With the icy chill of winter just around the corner, preparations by Canadian Premier League teams are heating up with the new soccer league set to kick off its inaugural season next spring.
Sportsnet sat down with Preben Ganzhorn, president and CEO of York 9 FC, to get a snapshot of what’s going on with the Greater Toronto Area based club as it gets ready to enter one of the most crowded sporting landscapes in North America.
York 9 to call York University home
York 9 has entered into a three-year lease agreement to play its home games at York University. The team will begin the 2019 CPL campaign at Alumni Field before moving over to York Lions Stadium.
“We’ll play at least the first three or four months in Alumni Field and then we’ll move into Lions Stadium once construction on the new playing surface is done,” Ganzhorn explained.
York Lions Stadium opened three years ago, and played host to the track and field events for the 2015 Pan-Am and Parapan American games.
A new artificial turf pitch that meets FIFA standards will be installed at the stadium, replacing the current surface that is simply too small to meet the requirements that a professional calibre pitch must meet.
The artificial surface serves as the best option for two reasons. It offers York 9 a level of certainty regarding field conditions in a climate that can be harsh and unforgiving on natural grass. In addition, the field at the stadium will be used by York University for other sports and events. The level of traffic on the field necessitates that York 9 play on synthetic grass.
In addition to the new pitch, York 9 will erect temporary seating at York Lions Stadium in order to double the capacity from 4,000 to 8,000. The club will also explore the option to expand the stadium to a maximum of 12,000 based on demand for tickets.
The team has set its sights on an average attendance goal for year one.
“We’re looking at somewhere between six and eight thousand as a realistic target,” Ganzhorn admitted.
Ganzhorn does caution that expectations could change based on season ticket sales, which open to the general public at the beginning of December.
Creating a festival of football
York 9 is looking to foster a festival type of atmosphere for supporters on game days.
“Fans can expect an experience that is engaging. We’re creating areas behind each of the goals that are very social, where fans can interact and cheer on the players,” Ganzhorn said.
When developing this interactive and social model for what home games would be like for fans, Ganzhorn looked to his native Denmark for inspiration.
“In the Scandinavian countries there is an ability to move around the stadium, especially behind the goals that helps create a socially interactive atmosphere,” Ganzhorn explained.
The club is looking a lot closer to home for ideas to build a fun fan experience, as well.
“The Toronto Wolfpack [Rugby League] have created a craft beer festival at their games in the city [at Lamport Stadium]. We really like that and the fans have really taken to it so we’ve definitely taken inspiration from that,” Ganzhorn said.
Ganzhorn explains that the York 9 vision is to have local craft brewers and food vendor trucks become an integral part of the fan experience at York Lions Stadium.
Additional York 9 news and notes
At his end-of-season news conference, Toronto FC President Bill Manning made it clear that with TFC 2 moving from USL to the developmental USL Division III, the MLS club could be looking to loan some of its players out to other leagues. Manning didn’t offer specifics as to what leagues could potentially be loan destinations for his players.
When asked about a possible opportunity, Ganzhorn said that he would be open to the idea of forging a partnership with Toronto FC or any other MLS team, provided that players fit into what York 9 coach Jim Brennan envisions for his club.
“The level of play [in the CPL] is going to surprise a lot of people based on what I know about the roster and how it’s coming together. For some of [Toronto FC’s] top prospects who might be a little young to break into the first team and might need to play week in and week out, they could come to play for us on a loan contract. I think makes a ton of sense,” Ganzhorn offered.