Calm, Collected: York United Set For ‘Business As Usual’ Following Sale To CSB
When the news came that the Baldassarra Family had sold York United to Canada Soccer Business, social media became a veritable bouncing board of theories, discourse, and speculation as to the club’s stability.
The York United leadership has now opened up a dialogue with fans to shed some light on the situation, with Club President Angus McNab and the team communications VP Eoin O’Callaghan joining the Stand Up For The Blue And Green podcast to discuss the sale of the club and assuaging concerns that there was turmoil going on behind the scenes.
The tone and message from the duo is that York United’s transitionary sale to CSB is a pragmatic one that, importantly, is not indicative of an ‘end of days’ type situation like fans saw with FC Edmonton, but rather a necessary platform for future growth.
Financial Issues: Never The Case
There was plenty of quick speculation that the alleged ‘deep pockets’ of the Baldassarra family had run dry when it comes to team finances, with one widely-shared (at least, in CPL circles) tweet suggesting that it was financial issues which led to the original owner’s exit. Eoin O’Callaghan challenged the tweet, however, stating that the club had not and does not find itself in the midst of any financial issues, full stop.
“That was never even mentioned anywhere, in any discussion. It was never mentioned anywhere, be it commissioner Noonan’s discussion with all of the members of the organization, nor in any official correspondence. Then that obviously grows legs and social media kind of takes that and brings it in a different direction, and so that just yesterday that was surprising.”
Club Operations Are ‘Business As Usual’, Says York
Both York United and Canada Soccer Business have entered this transitionary phase with plenty of optimism in regards to finding a new buyer for the team. From a club operations standpoint, McNab and O’Callaghan say nothing will change with day-to-day duties.
“It’s business as usual. The difference is [Angus] makes a different phone call on a Monday morning to a different phone number in terms of that dialogue and conversation. Everything else surrounding the club continues in the exact same way.”
The club will continue discussions with the league office for its interim business plan while a new owner is found, but stresses that the long-term goals are still there: there are long-term ‘foundational pieces’ still being set, like the search for a permanent stadium solution. More on that later.
The duo state that the atmosphere within the front office is good, and sources that we’ve reached out to have validated that statement. In fact, most of the Nine Stripes employees we’ve reached out to view the sale as quite a positive move.
“I think people want to maybe ring the death knell a little bit and the stamp on grave,” said O’Callaghan on the doom-and-gloom comments that came with the sale news. “Occasionally there is that perspective within the domestic game in this country, I find there are people waiting in the long grass for moments of uncertainty and instability, and they’re the first people to comment on it and say ‘I told you so’.”
Having written a few thousand pieces on the CPL, that’s something we can certainly confirm – but O’Callaghan says that York United is a ship resting well above the water line, and it isn’t listing.
“All of this is going to be just a teeny teeny part of the season. Ultimately, when you are want to get to, everything is in the rearview mirror at that stage, and that’s kind of the motivation right now, and so the objectives and the goal doesn’t change.”
So No, This Isn’t FC Edmonton Again
The demise of FC Edmonton is a fresh memory in the hearts of Canadian Premier League fans from coast-to-coast, and that death knell started when the league was forced to take over operations of a rudderless club who’s owner ran out of money. Angus McNab distances himself from that situation strongly, describing FC Edmonton and York United’s situations as being ‘night and day’.
“We’re not piecing together a roster, we’re not asset stripping what we have and distributing it around the league. We have a good roster that when we look at it, and we look at how we’ve build in the offseason, we’re still very, very comfortable and very, very happy with the players we’ve brought in,” says McNab.
This transition from the Baldassarra Family to CSB was also much more transparent: The Eddies owner had set sail at the start of the 2021 CPL season, with the league quietly assuming operations and club owners like the Baldassarras chipping in to cover team expenses. This time around, York United’s owner transition came transparently as it happened, and evidently for much different reasons than FC Edmonton.
Still Cooking Up A Stadium
It’s now been over a year since it was revealed that the Woodbine Entertainment Group had been working with York United to allocate space for a soccer-specific stadium, something the Nine Stripes have been aiming to secure right from the get-go.
That’s a task that has occupied plenty of effort from Angus over the last year, with the league also bringing in Marni Dicker to help with infrastructure growth – someone McNab reveals has been helping with Woodbine for some time now.
The club remains in positive discussions regarding the Woodbine location, with the search for a permanent stadium solution still well underway. McNab mentions that ‘everything is on the table’ when it comes to finding it, but it sounds like Woodbine remains the big focus for now – it’s just not the only place under consideration.
“They want it to remain a community asset, and they want it to remain something that represents the area and can be driven forward,” says McNab, who isn’t tempering the club’s search for a permanent home.
Why Did The Baldassarras Bow Out?
While when the Baldassarra family began its exit discussions remains unknown, Angus McNab states that the club founders’ exit sparked when it became clear that the team needed to go a different direction and, given that the Baldassarra family’s primary business isn’t sports, it made sense for them to hand over the keys to a new buyer.
