The news that the CSB has bought York United and is now controlled more or less by the league has many Canadian soccer fans worrying about the financial viability of their league and if it will last.
While all leagues go through rough financial patches I think it’s safe to say that fans should be a little worried. York had one of the wealthiest owners in the Baldassarra family and even they decided to leave the game.
Now a lot could be said about it just being a one-off fluke and that the rest of the league may be strong and may even be close to making money in some cases it really depends. This is all hypothetical here as well. Aside from Valour, no team releases their financial numbers.
The first team to leave the CPL was FC Edmonton, they left for a number of reasons. The team itself had existed since 2010. That team was owned by the Fath family and played in various leagues. First the NASL, then USL, then finally the CPL until the Fath family decided that enough was enough and they were out. The team had racked up millions of dollars in debt throughout its 13-year existence and it did not look like things would improve anytime soon. Attendance was down significantly to barely over 1000 people on average in the 2022 season. This could be blamed on a lack of advertising, a bad stadium atmosphere or just bad owners who did not care. In the end, though the team is gone and there isn’t any more CPL being played in Edmonton.
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York United faces many of the same problems as FC Edmonton did. They averaged 1200 people per game in the 2022 season which is not much more than Edmonton had. They have a fairly poor stadium and stadium atmosphere. Now this could be due to the name of the team, many people in Toronto won’t support a team unless it’s a “Toronto” team and while technically York United does play in Toronto the average person isn’t going to care. They will just go support the richer and flashier Toronto FC. It could be down to a lack of knowledge about the team. It was always going to be hard to make York United stand out in Toronto’s very crowded sports market, especially when there is already a pro team in Toronto in the shape of Toronto FC who play in a much nicer stadium.
While I do think that a change in ownership might be needed for York, I think the new owners (once found) will make significant changes to the team, I think everything is on the table here from a name change to moving the team to a different city even. To survive in the crowded Toronto sports market will be challenging unless they start winning championships and at the current rate they are going that isn’t looking likely.
Mark Noonan who is the commissioner of the league said “We collectively agreed it is best to find new owners for York United to help this club further blossom into what we know it can be: a world-class organization befitting of the soccer-mad community in the York Region. In the meantime, it’s business as usual.” Fans in York shouldn’t really notice a difference until a new owner is found.
Many people will point to early MLS days and say “that league had teams fold early on, but now MLS is viable and popular” and that is certainly true. MLS had teams fold and has grown beyond that into a very viable league, and has even placed new teams in former markets that folded. It’s just hard to directly compare the two.
York United will ultimately survive in one way or another it’s just yet to be seen what that will look like. For the rest of the league, I think they should be okay. Attendance is substantial enough and is growing in most markets that it should last. The key is getting the markets right the first time. It doesn’t look good to potential new owners to have teams folding. If the league can make it to the 2026 World Cup in Canada it should be fine and should be around long-term.
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