Canadian Premier League buys York United FC, looks for new ownership for CPL club

By Neil Davidson

TORONTO – The Canadian Premier League has bought back York United FC as a precursor to transferring the club to new ownership.

The franchise has actually been purchased from the Baldassarra family by Canadian Soccer Business, whose investors are the CPL team owners. The Baldassarra family was part of the original ownership group that purchased the founding CPL club in 2018, ahead of the league’s inaugural season, and became sole owner in 2021.

CSB handles the sponsorship and marketing rights of the Canadian national teams as well as the CPL. It has been in the news of late with national team players, in the midst of a labour dispute with Canada Soccer, criticizing the deal their governing body has with CSB that only provides a fixed return each year with CSB retaining the rest – to help fund the men’s professional league.

It marks the second franchise in the history of the CPL, which started play in 2019, to change ownership.

The CPL took over operation of FC Edmonton from owners Tom and Dave Fath in December 2021, looking to find new ownership. The league subsequently folded the franchise last November.

Mark Noonan, CEO of Canadian Soccer Business and commissioner of the CPL, says the Edmonton and York are different cases.

“The difference here is that Edmonton didn’t have a choice,” Noonan said in an interview. “In this case, CSB saw what we thought was an underperforming asset in one of our best markets, relative to the other seven teams … And we felt – as did the former owners, the Baldassarra family – it would be better off in new ownership hands.

“So we proactively purchased back the asset so that we can re-market it and bring in a new ownership group that’s going to bring in fresh energy and ideas.”

Noonan says the league is in discussions with “multiple groups that have expressed interest and are going through various forms of (due) diligence right now.”

The move is positive, according to Noonan.

“Building leagues is hard and we didn’t have the right equation in this market, so we proactively – both us and the previous owners – decided it was better to be in new hands.”

The league, on behalf of CSB, will operate the club until new ownership is found with Angus McNab continuing as York president/CEO and GM.

“It will be business as usual. We’re not cutting staff, we’re not changing staff,” said Noonan. “We will be overseeing the current staff.”

McNab will report to CSB on business operations and the CPL league office on soccer matters.

“We have been so proud to invest in the future of Canadian soccer in recent years,” Michael Baldassarra said in a statement. “However, moving forward, we felt the club, community and its supporters would be better served by having new custodians at the helm bringing fresh energy and ideas.

“Our family would like to thank York’s great staff and Angus McNab for their tireless efforts through these formative years. We look forward to cheering York on as fans in the future.”

Early in the season, York (0-2-0) currently stands eighth in the CPL standings.

The team currently plays its games at York Lions Stadium with the Baldassaras having looked at building a training centre and soccer-specific stadium at Woodbine Racetrack.

A CPL spokeswoman said the league, in consultation with the new owners, will look at “all possible facility options in the GTA, including continuing at York Lions Stadium.”

York began life in the CPL as York 9 FC. The franchise’s original name came from the nine municipalities that make up the York region north of Toronto: Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, and Whitchurch-Stouffville.

The club was rebranded to York United FC in December 2020.

FC Edmonton, founded by the Fath brothers, debuted in 2011. It ceased playing in the North American Soccer League after the 2017 season before joining the CPL for its inaugural 2019 campaign.

After Edmonton’s demise, the league was restored to eight teams with the arrival of expansion Vancouver FC this season.