the highest level is and then they kind of know the next tier. I think the next tier is still very good soccer and I think the Canadian Premier League can actually have good soccer teams and I see what we've put together and what we have coming up, I think we can have really good soccer. And, frankly, local because what we're doing with our academy is we're developing a lot of local players. And, eventually we want to put those players on TFC, right, first team. But, the experience that you get in the Canadian Premier League would be great.

    DF - I think that's a bit of the problem, really. I grew up supporting a very small team and part of the reality of that is that, hmm, you got a player that's doing really well and he's going to be sold on to some other bigger team. That's one thing, but, hmm, well this guys doing well and the big team called him up and you just lost him for nothing. That's a different dynamic.

    BM - But, your club got money.

    DF - Yes, but would TFC be giving money to TFC2?

    BM - No, because we've already invested in all those players. That's the thing. So, we're spending over $2-million a year on our youth development system. It's a big investment. Now, our board has made it. My original thought was to have a Canadian division of the USL, which I think would have been really intriguing because then you could have the champions of the Canadian division playing in the play-offs with the teams of the US and so on. But, look I think there's a debate about...in terms of Toronto on who would want a team. I just think from a standpoint of -- look, someone can put a team in. There not going to get 20,000 fans a game.

    KZK - I don't think they expect to get 20,000 fans a game.

    BM - (laughing) you'd be surprised on who you talk to. No, but I think...I wonder because we're still going to have TFC2, right? So, then, all of a sudden, we're going to be competing for players, we're going to be competing for sales and I think there's going to be confusion in the marketplace. So, that's why I feel very strongly that we have the perfect team to play in that league. 

    TW - Do you think mostly your feelings of it being a challenge is from a business standpoint more than anything?

    BM - I'd say no. More from a players standpoint cause we've invested a lot of money in our academy and developing players and, look, our eventual goal is to try and graduate as many players as we can to TFC. And, if along the way we could play in a Canadian league...and. look, if we don't have a team in Toronto, I'll affiliate with a team. Like, I'll take a team in one of the other cities and I'll affiliate with them somehow because it then would benefit them if I bought one of their players. That's how in England, right? The lower level clubs survive by the bigger level clubs buying their players. So, we're still going to mine the CPL, whether we're in it or not, for talent. What we want to do is we do want to protect the investment we've made in our academy players that are coming up through the system. And, a fear I would have is, you know, we have a guy and he wants to move up to another team in another league and he gets out of our funnel. And, so I kind of look at our funnel as CPL (level) and my discussions with Victor he's like, look, we're going to develop players and eventually they can play in MLS. So, I don't think from that standpoint there's competition, but it does get into competition when I look at my second team. And, the thing that was very interesting to me is that it's being run by the CFL owners. So, these aren't like soccer guys that have come out of nowhere...

    KZK - Well Paul Beirne is not a CFL guy...

    BM - No, no, but he was hired by...

    KZK - Sure, but they at least hired someone with soccer knowledge

    BM - Absolutely and Paul is good, but they have sen that soccer is a sport that  can grow and I think they have venues, they have space. But, you have the CSA, who I very much believe it's about the development of soccer in this country and then you have the CFL owners who see it as a business opportunity and they're going to want to make it work financially. And I just think...look, if there's a team here in Toronto I think it will struggle in a market like this where...it's a big town. It's a big market. Look, there might be a team that gets a couple thousand fans a game or whatever and if people like that that's fine, but I think we can put a Toronto team, our second team,and compete aganist the other cities -- Regina, Saskatchewan, wherever it is -- and we're representing Toronto.

    TW - If that were to be the case would you re-think the way that TFC2 is, like where they play, how thy're...

