“It’s all a bit of a blur, when you think back to a year ago right now,” admits Cavalry FC’s president Ian Allison, when asked to reflect on his club’s first season in the Canadian Premier League.
“I think if you look at what’s happened here in the last year, between a club being created, a league being created, a stadium being created, locker room, culture, the whole vibe the fans are bringing to the game…it’s been a heck of a ride.”
And Cavalry FC’s president believes his club’s first ride is a tremendous success.
Cavalry FC won the 10-game spring season and 18-game fall season, topping the overall CPL table. The club had a successful run to the Canadian Championship semi-finals, facing two Major League Soccer teams along the way.
And Calgary’s pro-soccer team will wrap up the CPL’s inaugural season when it faces Hamilton’s Forge FC in the second leg of the CPL Championship Finals at ATCO Field in Spruce Meadows Nov. 2.
“What Tommy and Martin and Jordan have done to build the culture of the on-field product has been really important,” says Allison, speaking in an interview in early October. “The (players and staff) have been terrific on and off the field. They have a great sense of community.
“I could not be prouder of the character that we have the players on the team. To a person they’ve had the right heart and mind to fit our culture. And the supporters’ groups have been terrific.”
Highlights from Cavalry FC’s first season
“The obvious (highlights) are the emotional run in the Canadian Championship and getting to play two Major League Soccer sides that are quality sides,” says Allison. “I know the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps left that part of the Canadian Championships having a great deal of respect for the CPL product, not just Cavalry FC.”
Allison was also pleased to see Cavalry FC players get some Canada national team attention. Goalkeeper Marco Carducci earned a call up to the national team squad in September, while national team coach John Herdman has admitted to keeping an eye on Cavs defender Dominick Zator.
“(That’s what the) league is all about – to get Canadian players populating the Canadian national while they’re coming up through a Canadian pathway,” says Allison.
The Cavs president is also proud of the club’s commitment to developing young players.
“You see (Victor) Loturi and (Aribim) Pepple…they’re teenagers,” says Allison. “They’re getting to learn from really good veterans. Our leadership on the team is terrific. Our three captains Nik Ledgerwood, Mason Trafford and Elijah Adekugbe are terrific with the roles they play within the team.
“Then you have a guy like Dominique Malonga who’s quietly come in here and really lit it up. He may be the slowest walker in the world,” jokes Allison. “But he’s got terrific feet. He’s really been great to teach these young guys how to be professionals and how to be an efficient player.”
On a personal level Allison says he’s embraced the ebb and flow of building a new venture from scratch.
“From coming out of the sport culture that I have been in for 40 years and now learning this and being part of the genesis of the league and learning how other clubs operate – what we can and can’t learn from them. Every day is an interesting exercise.”
Challenges in Cavalry FC’s first season
Allison acknowledges it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
“It’s not without a few bumps in the road,” he says. “Between snow, parking on opening day, ring-road construction and all those kind of things.”
The league and its players are also having to cope with issues specific to a league in Canada, according to Allison.
“It’s a long season for the players. By the time all is said and done we’ll have played 18 home games and similar amount on the road,” he says. “So, one of the things that not many leagues deal with around the world is six time zones. The geography of this league, particularly the international players are learning to live with.”
Fans have been learning too, according to the Cavs president.
“North American sports fans often show up 15 minutes after the posted time,” he says. “They’re learning but when it says it’s a 4 p.m. kickoff not a 4:12 p.m. kickoff. That’s why we put so much effort into our pre-game environment. We open two hours early and we probably get at least half the crowd an hour before.”
“Recalibration” of Cavalry FC ticket prices for 2020 season
Allison acknowledges Cavalry FC’s higher-than-average ticket pricing in the first year probably contributed to Cavalry’s below-league-average attendance. The higher-end grandstand seats, which cost $90 to $100 per ticket for a single game, were considerably over-priced in the eyes of many observers.
But Cavalry FC released its ticket prices for the 2020 season last week, and there are some noticeable changes to ticket pricing and allocation. Lower-end ticket prices have been increased while higher-end ticket prices have been reduced, in some cases by over 40 per cent. And the pricing in some seating sections has been staggered with higher-rowed seats costing less than those closer to the field.
Allison believes the new pricing model does a better job of balancing affordability for fans and profits for the organization.
“What you do when you’re creating your business plan is you need to find what your average price point is going to be,” explains Allison. “I’d call it more of a recalibration.
“We still need to run a professional sports organization like paying the players and those types of things. There’s that price elasticity that needs to be identified and different people’s expectations of fan and game experience and we want it to be unique, we want it to be the best in professional soccer in Canada, not the biggest, but the best.”
Spruce Meadows is unlikely to expand ATCO Field anytime soon, according to Allison.
“The demand is not there yet to justify additional seating. We want to be close to 6,000 for every game before we do that. I don’t like watching games in empty 25,000 seat stadiums.”
But there will be some improvements made to the facility, including an upgrade to the floodlighting for night matches next year.
“You’ll see an improved lighting scenario,” said Allison. “We’re trying to determine do we go with an 83-foot tower or 65-foot towers.”
Expansion for 2020 CPL season unlikely
With regards to the league itself, Allison doesn’t see any new clubs joining for the 2020 season, but he believes expansion isn’t far away.
“I do look forward to, down the road in a few years, a bit of an expansion that would create a balanced schedule,” he says. “I think it is in the future. But it certainly won’t be next year. And that’s for reasons like stadiums and those kind of things.”
But Allison believes the league’s and his club’s first season has been a success and he expects it to only get better from here.
“It’s been terrific to watch the (Cavalry FC) brand and crest start to have a pretty regular presence in different places around the city,” he says. “The city has embraced it and there’s buzz. We have a pretty high degree of confidence, that if they come once, they’ll come back.”