On February 11, the 7-team Canadian Premier League (CPL), fresh off its very first season of play in 2019, unveiled its first expansion franchise in the capital city of Ottawa. What’s unique about the new team is the prestige of the ownership group. Spanish League giants Atletico Madrid will operate the new club, which begins play in April. The foreign investment is the first of its kind in the CPL which launched a year ago with seven Canadian-owned franchises.
While there had always been an expectation that the capital city would eventually join the CPL, following the demise of the Fury, the previous club that operated in the second tier USL, the announcement that Atletico was the brand behind the new team caught most soccer observers by surprise.
“The main broadcast partner of the CPL is owned by MediaPro, a massive Spanish broadcast company,” explained Oliver Platt, a writer and analyst for the Canadian streaming service OneSoccer, which carries all CPL games. “That was where the link came in terms of getting Atletico to the table. I think they’re certainly looking to increase their brand in North America, and trying to gain a foothold in terms of some of the young talent in North America. They see there’s massive untapped potential in Canada.”
This is not Atletico’s first foray into North American soccer however. In 2017, the Madrid club purchased an equity stake in Mexican side San Luis. Last season, that club gained promotion to Liga MX, the top tier of Mexican football.
Ottawa’s entry to the CPL brings much needed balance to the league, primarily for scheduling purposes. There will also be a familiarity to the new operation as the team will play out of TD Place Stadium, which was also the home of the Fury. In addition, Ottawa entrepreneur Jeff Hunt, formerly an executive with the Fury, is a strategic partner of the new team.
“Hunt gives Atletico local knowledge,” said Platt. “He is someone who knows the sports scene in Ottawa having been involved with OSEG (Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group), owners of the Fury and the CFL’s REDBLACKS. He knows the business community very well and that’s an integral part of any operation, particularly one with foreign investment.”
The new team will have a very short runway in the lead up to its first season. While some CPL clubs have already started informal workouts, training camps officially begin next month with the 2020 CPL season expected to kick off in late April. Atletico Ottawa will need to get up to speed very quickly in terms of its marketing and ticketing programs. Platt points out that player recruitment, however, will be one area where the league will help out.
“One of the things this league has done well is it has centralized operations,” Platt explained. “The CPL has a database of Canadian players that Ottawa can select from. There are quite a lot of players who were in the league last year who are now free agents and others who are considering coming back to Canada having played abroad.”
“The interesting thing is what the new club intends to do in terms of international players,” Platt continued. “Obviously you would expect them to take advantage of the Atletico Madrid youth system. A couple of players may come over on loan. They have a satellite club in Mexico so there could be some links there too.”
Atletico Ottawa won’t have the benefit of time as the new franchise approaches its first season in just a matter of weeks, but Platt feels the excitement and momentum around the club right now might actually work in its favour as it prepares to hit the ground running.