State Of The League: Eight Big Things The CPL Commissioner Revealed
This week saw Canadian Premier League commissioner Mark Noonan reveal plenty about what’s what’s been cooking behind the scenes.
The league’s second-ever commissioner took to OneSoccer to discuss the state of the league with Andi Petrillo, touching on everything from expansion plans, current clubs, experiment with league rules, and much more.
Without further ado, here’s eight big things touched on by Mark Noonan:
Where is the CPL looking at expanding to?
When it comes to where Mark Noonan feels the Canadian Premier League needs to expand to, the province of Quebec was top of the list. This is no change in the league’s modus operandi, with the original league commissioner David Clanachan having said the league was close with multiple groups in 2019, a statement echoed by Quebec Soccer President Pierre Marchand. That never materialized, but it’s tough to have a Canadian league that doesn’t capture real estate in La Belle province.
“It’s a place where we need to have a team,” echoes Noonan, explicitly earmarking Quebec City and Laval as potential areas. Also still on that list for expansion is the Greater Toronto Area, another item that has been discussed before. Here, Noonan believes that areas like Mississauga, Brampton, and Vaughan could sustain teams if the right partnerships and stadium conditions are met.
“We need to get facilities built, and we need to have the right ownership groups. Without those two things, we can’t even then start talking about community and municipality involvements. We need the right ownership and the right stadium situations in order for us to become successful.”
“There’s a number of markets in play right now, but we’re going to expand when we have the conditions that are necessary to be successful. Whether that’s going back to Edmonton or these other markets I mentioned, without the right place to play, the right ownership, and the right community support, we’re not going to do it.”
Where Does Noonan Expect The CPL To Be By The World Cup?
Noonan made no bones about it: when the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup comes to Canada, he’ll be disappointed if the Canadian Premier League isn’t rested at twelve teams. That’s perhaps a few numbers down from early numbers when the league launched pre-pandemic, but still quite a healthy margin of growth at nearly double the teams the CPL launched with back then.
“I think that’s very realistic, but we’re only going to expand when we’re ready,” said Noonan, indicating that he’s not going to make any rash decisions to reach that figure ahead of World Cup fever gripping the nation.
Twelve teams is getting quite close to the number of clubs which the original commissioner suggested might lead to a second division with promotion and relegation between the two, though this kind of format is something Noonan has yet to comment on himself.
Based on his previous experience with the USSF and MLS, he also notes that things up north take longer to take flight when it comes to getting stadium situations sorted.
“Getting things built in Canada is harder, certainly hardly than you see in the US, where municipalities are throwing money at professional sports teams. Up here it’s harder, it has to be much more thoughtful,” he says, though he also brought Marni Dicker as an executive vice president of infrastructure and chief legal officer. She’s now hard at work helping York with Woodbine stadium location, Halifax with their own permanent stadium grounds, and other prospective markets, too.
An Update On Saskatoon And A Potential Return to Edmonton
It’s now been over two years since the Canadian Premier League gave expansion rights to Saskatchewan, with a group helmed by Alan Simpson still working with getting the municipality onboard with a soccer-specific stadium at Prairieland Park. The largely publicly-funded venture has taken a long while to get off the ground, and now finds itself embroiled in a lawsuit with former ownership group leader Joe Belan.
“There’s been some issues with the regional partnership group not getting along with eachother, and that’s something we’re not involved with between those two,” says Noonan, who mentioned that some positive progress has still been made.
“That’s part of the equation: You have to have the stadium, but you also have the local ownership group. Until that gets sorted out…we have to help sort that out. You sort that out, there’s a chance that Saskatoon comes online.”
Moving westwards into Alberta, Noonan has echoed his firm belief that the city of Edmonton has the right market to support a professional soccer team despite having to pull the plug on FC Edmonton. If the municipality can aid the league in a proper stadium ground that can have the club schedule as a primary tenant and sell suites, the project becomes a lot more economically viable.
“One of my dreams is to have Alphonso Davies join a group and bring the CPL back to Edmonton in a purpose-built building, that the community comes together with us in a public-private partnership,” said Noonan. “I’d say hang in there, because we believe in the market. The market is not a problem. They’re not the problem. We just need the right ownership as well as the right facility to play in.”
