Noonan: CPL Owners Probably ‘$125 Million’ In The Hole, But Heading In Right Direction
Canadian Premier League commissioner Mark Noonan has opened up about the league’s early losses as it digs out the proverbial trenches of a sustainable professional soccer league for Canada.
Speaking with Global News following his first full season in charge, the CPL’s commissioner discussed expansion plans, finances, the implementation of a divisional system, and much more in a fairly candid chat.
Looking back, the 2023 CPL season was a successful one for the league, which introduced a new expansion side out west whilst continuing to experiment (as promised) with the likes of a a new playoff system, though flagbearers Forge FC continued to dominate with their fourth playoff championship win from the league’s first five seasons.
The league’s basemark metrics are on the rise: attendance was up 19% over the prior year, with the league also breaking its own records for merchandise sales, concession sales, and national local sponsorship incomes.
That isn’t to say it is becoming a cash cow, however. Far from it: Noonan estimated that CPL owners are ‘probably $125 million in the hole’ after having dug the trenches to launch a professional top flight soccer league in a first world country that didn’t have one to call its own.
Much like we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, those early investors are banking on not only a consistent growth in fan interest – something which hosting the 2026 World Cup is expected to boost – but that their own franchise value will expand as the league grows its corporate side, aiding in the continual increases to year-over-year revenue growth from club operations and, yes, larger prize pools too.
These aren’t alarm bells ringing: the league and its investors knew the opening years would see them operating at a loss.
“We’re still a startup in our sixth year with two years of pandemic,” expands Noonan on the matter. “You have to invest and you have to feed a startup to get it to the point where it’s healthy.”
The commissioner’s state of the league address already revealed plans plans to add two more teams in 2025 and at least a further two in 2026, with the commissioner stating that things were particularly moving forward in Quebec, where there were multiple ownership groups who have reached the point where they’ve now signed NDAs.
The commissioner has also made it clear he’d like to see Canada’s top flight return to Edmonton, where what had been the league’s most storied club shut its doors a year prior. It’s history, however, had weighed it down with pre-existing debt. The new venture will be from the ground up, but only when the right checks and balances have been put in place, including a better stadium solution than the long-serving Clarke Stadium.
He also says that groups in Saskatchewan (where the league also learned not to announce a team prior to securing a stadium ground), Kelowna (which is already locked-in ownership-wise, but they’re getting things in place before going public), the Maritimes (where Halifax has proven a success story, but feels like an island on its own out east), and the Greater Toronto Area (which Noonan suggests could support multiple CPL teams) are all in various stages of advanced discussion.
“Announcements to come,” teased the commissioner.
The perennial log jam of the CPL has proven to be viable stadium venues, with the league preferring new expansion clubs be the primary tenant, or at least have a suitable venue with a pitch that doesn’t have visible lines from other sports.
There’s some wiggle room there, with a potential Laval team being cleared to use Stade Telus as a temporary ground while things are put in place for a permanent home, akin to York United playing from York Lions Stadium.
Noonan also mentions that the modular stadium facilities seen in Halifax (which has put forth concrete plans for a permanent stadium) and Vancouver FC (who’s owners, SixFiveSports, are in the modular stadium business) represent good paths to take.
“You don’t need a half-a-billion-dollar stadium like they’re building in the U.S. right now,” said Noonan, who himself is a former MLS and US Soccer Federation executive who remains well in-tune to the developments to his southernly neighbours.
It is a long road for the league ahead, with the Canadian Premier League pivoting and adapting in efforts to differentiate in a competitive sporting market.
“It’s getting a little better but we’re a long way away from clubs making money,” he reflects, stating that this is an expectation for a young league like the CPL, and that they are on the right path.
The recent sale of York United to a Mexican ownership group has helped increase the league’s asset value following a record-breaking but undisclosed sale fee, with the new owners looking set to bring in Mexican business and Liga MX ties with them, too. Despite what Noonan describes as ‘world-class’ backing, those new owners aren’t expecting any kind of early return on their investment, either.
“I think if you average all the [MLS] teams together, they still lose money today. But their last franchise [San Diego] went for half-a-billion dollars and they have billion-dollar valuations,” notes Noonan.
As the league grows so to are the club’s front offices, who are learning the ways of selling players as along the developmental pipeline. Cavalry has proven particularly astute, selling Goteh Ntignee for a league-record transfer this year, the latest in a growing line of player moves to both Europe and MLS.
While the 2023 Canadian Premier League proved to be publicly quiet on the union front – particularly as the league and PFA Canada reached a representation agreement ahead of this calendar year – the commissioner also reveals they’ve started the process of collective bargaining, a significant step for a professional sports league.
Noonan had said from the get-go that a professional sports league needs a relationship with labour, which was a sharp shift from his predecessor David Clanachan.
As for what’s to come next? Beyond the targeted expansion from coast-to-coast, Noonan also reiterated that the league will adopt East and West divisions to ease travel burdens on clubs. There isn’t a clear timeline on this, but one imagines that will take place within the next few years.
With Canada helping host the FIFA Men’s 2026 World Cup, fans ought to buckle up: these next few calendar years are going to be an interesting time for fans of domestic soccer.
Quote Source: Global News