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Canadian pro soccer league to call Hamilton home

Hamilton Spectator  By Steve Milton

Hamilton will have a team, probably the flagship team, in the new Canadian Premier Soccer League which is expected to begin play as early as next year.

The league would likely be headquartered, or at least operated, out of Hamilton. If not next season, the team would begin play in 2018.

The revelation came during a Wednesday morning presentation to city councillors by John McGrane, seeking permission to erect a multimillion dollar bubble, paid for by Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young, over the playing field at Tim Hortons Field. The bubble, or dome, would be in place every year from December 1 to April 30.

McGrane’s company, John McGrane Services, is a “small partner” with Bob Young in the bubble initiative. Young’s company will own the soccer team outright.

The league — called the Canadian Premier League and fully sanctioned by FIFA, the sports global governing body — will start with six to eight teams with deep-pocketed ownership, including Young.

“Basically, it will be a CFL-NHL mix of ownership,” McGrane told The Spectator.

He would not name which Canadian cities would have teams or who the prospective owners are.

McGrane did say an official announcement of the formation of the league would likely occur within four months.

“We are tying pro soccer to the dome,” McGrane told The Spectator. “A pro soccer team needs to be a year-round operation.”

McGrane said part of the soccer/bubble plan would be to develop an academy which most upper-level pro soccer teams have. Players as young as six learn the game and are steered toward careers in the sport. The soccer academy would be regular users of the bubble during the winter months. The pro team would also train there.

As well, there is a possibility of developing a full education program tied to the soccer team, eventually leading to things like an MBA program to develop soccer management and executives.

“We want to Canadianize the whole league, not just the players,” McGrane said. “We’re looking at a whole culture of executives, managers and so forth. We don’t want to import them.”

While there will be foreign players in the league, there will also be a minimum quota of Canadian players each team is required to use. Major League Soccer, the top North American league which has teams in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, has a North American quota, but no team is required to play Canadians.

The concept was first reported by The Spectator two years ago and if it is passed, as expected, at the Canadian Soccer Association’s annual general meeting in May, the CSA will be a partner in the Canadian Premier League.

“Without pro soccer this would not happen,” McGrane said of the proposal and Young’s $3 million dollar investment in the bubble. “The money going into this is because of professional soccer.”

McGrane praised Ticats executives Doug Rye and Scott Mitchell for their commitment to pro soccer and the local grassroots sport.

“Scott Mitchell has been the leader over the last six months,” he said. “For a football guy, he’s done a great job of embracing the soccer culture in the city.

“I think it will be great to have another pro franchise in the city.”

smilton@thespec.com |905-526-3268 @miltonatthespec.com

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