Touching On The Labour Dispute
The Canadian soccer landscape has been dominated by headlines from the national team’s pay equity dispute with Canada Soccer, which has brought Canada Soccer Business into parlance and, with that, a lens on the CPL which receives operational funding that some believe should be kept for the national teams.
For Noonan, he sees the bright side on what has become a highly public and scrutinized debate.
“It’s good news and bad news, right? Five years ago, nobody cared. The good news is that there’s something to care about right now. The bad news that labour disputes are sometimes very difficult, very public, and very emotional. To be clear, we’re not at all directly involved in this.”
Noonan hopes that a solution to the labour disagreement is found soon, stating that soccer needs to compete against all of the other sports in a country where baseball, basketball, and hockey claim significant chunks of the consumer base.
“I think soccer can be the number one sport in ten years across every single metric…if we get our house together and we’re all aligned moving forward,” he says.
The Union Update
The current commissioner has had a markedly different approach to unions than his predecessor, who stonewalled and delayed discussions with the then-prospective players union. When Noonan arrived to the post, he stated that a professional sports league needs to have a relationship with its labour, and took a much more open stance to the unionization of the league’s athletes.
The league voluntarily recognized the union under Noonan’s guidance, with the league also raising the salary cap for 2023. The collective bargaining process itself has yet to begin, but Noonan isn’t shying away from the moment.
“That’s where it sits,” says Noonan. “We look forward to that, and making sure that we have players that are being treated fairly and helping us grow the game. People don’t care about leagues, they care about players, they care about clubs, they care about their communities. We need to make sure we’ve got a productive relationship with our labour.”
On The Introduction Of Multiple Champions League Berths
The restructuring of Concacaf’s premier continental tournament will see two Canadian Premier League clubs granted entry into it each year, with this year set to see the regular season champion and the North Star Shield winner earn spots. Forge made history by qualifying for the tourmament through the wayside Concacaf League in 2021, facing Cruz Azul – a big jump in profile from some of the talented but lesser known teams like Municipal Limeno and Arcahaie FC.
“It’s going to give us a measuring stick for our league when we go and play against the best clubs in the region,” says Noonan.
“For a league that’s going into its fifth season, to have that measuring stick is huge. We’re going to have to make some accommodations for those teams to ensure that we are competitive with leagues that have been around for 20, 30, 40, or 100 years. That’s going to be a great challenge for Costa and his team, and a great challenge for ownership groups, but the nice thing about being a young league is that we aren’t stuck: we can make changes.”
The CPL: An Experimental League
The topic of being flexible became a talking point with Noonan, with the first full season under his guidance already seeing a new salary cap, expanded playoffs, and an alteration to the club’s international roster rules.
“We’re going to continue to work as a league to evolve and develop, and create a really differentiated product on the field,” he says.
While he didn’t go into too many details on further changes will come, he did say that the league will work with its qualified clubs to schedule items around any Champions League runs – it’s simply something they’ll have to address head-on.
“We’re a young league, and we should be really to try some things that perhaps some of the more traditional leagues aren’t able to do.”
What’s on the menu for possible alterations? The league can be flexible with quite a bit: roster rules, playoff format (again), the schedule length. He’s okay with the CPL to be a bit of guinea pig in regards to testing changes.
“We’re going to look at everything,” says Noonan, “we can’t be afraid to experiment. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to what it was, but if you don’t try things, you’ll never know.”
Could ‘Designated Players’ Come To The CPL? Maybe.
When asked by Andi Petrillo if the league could adopt a designated player (or similar) approach to bring in a higher caliber of players to markets, Noonan didn’t shy away from the possibility.
“We’re going to explore anything and everything that helps us improve our product. At the end of the day, you can’t fake that. Whether that’s a modified designated player rule, and adjustment to get more young players in the league, we’re not going to be afraid of looking at every single opportunity to improve our product. I don’t have all the answers for you right now, but that’s why we’ve brought in a guy like Costa, who’s a proven builder of things in this game. We’re going to continue to evolve this league.”
It’s clear that Noonan – who had held an executive role with MLS during its days – is banking on decades or experiment with the North American soccer market to help the Canadian Premier League not just grow, but pivot and be malleable when it needs to. What works and what doesn’t remains to be seen, but he’s evidently keen to shake things up to see what might stick.
His full state of the league address with OneSoccer can be found below: