The CanPL's Sell by Date
Is the MacNaughton sale an outlier, or the first of many?
A year or so before the CanPL was launched I was invited out to share a beer with someone that was involved in the planning of the league. Don’t try and guess, it’s not someone you’d know, but it was someone that had enough insight into the plans of the league that it was worth trekking out to the Scarborough watering hole that he suggested.
It was a fun conversation (and decent curry, if memory serves) that influenced a lot of what I wrote about the league in the lead up to the launch. Back then, the most common question that would get asked about the CanPL was the one that no one wanted to consider.
“Will it fold?”
That was what seemingly everyone wanted to know. Although they often weren’t asking the question, so much as affirming their opinion.
“It will fold, right?” was what they were really saying.
I strongly believed in the project – and still do – but I struggled to address the question effectively. The challenges – travel, lack of traditional media coverage, an under-performing national team (at the time) and no history of attendance success outside of the MLS markets -- were well known. The solutions – crickets – were not.
So, much of the evening’s discussions centred around talking about what possible solutions there were to those challenges.
That night, as a second pint became three, our confidence in the league’s possibilities grew. We hadn’t unearthed ideas that were particularly original, but we did develop a confidence in our little league’s ability that could only come from a warm belly full of lager.
One particular part of the conversation stuck with me.
“What people forget,” my drinking buddy on the night said, “is that we can sell these guys.
“That’s where the real money will be, not in selling tickets.” hew added.
As stated, this isn’t new territory. In fact, it’s how 95% of the football world operates.
About 4% are the top 7 teams in the world. who just buy everything, and then there is 1% that think they are unique and can operate outside of the global football marketplace.
Some people have a name for that 1% -- Major League Soccer.
It might be too simple by half to put it that black and white, but there is truth to the idea that MLS teams tend to act in a way that isn’t in line with how most clubs in the world do, when it comes to selling players up the chain.
That may be changing now (more on that in a minute), but on that night in the pub, the thinking was that CanPL could find itself an advantage in competing with the local MLS sides if it could prove to be a league that could move players in and up. That, in turn, could serve as the primary revenue source that could make a lot of the challenges go away.
It made sense to me. And, I think, it made sense to those who were planning the CanPL’s future at the time too. So, I would write about this whenever I was faced with the question moving forward.
Flash-forward to 2022. We now have three full seasons and about 5 years of distance between that night at the pub and the reality on the ground. And, bluntly, the For Sale sign has failed to attract much interest (if it’s been hung at all).
What players are moving out have mostly done so on a free transfer this off-season. The reason for that is simple – CanPL teams failed to protect their assets. They let the player’s contracts expire, which left them open to the player’s walking to a better offer.
Now, there are two sides to this equation – the players have also chosen to allow their contract to run out. However, what that tells me is that the players were not offered a contract that provided them with the stability they needed to commit to a longer term in the CanPL. The league seems to prefer to offer budget 1 + club option contracts and the players understandably view that as a short term commitment. If they have an offer outside the league, they take it. And, because the club doesn’t have the player under an internationally recognized contract (club options are not considered legitimate in Bosman moves) , the league gets nothing for them.
It seems like CanPL is joining MLS in that 1%. Bad timing, because with MLS Next Pro on the horizon, that league might be finally joining the party when it comes to the international sale of prospects. And we’ve already seen evidence of CanPL talent going to MLSNP in Mo Farsi. More will follow. So, the CanPL needs to have a serious think here.
In fairness, we have also seen evidence this week of how offering a little bit more to the players up front can pay off in a bigger way down the line. Pacific’s Lukas MacNaughton was sold to Toronto FC for $175,000 (TFC defender Luke Singh was also loaned to Pacific as part of the deal).
That’s a great bit of business and exactly what the league should be doing. One sale is not enough though. They need to make this a priority moving forward because the truth is those challenges have only gotten more difficult.
So, if you want the CanPL to succeed you might want to cheer for MacNaughton to have a breakout season for The Reds. The players do need to do their part — MacNaughton needs to perform — but it starts with the CanPL making the changes it needs to protect its assets.
It doesn’t require a night at the pub to understand how they can do that. They just need to respect the players by offering them deals that give them some level of security and treat them with significantly more respect. If they do that the players will sign on and the club’s can get paid when they succeed.
If the league doesn’t do that the MacNaughton deal will be an outlier and we might have to start answering that question again.
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