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Canadian pro soccer in jeopardy

The Story

The future for professional soccer in Canada doesn't look bright. "In all honesty, it's a bit depressing," says Vancouver 86ers goalie Paul Dolan in this 1992 TV clip. With players in the Canadian Soccer League making an average of just $7,500 per season and CSL teams losing money year after year, it looks like this is going to be the league's last season. The news report looks at why CSL games fail to draw Canadian crowds. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1992
Guest(s): Paul Dolan, Bob Lenarduzzi, Sam Saundh
Reporter: Barry MacDonald
Duration: 4:04

Did You know?

• There have been a number of professional soccer leagues throughout Canada's history. One of the earliest was the Interprovincial Professional Football Association, formed in Ontario and Quebec in 1913. It started out with six teams, but was down to only four by the end of 1913. It changed its name to Eastern Football League in the fall of 1913, and only lasted until the fall of 1914.

• One of the more high-profile leagues in Canada's history was the Eastern Canadian Professional Soccer League (ECPSL), which lasted from 1961 to 1966. (See the additional clip in this topic Canada creates new soccer league.) It was also strictly an Ontario and Quebec league, and there were four or five teams involved each season. The league's president was Harold Ballard, who became better known for being an owner of hockey's Toronto Maple Leafs.

• Steve Stavro, also known later for being an owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as the Toronto Raptors basketball team, owned one of the ECPSL teams called Toronto City. In a 2006 article in the online soccer magazine Turf Monster, he said of the ECPSL years: "It really was a classic time for soccer in Toronto - people loved it because they saw the world's best players and we had great crowds." The crowds gradually dwindled, according to the article, and the league folded in 1966.

• Another notable league was the North American Soccer League. It lasted from 1968 to 1984. While it was primarily an American league, over its history it included five Canadian franchises from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.

• The CSL, discussed in this clip, did fold in 1992. It had been playing since 1987. According to Keeping Score: Canadian Encyclopedia of Soccer, it was "the first attempt to form a truly national league in Canada." There were teams from Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Nova Scotia, and several Ontario teams: Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, London and North York. The Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal teams continued to exist by moving to the American Professional Soccer League When the league folded.

• Many reasons are often cited for pro soccer's lack of sustained popularity here. One is that soccer's infrequent goals make it too slow for Canadians, who are used to the faster pace of hockey. In 2006, the Toronto Star's Dave Perkins also pointed to ethnic loyalties: "Pro soccer has never worked here because soccer fans are loyal to their home countries." And in 2005, he cynically summed up the issue saying, "For whatever reasons, pro soccer, which has been tried a million times, doesn't go here."

• Pro soccer has been somewhat more successful in the U.S., but it still has failed to take off in the way people have expected it to, considering the high numbers of American kids who play recreational soccer. A 1994 World & I article said: "As a professional sport, soccer ranks far behind football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey in U.S. spectator appeal. Indeed, every twenty years or so, the soccer faithful predict that the game is about to take off in the United States. But reality proves otherwise."

• Currently (2006), Canada is home to the Canadian Professional Soccer League, which is primarily an Ontario/Quebec league that was launched in 1997. And the U.S.-based United Soccer Leagues contains three Canadian professional teams - the Toronto Lynx, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact.

• In 2006, it was announced that a new professional soccer team called the Toronto FC (football club) would be added to the roster of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2007. MLS is a U.S.-based pro league that began in 1996. Toronto FC will be the 13th team to join MLS, and the first Canadian team (the rest are all American). The owner of Toronto FC is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball team.




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