Mediapro Group Touts Role in Growth of Canadian Soccer

Mediapro Group’s move to invest in the Canadian market in 2019 has been central to the consolidation of soccer in the Canadian sports landscape, contributing to the financial stability of the Canadian Premier League (CPL) and creating a high-quality television product with live coverage of every league match — both of which have had a significant impact on the growth of the game in Canada over the past three years.

Mediapro’s 10-year media rights partnership with Canadian Soccer Business, sealed early in 2019, laid the foundations for the launch of the CPL, the nation’s first division men’s professional league in nearly three decades. The league starts its fourth season on April 7, with eight clubs stretching from Victoria, BC, on the west coast, to Halifax, NS, over 6000 km away on the Atlantic coast. A number of new clubs, including a Vancouver-area franchise set to launch in 2023, will join the league by 2026, when Canada co-hosts the FIFA World Cup with the USA and Mexico.

Mediapro Canada, the Group’s Canadian subsidiary, has launched OneSoccer, Canada’s first 24/7 dedicated soccer channel, which in 2022 will air live coverage of all 117 CPL matches, 13 Canadian Championship matches and a series of National Team home friendlies, all complemented by a range of studio and panel shows. The channel’s full slate of domestic soccer content in 2022 confirms its position as the Canadian sports channel with the highest percentage of Canadian content at over 80% of all programming.

Mediapro Canada’s investment has coincided with the growing global reputation of Canadian soccer: Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team secured qualification for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986 with its 4-0 victory over Jamaica on the weekend, while Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team won Gold at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and heads towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 as one of the favourites.

Oscar López, CEO of Mediapro Canada, says: “We saw the potential in the Canadian game back in 2019, when other broadcasters hadn’t shown much interest. This was at a time when the men’s national team was ranked 78th, audiences for men’s national team matches struggled to reach 50,000 viewers and there hadn’t been a professional league in the country since 1992. Three years into the project, we have a flourishing coast-to-coast men’s professional league with every match aired live on TV, audiences for national team matches regularly surpass the 1M mark and commercial interest in the game at an all-time high.”

That belief in Canada’s potential as a soccer nation also led to the company’s acquisition of the rights in Canada to all Concacaf national team tournaments from 2020 to 2023, a property that had also failed to attract the interest of other broadcasters. “With the Canadian men headed to Qatar, the women winning Olympic gold and the U20 women taking bronze in the recent Concacaf Women’s U20 Championship. we really feel like we backed a winner”, says López. “We’re riding the crest of a wave that will only get bigger”.

Fernando López, CEO of Atlético Ottawa, the CPL club backed by Spanish LaLiga giant Atlético de Madrid, added that Grupo Mediapro’s decision to invest in Canadian soccer “brings us the opportunity to enter the market. We share Mediapro’s vision of Canada as a future powerhouse in the game, and their long-term media rights deal showed us that this is a solid investment.”

Industry observers have echoed López’s statements: Vijay Setlur, a marketing instructor who focuses on sports marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, says that the impact of the CPL and OneSoccer’s amplification of the league “cannot be understated”; the launch of the CPL was “a seminal moment for the advancement of soccer as it has addressed a significant gap in the player development pathway.” Mediapro Canada’s investment, both financial and in broadcasting every CPL match live on OneSoccer, has “raised international awareness of the league to the benefit of its players, while providing the type of wall-to-wall editorial coverage that cultivates a soccer culture and can spur grassroots soccer participation.”

Koen Reynaert, head of specialty media and market research agency KR United Media, adds that the success of Canada’s “Golden Generation” is “crucial” to the growth of grassroots soccer, of semi-professional leagues across the country and the success of the CPL itself. “The next Alphonso Davies or Jonathan David won’t be far away.” He says that when the national teams weren’t winning, “broadcasters didn’t want to show games and fans didn’t watch — prior to the current successes, the men’s games struggled to bring in 50,000 viewers. Now, they average a million viewers per game.” With soccer the #1 participation youth sport in Canada, “the fan base is clearly there, and the CPL has increased local interest, resulting in more devoted soccer fans across the country.”

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