“This is an industry of its own right that warrants for time and attention, and it’s not their core business. It’s that simple. I think when you look at it, and you look at what the conditions for success are and moving forward, it’s, it’s just about how do we turn this into the club that it can be? They know land, they know real estate, they know all of these aspects that can play a role within the success of a club, but it’s not the principal nuts and bolts of running, owning, and living being in a football club day-to-day. It’s better that’s in the hands of someone that is there full time wake-up and go-to-sleep, and not a distraction.”
McNab describes the Baldassarra family’s exit as a very amicable decision that gives the club a strong foundation to move forward from.
“There’s always the element that we’re looking for the smoking gun to be a big gigantic reason as to why this has changed – and sometimes the timing is just right for people to want to do something different,” adds O’Callaghan. “I think it’s the right time for someone else to come in here.”
“The Baldassarras were absolutely necessary in starting this club and committing so much to getting the club off the ground. Now it’s going to be someone else’s turn, the same way that other clubs have gone through changes and the league has gone through changes in terms of leadership.”
What Of The New Owners
If new owners were ready to step in immediately, the transfer wouldn’t have involved the CSB. However, both parties felt it was best that the CSB assume operations as York United prepares for its next chapter. Who steps up to the plate, however, remains to be seen.
“I think you’ll look at most sports investments around the world, it’s either someone that would like it to become their core business and their principal investment and passion, or its it’s someone that is running this as part of a multiple group and structure,” said McNab. O’Callaghan believes the days of an owner sitting behind the desk for 35 years are long gone, with modern football seeing much more movement in that regard.
Neither the CSB nor York United offered a timeline on when they expect to find a new buyer. When the Montreal Alouettes were sold to the CFL back in 2019, it took about six months for that league to transition to the club to a new buyer. While each sale is unique, a similar timeline would be seen as a hefty success.
The Elephant In The Empty Room
There’s no bones about it: Canada Soccer Business and the club’s future owner have a conundrum on their hands when it comes to getting butts in seats. The team’s first year saw York United average 2,723 fans (then lowest in the league), with the team then undergoing a pandemic-forced bubble season and ever-dwindling numbers since, despite a total club brand. In 2022, York United had managed just about 1,250 fans on average, while last week saw a sub-one-thousand number of fans attend a rainy weekend match at York Lions Stadium.
“I think we’re not where we want to be, no two ways about it,” admits McNab. “I think that you look at the conditions and what we face. I think when we look back…we didn’t have the conditions for success. It wasn’t established as we need to, and things where it wasn’t what was going to drive this club on.”
Since the club don’t own the stadium they currently play from, there’s a lot of matchday experience factors that are beyond their control. That puts a damper on the enticement factor for fans, especially in an entertainment market as crowded as Toronto – a place where the club has yet to make a significant dent, even after pivoting its identity from being strictly York Region to also including the city proper.
“To market a club in Toronto, the dollars and cents you have to spend is astronomical to cut through. It’s not the same as Halifax. We’re not doing a deal with the city where we’re the only show in town. We know that we have to get better. I’m not saying it’s the absolute magic bullet, and ‘hey put a championship there and the stands are full’, but there’s a lot more that goes into it. We’ve got to tweak things, and continue to tweak things, to grow that attendance.”
Bottom Line: “We’re Not Going Anywhere”
Fans worried that York United’s club rights might be moved elsewhere take solace in the duo’s statement that the club isn’t going anywhere. The season plans are unchanged, club operations haven’t been impacted, and the club’s long-term plans like a permanent stadium ground remain the same.
“We’re just in a place now where we can examine that in a plan pretty forensically with the league and look at the dollars and cents that need to go with them, and present that to work with any new ownership group coming in. That gives us the best conditions for success,” adds McNab.
Embarking on the club’s fifth season saw a frustrating week on the pitch for York United, who played three matches in seven days and lost two of them. If the tide can turn on the pitch, Angus hopes to see that reflected with a bump in the YLS attendance numbers.
“We need some winning momentum to do some things there in the GTA. Look at it with the Leafs. Winning teams get the buzz going. TFC, when they were winning a couple of years back, you see the buzz around the place, and you see everything going. Winning teams change things. We’ve got to do better on the field, because that’s what keeps us in the news cycle without spending dollars.”
The club has secured passage to a tasty quarter-final knockout cup clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps, something that ticket agents are already ringing fans about. The environment at York Lions Stadium was electric when CF Montreal came to town in 2019, and the club is hoping a another CPL-vs-MLS matchup can bring out an influx of footy fans.
“We hope that people come and take this in and see it, because that then builds our email database that has massive impact on things there. We want to grow this.”
With a club rebrand, a pandemic, and an ownership change occurring in the team’s first five years, there’s been a lot of pivoting as York United seeks to carve out a path to sustainable success in the city of Toronto. It hasn’t gotten everything right, but the bottom line is that it isn’t going anywhere, either: York United is here to stay.