As first revealed this week, the Canadian Premier League’s club player and coach salary cap is $1.2 million for the 2021 season. Teams are permitted to spend anywhere from $650,000 to $850,000 on player compensation and $350,000 to $550,000 on coaches and technical staff, just as long as the combined spend is below $1.2-million. How clubs spend that compensation portion of the cap is the remaining question. Speaking with CanPL.ca, CPL’s Director of Football Oliver Gage provided a look at how clubs use the cap space in a varied set of strategies. "The key takeaway is clubs have the freedom to do whatever they think is going to help them win and do the most within the limits of the cap," Gage said. "Whether it’s traditional wages, covering housing costs, or bonuses, there is room to get creative." Salary expenditure in the CPL can be broken down into five parts: wages, signing and performance bonuses, housing, and other costs such as travelling or moving expenses. Here is the player total compensation breakdown from the 2019 CPL season – with club names removed. The 2019 season is more representative of a normal year as opposed to using the data from the shortened Island Games season. Percentages show a club’s total compensation spent in correlation to the category. "Onboarding" includes agents’ fees and travel and moving costs.
Over half of CPL clubs spent within five percentage points of the salary roof in 2019 ($750,000) and only one spent under $700,000, which marks a half-way point between the roof and a minimum of $650,000. For Gage, the 2019 bottom lines belonging to three clubs in particular show how "black and white" salary rules can allow clubs to operate freely: Club #1, Club #2 and Club #5. Club #1 paid out over $35,000 (4.6 per cent) in performance bonuses while spending 82 per cent on base salaries. Club #2, meanwhile, committed $646,393 (or nearly 90 per cent of their total player spend) on salary, leaving other costs minimal. "This first club offered much higher performance bonuses for goals, wins, assists, and things like that. They gave their players the opportunity to earn more based on success. For Club #2, it’s a more systematic approach – pretty high salary with players on similar money," Gage said. A third team, Club #5 in the table, spent nearly a fifth of their salary expenditure on covering housing costs in their market. It provided stability on expense management but reduced their ability to spend in other categories. "Another approach we saw was a club who chose to provide more of their players with necessary housing costs, taking away much of the stress related to moving to a new city, finding an apartment and potentially only living there for nine months rather than a standard 12-month lease," Gage said. "A stable and settled life away from the pitch is often an overlooked aspect of player performance." More information on club approaches to compensation, how they build their rosters, and develop talent is expected in the coming weeks from CPL brass in an effort to be more transparent, something Commissioner David Clanachan promised publicly earlier this week. For Gage, these total compensation breakdowns show the malleability at the fingertips of CPL general managers and coaches in a competitive North American soccer marketplace. "How you spend that salary cap is loose within some boundaries – there’s no hard definition of how much should be spent where," Gage said. "That freedom is an asset because if you look at a league like MLS that have those slightly more complicated rules, ours are much cleaner."