    BM - Yeah, ideally we would renovate Lamport (Stadium). Ideally. That's the best location, I think. We have established a very good relationship with the city of Vaughan and Ontario Soccer. We do have to do more with that little stadium up there. Last year e had a great little following, we tripled our ticket sales. It's still not where we want it to be, but we want to get it better. I would love to see us re-do Lamport, but to re-do Lamport is going to be a lot of money. Unfortunately. We manage Lamport, but it's going to be a lot of money. That is ideally the best place. BMO is too big, you know for my goal to get 4-5,000 fans a game and if we're playing in the Canadian Premier League maybe it will be more because I think there will be more attraction to the Canadian talent. But, the one thing we've found with TFC is all the surveys we've done -- (fans) don't want to see Canadian talent at the cost of winning. They want to win. Our fans want to win, right? Look if this player and this player and this player are directly even the Canadian guy we want to see, but if this guy is here and this guy is (lower) we want to see (the better player). And, I think the CPL. it's a different mission. It's about providing more opportunity for Canadian players. But, the level of play right now...it will be interesting to see if it's at a USL level or a NASL level and up because some of the guys playing in Europe if they're making good money won't come back unless they're paid good money and if they're paying really good money they're going to need big crowds, not 4-5,000 a game. They're going to need to average 10-15,000 a game. So, economics always come in. You know, it always comes in. 

    MH - Is there...a possible...I'm going to assume that the conversation is never fully dead as far as a TFC contribution to the CPL...

    BM - Yeah

    MH - ...is there a way that you can envision where TFC2, or branded as something similar, or something else completely different, I should say...

    BM - The Young Reds. I like that. The Young Reds.

    MH - ...TFC under 23...

    BM - No, I wouldn't want to call them that.

    MH - ...What I mean is they're not the 'B' team, they're the youth team. You know, if there is a way that you can still have TFC in the CPL...

    BM - Look at Monaco right now. They have 18 of their players starting are under the age of 23. and they're going to sell them all. They are....

    MH - That's been their...

    BM - Why can't we have a team that's made up of players under the age of 23, which is essentially what TFC2 is right now, that can compete very, you know, competitively in a league like that and the best of those players eventually move to MLS? Like to me that's essentially what the CPL will become. We will wind up -- if we see players develop, whether were involved or not, we're going to eventually -- as will Vancouver and Montreal will too -- we're going to want those players and we're going to pay some kind of transfer fee, just like we've done with the USL teams and the NASL teams, to get those players. So...for me, I think with our ownership with MLSE, I think we could do a lot to have a Toronto team that would work. As opposed to a stand alone team that I think would come in I think in this market would struggle. That's in my own opinion.

    DF - So when you're talking a couple times there about TFC's priority is clearly what's best for TFC...

    BM - Yeah, of course.

    DF - ...As opposed to potentially what's best for Canadian soccer, or Canadian players, or supporters of Canadian soccer in Toronto..

    BM - Yeah, yeah, yeah, right.

    DF - ...As far as the players go I look at Jay Chapman. Last year he kind of started out a little tentative, got a run of a few games and he was looking really good. Then all of a sudden you sign Armando Cooper. Now you've signed Victor Vasquez. What exactly are Jay Chapman's prospects right now? And I understand why that should be your priority for TFC, but how is this really helping Canadian players and I think you having other options is a good thing.

    BM - Well I mean if you look Jay played the full 90 against Arizona (in USL). We won 1-0, but the best will always rise to the surface. In my opinion and Jay will get his day in the sun because he's a good young talent. We have a problem in Canada if our national team players are all coming from the Canadian Premier League. That's inherently going to be a problem because the level of play won't be good enough...

    KZK - Certainly not to begin with, but the idea is that it gets there, or at least approaches it.

    BM - But, what will happen is when Jay Chapman is playing there he's just going to end up somewhere else anyway. If he's that good. I say this sincerely...I believe that what is good for TFC is good for Canadian soccer and I believe what's good for Canadian soccer is good for Toronto FC. And, that's why I support the development of a league. I just feel that we have so much more to offer if we're part of the league and if we're not part of the league...I've already been approached by a couple of people who are looking at it who want to affiliate. And, we'll wind up affiliating and we'll do some kind of direct tie that way. But, we're still going to have to have a second team to get our players good, quality games. You look (at) Nick Hagglund last year. Nick Hagglund was not...he was the fifth option on defense and he wound up playing in the USL a few games, Josh Williams gets injured, Nick is thrown into a game, does well and now we can't take him out of the line-up he's doing so well every game. He's really cemented his spot. But, that's what those second team games are for -- Alex Bono, last year, played in the USL, was actually doing really well - Quillan Roberts was ahead of him actually...

    KZK - What happened to Q. Talking of Canadian players that are no longer with TFC

    BM - But, at the end of the day we have to look at who is better, right. Q coming out of training camp 2016 went up on our depth chart ahead of Alex. And then they both were playing USL games and Alex was playing better and Alex got the call when it was time to play...when Clint got injured and then Alex clearly just rose above...

