May 7, 2018 8:48 pm

Spruce Meadows to be home for professional Canadian soccer team, will convert arena

WATCH: Spruce Meadows has confirmed that one of its arenas will be renovated to become the new home of a Canadian Premier League soccer team. Lisa MacGregor reports.

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Spruce Meadows is known for its world-class equestrian facilities, but now the facility is making the jump into the soccer business.

The equestrian facility announced Monday it had acquired a Canadian Premier League (CPL) tier 1 men’s soccer team and that one of its arenas will be renovated into a soccer stadium.

The new stadium will seat 5,000 to 7,000 fans and will be ready for spring of 2019.

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Pro soccer teams have struggled in the past in Calgary, but Spruce Meadows said it’s looking to find success with the sport the same way it did when in bringing show jumping to the city in the 1970s.

“Through that journey, 25 have now made it to the podium at the Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cup competition, let alone what’s happened here at the international at Spruce Meadows,” Spruce Meadows sports and entertainment president Ian Allison said.

“And now they [compete] before half a million people a year at Spruce Meadows and we hope the same will apply to soccer as we go forward.”

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Allison did not confirm when the soccer facility would break ground but said they already have the luxury of a large campus to work with.

“We have a number of grass stadiums, many of which meet the footprint for the field of play for FIFA or professional soccer games,” he said.

“We have infrastructure, we have parking, we have washrooms, we have ease of access for public transportation. All of those things tick the boxes.”

He said the next steps will involve exploring stadium options when it comes to size and making it a “distinctive experience” for both players and fans.

The soccer partnership between CPL and Spruce Meadows has been several years in the making. CPL has yet to officially confirm the project but spoke highly about Spruce Meadows on Monday.

CPL commissioner David Clanachan said Spruce Meadows was granted sanctioning on Saturday. Clanachan said soccer is the fastest growing sport in Canada.

“People call it the beautiful game, I call it the global game. It’s both,” he said.

“With new immigration into Canada, people who come to Canada, it’s the game they know and love when they get here. And it’s equally shared by both boys and girls, men and woman. So that’s extremely important.

“I would say there’s probably somewhere between three-and-a-half or four-and-a-half million Canadians that play soccer on a weekly basis in this country, which is over 10 per cent of the population. It’s phenomenal,” Clanachan said.

READ MORE: Canadian Premier League president intrigued by Edmontonians’ push for return of pro soccer

Tommy Wheeldon Jr., technical director for the Calgary Foothills FC, said he can’t reveal how exactly he’s involved with the new team coming to Spruce Meadows, but said it means a lot for the soccer community in Calgary and will be successful this time around because it’s a Canada-based league.

“It’s great for the game. I came here 16 years ago to play professional soccer with the Calgary Storm in the USLA league but now to have a Canadian premier league for Canadians by Canadians, which seems to be the tagline, it’s great,” Wheeldon Jr. said.

“So for young aspiring players, now we’re going to have something for them to aspire towards and hopefully have them represent the national team. The difference maker for this one is that it’s a Canadian based league.”

It was also announced CPL clubs would be established in British Columbia, Halifax and Ontario.

FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, has been to Spruce Meadows to inspect the site ahead of renovations and further details about the project and which arena will be renovated are expected to be revealed on May 17.

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