My last post on the Canadian Premier League, I discussed key factors in making the Canadian Premier League a viable and firm professional sports option. This time, I look at my hometown of Winnipeg, and why the Canadian Premier League would fit perfectly like a goalkeeper’s glove this time around if all the ingredients are in place at a possible 2018 kickoff.
A city of approximately 718,000 (793,000 in the greater metropolitan area (GMA) ), Winnipeg has grown since its population of 627,400 (677,000 GMA) when the old Canadian Soccer League played its final season in 1992.
So why now? Why would professional soccer work this time in Winnipeg, compared to 1992?
Let’s look at some factors.
The first is Winnipeggers understand soccer more now and have been supportive of big games when played here. Over 28,000 showed up in May of 2014 for an international friendly between the Canadian and United States women’s soccer team. Meanwhile, the FIFA Women’s World Cup was a huge success here, attracting large audiences during June 2015.
Another case for a successful Canadian pro soccer team in Winnipeg: the possible backing of two heavy hitters: The Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) (who own the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets), according to Canadian soccer blogger Duane Rollins. While I question the management decision of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, at times with their football operations, having a playable field with Investors Group Field is critical for the new Canadian Premier League team. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers Football Club get much-needed dates, outside of Manitoba Bisons football, Winnipeg Rifles, and the odd concert. Factor in around an additional 7-10 games yearly at 2,500-4,500 Average per Canadian Premier League game (estimation) gives some modest financial muscle for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While it would be nice to sell out Investors Group Field for a Canadian Premier League game, in the beginning, having a healthy crowd to the games is critical in encouraging Winnipeggers in coming out.
If TNSE is involved, it will add some marketing oomph to a brand new team. Ever since the Winnipeg Jets have returned to Winnipeg since 2011, True North’s branding of the team has been remarkable. They are worth $350 million US and have increased their market value by 20% since they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-2011. You can’t go anywhere in Winnipeg without knowing what the Jets logo is. With TNSE scheduled to open up a downtown square, similar to Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square, having a soccer team to broaden its sports empire and attracting a larger demographic of Winnipeg sports fans would not hurt given the changing demographics of Canadian sports.
However, to ensure the future success of pro soccer in Winnipeg, some things will have to be addressed.
First, as I have previously on this blog and social media, you need a supporters club. I won’t go too much into that as I have discussed it and made a hard case for it. You just can’t attract suburban soccer moms from bedroom communities like West St. Paul.
My second point is the need to get our local media to embrace fully the possibilities of what a Canadian Premier League can do for Winnipeg. While Winnipeg has produced some of the most well-known soccer media personalities in Canada (Bobby McMahon with his work with Fox Sports World and Rogers Sportsnet, to Jerrad Peters from the Winnipeg Free Press), the challenge is going to ensure the club has a mainstream media presence amongst a rabid hockey town. Having dedicated reporters from both the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun would help. Winnipeg’s sports radio station TSN 1290, by going after radio broadcast rights along with a weekly phone in should engage Winnipeg Canadian Premier League supporters. Local television rights would be useless, considering if there is a national broadcaster showing all Canadian Premier League games.
But perhaps one last challenge is let’s face it; Winnipeggers are cheap. We are cheaper than cheap. Winnipeggers want a bargain. We flock to places like Dollarama, Dollar Tree, and Giant Tiger searching for deals (try going to the Dollarama at Portage and Donald daily). If Canadian Premier League ticket prices are affordable (For example 11 games for Ottawa Fury fall season tickets are as low as $96.00 for the supporters group section; $137.39 for the regular adult section), then that’s a bonus to get extra butts in the seats between May through October.
It’s not going to be a slam dunk. But this not 1992. It’s 2016. Lots changed. Demographics, the Internet, and globalization have helped spread “The Beautiful Game,” across Canada and here in Winnipeg.