Bob Young is genuinely puzzled and taken aback as to why someone would even pose the question to him.
“Why would a successful guy like you get involved in the Canadian Premier League?” Sportsnet asked Young during a recent gala event in Toronto where the CPL announced the date and location for the first game of its inaugural 2019 season.
Young is the owner of Forge FC, a team based in his hometown of Hamilton that is set to compete in the CPL. A new professional soccer league with seven clubs from coast to coast, the CPL will officially kick off on April 27 when Forge FC host York 9 FC at Tim Hortons Field.
Young is also the owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, having purchased the CFL franchise in 2003, and people at the time questioned why he bought the gridiron football team. The Ticats, of course, were an iconic team with brand recognition, competing in a league that has been around since the 1950s. Forge FC, on the other hand, doesn’t have any history. It will be starting from scratch as part of an upstart league in a sport that has struggled to gain a strong foothold in the Canadian sporting consciousness.
An entrepreneur who made his fortune in the computer software business, Young is a millionaire many times over and an esteemed member of the Canadian business community. He doesn’t need the CPL. There are any number of projects in which he could invest his time and money. Pouring a portion of his vast wealth into a soccer team seems an odd choice, even for a man who was once had an ownership stake in the United Soccer League’s Carolina RailHawks. But then you talk to him for five minutes, and it becomes crystal clear why he’s doing this.
“I’m a Canadian first and foremost. I was a soccer player as a kid, admittedly not a very good one, but I was a soccer player. I’m someone who has always been entertained by sports. I realized when I was 12 that I was not going to be an athlete, but that did not stop me from admiring the athletes all these years, especially Canadian athletes. So, the question isn’t why did I get involved [with the CPL], but rather why not,” Young told Sportsnet.
Sanctioned as Canada’s first division, the CPL features high-profile owners such as Young, as well as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (the CFL team owns the Winnipeg-based Valour FC). The league is designed to develop Canadian players and give them a chance that they otherwise might not receive, all with an eye towards improving the long-term fortunes of the Canadian men’s team, whose only World Cup appearance came in 1986 in Mexico.
Unable to understand why Canada didn’t have a domestic league to call its own, Young became a part of a core group of investors, working alongside Canada Soccer, to create a new national league. Long before the CPL was officially sanctioned by Canada Soccer in 2017, Young was getting his ducks in a row while Tim Hortons Field was still being built in order to bring a pro soccer team to the venue and the city of Hamilton.
“It made no sense to me or anyone else in the larger Canadian soccer community that Canada [didn’t have its own league], despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. So, you just saw a business opportunity there and that’s how I see the world, is through business opportunities. When I see weird things that shouldn’t be happening happen, I just say to myself, there’s got to be a business opportunity there somewhere and there must be something I can do,” Young said.
The long-term financial stability of the CPL is an issue that some fans are concerned about, and they wonder if the new league will even be around in five years. There is a fear that the CPL is going to be a big money loser at first, and fans worry that team owners aren’t going to stick around.
CPL commissioner David Clanachan has no such concerns, especially with passionate owners such as Young involved in the league.
“When I joined on, I met with the team owners. We’ve made sure that we have owners who are passionate about the game, but also interested in legacy and have patience. You don’t buy a sports team to become rich. You buy one for passion, legacy and the idea that you’re building something, and that patience level is the key,” Clanachan told Sportsnet.
“We have that with our team owners. They believe in the trajectory of soccer in Canada. I’m fully confident in the strength and commitment of our owners, and also in the potential new owners and cities and regions that are approaching us about future teams.”
Young insists he’s fully committed to Forge FC, and points to the recent announcement of Volkswagen as a founding partner in a multi-year deal with the CPL as evidence that the league is starting out on firm, financial ground.
“Volkswagen have their choice of soccer leagues from around the world to partner with, and for it to choose to partner with the CPL is such a great compliment to what we’re building. It’s really quite remarkable that Volkswagen is putting their global brand behind what we’re trying to do,” Young stated.
Even though the first CPL season is still a little less than three months away from kicking off, Young said there is a healthy and growing buzz about Forge FC in Hamilton.
“We’re very excited and proud about hosting the first game in the CPL [between Forge FC and York 9]… There’s a lot of enthusiasm and awareness about the team in Hamilton,” Young said.
To that point, a number of supporter groups for CPL teams have already been formed, long before a ball has been kicked. The first was the Barton St. Battalion, launched in February of 2016, in support of Forge FC.
“I’ve been living in the U.S. for the last 20 years, and the big cultural difference between the States and Canada is that Americans don’t have any reservations about promoting themselves. Self-promotion in the States is a good thing. In Canada, we’re much more reserved as a culture. So, to see Hamiltonians come out and publicly tell you how proud they are to be from Hamilton, and how excited they are about the city’s new soccer team, it’s been very gratifying,” Young offered.