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CanPL's problem: It's about the money, stupid.


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By: Duane Rollins

Let’s start this by making something abundantly clear: No one – literally no one – wants the CanPL to fail.  

Not me, not you, not the players, not the MLS teams, literally no one. We waited far too long for a league of our own and only want it to be successful.

The CanPL is the ultimate underdog story. It shouldn’t work. In fact, many people told us it wouldn’t work. Yet, here it is.

That love, combined with the league’s try-hard status, makes people feel the need to protect the league from criticism. It’s as if any negative word is going to cause the whole thing to come tumbling down.

That’s a dangerous attitude, as independent and engaged media is both a sign of a league’s health, as well as being useful to driving the league to make improvements to areas where they are failing.

So, if you are uncomfortable with negative information about the league becoming public you should give that some thought. Those of us that are hard on the league are doing it from a place of love.

As stated, no one wants to the league to fail.

Caveat to justify what I’m about to write out of the way…

The CanPL has a money problem. And, it’s far worse than anyone thought it would be when this thing launched. To be clear, I’m not talking about there being a danger of the league folding. The owners went into things with an understanding that they would lose money for a few years. Getting it to 2026 and seeing a World Cup bump after is what the league is working towards and there is no indication that they won’t get there.

However, a lot of the players currently in the league will not. That is, they won’t without a significant bump in the average pay. Without that, you will see a lot of younger players shooting their shot for 1-2 years before “retiring” to pursue jobs that won’t require them to eat Kraft Dinner every night with their 6 roommates in a 550sqft apartment.

A couple pieces of news today really drove that home. First was the announcement that Island Games standout Aboubacar Sissoko forgoing a return to Halifax to instead go to the USL to play for Indy 11. It was reported that Halifax made a decent offer, but it is also clear that Indy could afford to make a better one.

But, the real kicker came later in the day when Valour’s Dylan Carriero announced his retirement. At just 26, it’s awfully young to be stepping away from the game when there isn’t an injury involved. However, Carriero went to university and with a top end salary in CanPL for a player at Carriero’s level, at best, $35,000 it suddenly it becomes very difficult to justify putting off “getting a real job.”

And, that’s the best case figure. In talking to several players over the past few months, I’ve learned of some truly terrible salary figures. As always, the league is tight lipped about the money, but the numbers I consistently hear are as follows:

·       U-Sport player: $10,000

·       Domestic rookie: $10,000 to $12,500

·       Player with some previous pro experience:  $15,000 to $20,000

·       Established player: $18,000 to $25,000

·       Star domestic player: $30,000 to $35,000

·       International player $35,000 + Housing

As with any list like this there will be some outlier numbers on either end, but by in large those are the ranges that I have heard. (Note to the league: I’m happy to print any disputing figures that you wish to send.)

Look, everyone understands that this is a start-up league and no player was deluded into thinking that they were going to get rich playing in the CanPL.  They are chasing their dreams and are more than willing to accept salaries that are reasonably modest in exchange for the opportunity to play their way into a better salary, either in the league, or elsewhere.

It’s also understood that the CanPL is always going to be a league with a high churn level. Players are either going to move on or move up pretty quickly. However, the players do feel that it’s reasonable to expect a living wage. A significant amount of the league is not on that.

Sure, you might be able to live on that money for a year or two in your early 20s while you scratch the itch of trying to be a pro player. But, at those numbers – even at the higher end – it is very difficult to justify staying on for much longer that that. In practical terms, that means it’s going to be nearly impossible for a “lifer” class to emerge in CanPL.

As I’ve written before, having players that make up the core of teams and stay for several years is vital to the long-term success of the league. You need older players, like Carriero, to push and challenge the prospects that everyone is excited to see. As much as fans want to see the young guns, that middle class is arguably more important to cultivate.

And that won’t happen without an increase in salary.

It won’t be easy – no one is suggesting it will – but to start that process the league needs to first acknowledge that the need exists. Since they won’t even recognize the Professional Footballers Association Canada right now, it’s unclear if they can take that tiny step to acknowledge the problem.  

And, you know what they say: The first step is always to acknowledge that you have a problem…


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A start up league with tight budget constraints in the middle of a pandemic with empty stands and a choked off revenue stream pays low wages??  Really??  I'm glad someone is here to tell us these things.   Step one, start league, establish ownership groups/stadiums, get decent players, grow league, attract fans, make money/dont lose too much money, attract better players, more fans, more teams, better wages, better players, and it just keeps going and going.  Duane is just now realizing where in this cycle we are???  