    KZK - But, Q didn't even get to play in Voyageurs Cup games

    BM - Well, because Alex was playing so much better in the USL. I say this all the time: Would you rather us have a team where I took the local player, but we're not winning and we're bad. Or, the team that's going to win. And, everyone always says I want the team that's going to win.  ...

    KZK - And I'm not going to say that I disagree with that cause sure I like winning, but -- and I admit...that I am a big proponent of Quillan Roberts. I always have been. I like him a lot...

    BM - And he's a good kid. We wanted him on the USL team this year...

    KZK - And I just feel that he's sort of one of those ones who has just been mishandled and he's no longer with the club and...

    BM - I don't know if it's mishandled. We offered him the opportunity to stay.

    KZK - To play for TFC2?

    BM - Yeah. To be the guy.

    KZK - And he chose to leave?

    BM - Yeah.

    KZK - Oh, Ok.

    BM - Look, he's a great kid. He's a great kid. And I think he's got a good future. Alex just...

    KZK - Alex is a good player. I have nothing against him.

    BM - And that was what great about TFC2 last year is that we rotated as many games as we could and Alex wound up playing better at the end of the day and that's why that came about.

    KZK - Ok.

    BM - But, he's a good kid. He just felt...look, Clint (Irwin) is only 27, turning 28. Alex is 22. and all of a sudden he was third in the depth chart and he figured hey I need to move somewhere else if I want to get up to MLS.

    DF - The other thing with the CPL...as far as supporters go...again, I fully understand you work for MLSE and kind of by extension MLS in a way. It's your job to protect your monopoly...

    BM - Thank you for understanding that (laughing)

    DF - ...similar to whenever there is talk of the NHL maybe putting a second team in the GTA...

    BM - I think I gave you the pizza shop analogy...

    DF - ... what's wrong with more pizza options? Why can't the people of Toronto have more pizza options?

    BM - I could build a chain. So you know if you have a Pizza Nova here I can build another Pizza Nova down the block.

    DF - But, what if you don't like Pizza Nova?

    BM - But, you know what, MLS is the best pizza (laughing)

    KZK - Bill, I will give you a local example. I live near two pizza places. Two different places. Two different chains. I visit both of them. Fairly equally. I give my support to both! 

    BM - I would love people to come to TFC2...

    KZK - Then move them closer! (laughing) It's almost two hours by transit.  

    BM - But, I think for me...look, for the Canadian soccer fan the more soccer the better, right? They're going to go to all kinds of soccer. I think I can provide that second level of soccer. And, who knows, let's say a CPL team came in and, who knows where they play, right? 

    KZK - Monarch Park?

    BM - Why would you go there instead of going to TFC2?

    KZK - 'Cause TFC2 is in Vaughan!

    BM - But, let's say they're in Scarborough?

    KZK - Scarborough is still closer than Vaughan.

    BM - I guess my point is it's going to be difficult to find a place to play for them as well. I think for me there's enough cities, I think, in Canada that actually would be perfect for the CPL. Where it would be the only game in down - maybe them and a CFL team, obviously. I think we're already providing that second level of soccer. That we can provide here in Canada. 

    KZK - But no one goes to see them

    BM - No, last year we sold out six games 

    KZK - What's a sell out?

    BM - 1,300. But, we did. We sold out six games. It's a low price point

    KZK - Sure, but wouldn't you rather 5,000 come see those games?

    BM - No, I would. Of course, but that's one of the things we're debating. That's why we're playing at BMO Field twice this year

