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CSB deal, funding of women’s team under sharp focus as Canada Soccer officials testify

Earl Cochrane Earl Cochrane - The Canadian Press

Canada Soccer’s controversial media and sponsorship contract with the private company Canadian Soccer Business (CSB) and the federation’s funding of the national women’s team came under sharp focus Monday as the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage heard testimony from Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane and two board members about the organization’s finances and gender equity issues.

The meeting was held two weeks after four senior members of Canada’s national women’s soccer team testified before the same committee, criticizing Canada Soccer for allegedly disrespecting the team and drastically cutting its budget.

Those cuts meant, for instance, that there were only 20 players invited to a training camp ahead of the recent SheBelieves Cup – not enough to hold full team 11-on-11 drills.

“Recently, Canada Soccer made some funding decisions for the operations of the women’s team that it thought would have minimal impact. We were wrong,” Cochrane testified during his opening statement.

“Those decisions were made with good intentions of controlling spending, but we should not have made those decisions that negatively impacted the women’s team. Canada Soccer is now in conversations with the technical staff to reconfirm what they need to be successful at the World Cup and we are committed to meeting those needs.”

The women’s team players had also testified they were upset sponsorship money brought in thanks to their on-field success was going to CSB, a company that is owned and controlled by owners of the Canadian Premier League, Canada’s first domestic men’s professional league.

Cochrane testified Monday that Canada Soccer is trying to “modernize” its contract with CSB.

“There are two elements of the existing deal that we would like to see adjusted and those are the ability for us to reap the rewards of the success of our national teams… and the second is to address in some way, shape or form the term,” Cochrane said. 

Under the terms of contract negotiated in 2017-18, CSB pays Canada Soccer a guaranteed fee annually between 2019 and 2027 in exchange for the rights to sell both broadcasting and corporate sponsorship rights to the men’s and women’s national teams.

In 2019, that fee was $3 million, according to a copy of the contract obtained by TSN.

Canada Soccer board member Paul-Claude Berube confirmed that payout during his testimony on Monday. He also said that in 2022, CSB generated $2.8 million in sponsorships. Canada Soccer has 14 national corporate partners listed on its website, and CSB receives all of the revenue from those agreements. 

CSB’s guaranteed payment to Canada Soccer climbs each year, topping out at $3.5 million in 2027. The contract, which was signed by Steve Reed (Canada Soccer’s president from 2017-20), says CSB has the right to extend the deal for an additional 10 years, and if it triggers that extension, must pay Canada Soccer at least $4 million per year from 2028 to 2037.

“Prior to the CSB agreement, Canada Soccer was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to broadcast women’s and men’s national teams games,” Cochrane testified.

“No Canadian broadcaster was willing to pay to broadcast those games. The CSB agreement has resolved that issue and has helped grow the women’s game in Canada…Today, the unilateral term option and limited ability for us to share in upside revenue are drawbacks of the agreement with CSB, but we hope to resolve those issues shortly.”

MPs repeatedly criticized Canada Soccer’s CSB contract and Berube and Cochrane repeatedly defended it. Berube said Canada Soccer generated $1.4 million in sponsorship sales in 2018.

While Berube insisted that the contract was properly approved by Canada Soccer’s board in March of 2018, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather referenced Canada Soccer’s board meeting records from November and December of that year.

Housefather said the federation’s records from its Nov. 30, 2018, board meeting say that the board was to address outstanding requests from some board members about the prospective deal with CSB before Dec. 14.

There are no records to document the board deliberations at that time, Housefather said.

Cochrane also testified that Canada Soccer had a meeting scheduled on Monday with the national teams in which more financial information would be shared in connection with negotiations for new collective labour agreements.

“Simply put, national team players, regardless of their gender identity, will be paid the same amount for their work in representing our country,” Cochrane testified. “Canada Soccer has negotiated in good faith and will continue to do so. We have provided documentation to inform those negotiations. In fact, we have a financial information session with the teams in a few hours.”

Cochrane said Canada Soccer has provided national team players and their representatives with detailed information and briefings on Canada Soccer’s financials, its audited financial statements and detailed breakdowns of the organization’s spending. Cochrane said the leadership team of women’s national team and its legal counsel were also given a presentation about Canada Soccer’s agreement with CSB.

Several MPs asked about Christine Sinclair’s allegation during her testimony that Bontis had used insulting and inappropriate language about her during a meeting last year.

 “As a board member, I can say that comment was unequivocally out of line and contrary to our values, which include success. …It was devastating to hear that was a comment directed at Christine or a comment directed at anyone part of the Canadian soccer community,” Canada Soccer board member Stephanie J. Geosits testified.

MPs began Monday’s meeting by passing a motion to issue summonses to former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis, current chief financial officer Sean Heffernan, and FIFA vice-president and former Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani to appear at a hearing to be held before the end of March.