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On 2/11/2021 at 10:16 AM, Bison44 said:

A start up league with tight budget constraints in the middle of a pandemic with empty stands and a choked off revenue stream pays low wages??  Really??  I'm glad someone is here to tell us these things.   Step one, start league, establish ownership groups/stadiums, get decent players, grow league, attract fans, make money/dont lose too much money, attract better players, more fans, more teams, better wages, better players, and it just keeps going and going.  Duane is just now realizing where in this cycle we are???  

Exactly. While we all want a league that attracts/develops talent, raises the profile of our national team, has pro/rel, and pays every player well, we are still very early in the league's lifespan. Too many teams and leagues have been established in Canada and failed, so there is nothing wrong with the league and its clubs applying the lessons that have been learned from the past, being financially conservative, and doing what they can to remain viable until the 2026 investment pays off.

Criticism is a sign of a healthy fanbase and I'm not saying the CPL has been perfect thus far. Should the CPL engage in further dialogue with the PFA? Does the draft need to lose the snake format? Should U21 minutes be increased even further? Do roster rules re: internationals be even stricter? All of these questions can be debated for hours and there is no universal answer here.

I know that he prefaces the article with the fact that he doesn't want it to fail and that's great - no one does. But I just don't see how this kind of financial criticism while we face the prospect of another season of empty seats is deserved.

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The text above doesn't fully explain why these numbers are so much of a bombshell, if accurate. The key here is that they imply that a large underspend was already happening at launch in 2019 relative to what was generally believed to be the salary cap at that point (i.e. 750k), which means that instead of $32.6k as a mean salary for a 23 man roster (not great but slightly better than working a regular minimum wage job financially with scope for EI on top) it may have been closer to $21.7k pre-COVID and that could be down to $17.4k now after the 25% cut last year:

 

 

 

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  • 7 months later...

Salary cap numbers were discussed above; I believe the CPL's cap numbers include coaching staff salaries (sensible and necessary to get some of the less well-financed owners to be able to come to the table). That explains some discrepancies between the $750K figures and the approximately $500K per team that players were getting paid.

PFA is just incorrect about 50/50 numbers (disappointing, but they are arguing with members at heart) being typical for leagues at this level (which I'd describe as "semi-professional with strong aspirations", like a lot of other leagues in CONCACAF). Such leagues need to focus on revenue generation and administration first; grounds don't maintain themselves, you need ticket sales and security and all the rest. Yes, to raise the quality of play the league needs to bump its salaries as rapidly as reasonably possible. But first, the money needs to be there, and this conversation would be very different if we'd had three years of growth instead of one year of growth and two years of drying out on the vine.

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Essentially, a lot of the criticism of the league's finances is coming from people without a lot of exposure to the professional game, certainly very little to the business side, who are using these issues to build social media clout or push their newsletter or whatever. I would love for there to be more investors-qua-investors who were interested in making a buck from the league, rather than personal brand-building, because building clubs as successful business is the way to build them to last, for the long term. But they don't exist right now; in many cases owners have gotten involved either as vanity projects or as fans, and capital raising has been woefully underemphasized. 

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Fans and vanity projects described 99% of all football owners including Man City and PSG. Even the American businessmen behind Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man U would be lost without TV money -arguably even they aren't doing great if you ask the supporters. I don't know who the top businessperson in the world would be, but insert that person without TV money and their club is going to be shit/league.

If you have enough capital, you might aspire to be the Belgium of the Americas, human trafficking footballers from poor countries, but that capital is going to come from your pocket. And you will need to really beat the odds to make money long-term on the buy/sell game. Develop and sell also seems like a bit of a fool's errand from my year's of observing the Whitecaps -even $20m for Davies can pay for all the youth investment over the years.

Give me wealthy idiots who want to waste money in football. I'll take it! I would argue the current CPL bunch are not idiots and have tried to deal with the TV angle in the most realistic manner possible to allow the league to survive for 10 years. But make a buck from the league? I guess so if it goes back into infrastructure, but I don't want any owners taking money out. If you want that, go buy a utility or a bank.

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18 hours ago, youllneverwalkalone said:

Fans and vanity projects described 99% of all football owners including Man City and PSG. 

No. No, it does not, especially in smaller clubs but also larger ones. Football is a business, and with a few tiny exceptions, successful businesses (those who spend to grow revenue, not for the sake of spending) are the ones that stay on the field. What is noticeable about vanity projects is that they burn until the owner gets bored or the money runs out, which happens very quickly, usually boredom. 

The same applies to North American professional sports more generally, only moreso: there are plenty of avenues for vanity on these shores, and notably a money-hungry amateur sports structure (especially in the NCAA) that lets you play "owner" (booster/donor) very cheaply with huge crowds.

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