    KZK - The reserve team used to play at BMO Field more

    BM - No, I know...but, it became economically not viable because it's very expensive to open up BMO Field.This year we're going to experiment a little bit...but, look, on the CPL thing it's not an easy one because I do understand people want to see more soccer. The think that I struggle with  -- I was talking to a couple of people who like, like the Galaxy. So Chivas fans were not Galaxy fans, right? Galaxy fans were not Chivas fans. In New York NYC fans are not Red Bulls fans and Red Bulls fans are not NYC fans. And New York Cosmos, which is probably a more relative example here...New York Cosmos fans are New York Cosmos fans. They're not NYC fans, NYC fans are not New York Cosmos fans. So I find it interesting that there is a different dialogue here that 'hey, we're going to be TFC fans and we're going to be CPL fans', but other markets are different. So, I found that the Orange County Blues, which is a team that plays in the USL, you know, they kind of have their own small little fan base -- maybe there's some cross over because I don't think the Galaxy pay attention to them, but I don't think the Galaxy supporters groups are supporters groups for the Orange County Blues, if I gave an example there. So, I'm just wondering is it...I think it's a good view that there's going to be more soccer. But, I'd be surprised if Inebriatti would go be a supporters group for another franchise too. I'd be surprised. But, you never know. But, I find that it's very interesting that some of these other markets there's no cross over. Or, very, very little, but yet people say 'oh, there's going to be all this cross over in this market, which I actually don't think would happen at the end of the day. 

    TW - It might be a maturity of a market thing that you're referring to. I don't know if we're at that point yet. You refer to Toronto as bing kind of a big time market...

    BM - It is. It's a big, big city.

    TW - ...it's kind of turned its nose up at small things in the past...

    BM - I mean this is a big city and I think it's why some of the USL, the USL has thrived in some of the smaller markets. It's rarely thrived in the big markets. 

    TW - On the other hand I think Toronto has matured greatly as a football town in the last couple of decades even leading into before TFC. You know you look at a big market in, I know this is a bit apples and oranges, but like a London where I support Tottenham Hotspur, but my local side is Leyton Orient, two divisions down, which would be a very, I think, fair comparison of what maybe a CPL team coming in would be to TFC. I would go to both, maybe not as fervently support Leyton, but I'd...yeah, I would go to both because the price point...

    BM - Could you speak to my friend Ivan Gazidis at Arsenal, he's saying none of his fans are going to anybody else's games...

    TW - Yeah, but those are Arsenal fans (laughing). They're a special breed...But, I think that...Now London is a very, very big city and as I said it's apples and oranges and I don't know if Toronto is quite ready for that, but I guess it would depend on what level the CPL would consider success as far as gate goes.

    BM - Right and that's a kind of a difficult thing now as you don't know...I think Victor, success for him is developing young Canadian players that can get competitive games to prepare them for future national team games. I think the CFL owners are looking at as we have stadiums that we need to fill and we can get a good business model out of soccer. I think they're coming together and they've become, you know, partners. And look again I say I think it's going to be a successful league in Canada if done properly and under the right budget, but I think there's a lot of cities that it can do really well in. Like, I think Hamilton will do great. I do. I think it will do great there.

    MH - And I'm going to be one of those people that will have season tickets to both

    (talk of Hamilton supporter scarves omitted)

    BM - (responding to a comment about an Ottawa Fury scarf) Ottawa Fury is an interesting one because they just joined the USL and they have a good owner in John Pugh and they're part of that group that owns the (junior) hockey team and the CFL team, but he's still, you know, he's not sure (about the CSL), he's not sure. It will be interesting.

    KZK - Well this is a topic in which there's never going to be a resolution in terms how you look at it and how a good swath of TFC/Canadian supporters look at it. I think, you know, you think there's room for two teams under the TFC umbrella; we think there's room for two teams regardless of who  runs them. Like...we think there's room for a CPL team even if it's not run by Toronto, but we all want good things to happen for Canadian soccer.

    BM - That's fair. If they had a team in Scarborough, if they had a team in Brampton I wouldn't care. If they had a team five minutes away? Eeh.

    KZK - Scarborough is part of Toronto, Bill (laughing)

    BM - No, I know it is but...

    KZK - Are you talking proximity?

    MH - It's a community

    BM - it's not Toronto. Like we're talking downtown Toronto

    MH - Like if you had a team in Brampton and a team in Mississauga those aren't, here not competing with one another

    BM - That's where I kind of look.

    KZK - Literally if you put a team east of Yonge Street it's Ok. No one will notice. It's all right. This is how this works here. You'll be fine. (laughing) 

    BM - So we'll see. If a team does come into this market I think it's going to be extremely difficult for them to get...I mean we're still here. We're the 800 lbs gorilla and it's going to be tough. It's going to be tough.

    KZK - Well hopefully we're still here! We're a Toronto FC podcast. What the hell are we going to do?









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