Na­tional league, lo­cal guy

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

Deep in his Hamil­ton bones, Derek Martin is a foot­ball guy — start­ing quar­ter­back for the Glen­dale Bears and later for St. Fran­cis Xavier — but he’s quickly come around to the other game with the same name.

“I’ll be the first to ad­mit I didn’t see it with soc­cer,” said the 41year-old sports mar­keter and pro­moter, who now lives in Hal­i­fax. “But af­ter the op­por­tu­nity we’ve had and be­ing closer to it, I’ve come to be­lieve.” That be­lief is im­por­tant. Sports and En­ter­tain­ment At­lantic, of which Martin is the pres­i­dent, would be the owner, along with other in­vestors, of the Hal­i­fax en­try in the pro­posed Cana­dian Pre­mier League. Af­ter Canada Soc­cer’s ap­proval of the league’s mem­ber­ship ap­pli­ca­tion Satur­day morn­ing, it ap­pears the CPL will launch some­time late next sum­mer — al­though Scott Mitchell, CEO of the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats and a prime mover in the CPL, cau­tioned “there is still a lot of work to do.”

Hal­i­fax has been re­peat­edly men­tioned in news and cy­berspace re­ports but only the Hamil­ton and Win­nipeg fran­chises have been of­fi­cially con­firmed.

“We are very en­cour­aged by the con­ver­sa­tion we’ve had with the peo­ple be­hind the CPL,” Martin told The Spec­ta­tor.

“We’re ob­vi­ously plan­ning to be ready for 2018 in the hopes the league will be ready to start them,” he added.

“It’s an old sport but it’s rel­a­tively new in North Amer­ica. And what’s in­ter­est­ing is the de­mo­graph­ics. It’s not the soc­cer moms in the suburbs. It’s the down­town younger age group who played soc­cer grow­ing up. And it’s about the party.

“I couldn’t think of a bet­ter fit for Hal­i­fax.”

While the CPL, and prospec­tive team own­ers, had been mostly mum about spe­cific fran­chises prior to Satur­day’s Canada Soc­cer vote, there’s been some in­sight into Hal­i­fax’s plans to join be­cause a sub­mis­sion had to be made to mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment to use a his­toric down­town park, Wan­der­ers Grounds, for a mod­u­lar (blocks of tem­po­rary stands to fit only what’s needed) sta­dium. That re­quired some out-loud dis­clo­sure and some broad de­scrip­tion of the league to city leg­is­la­tors.

“We’ve had to go pub­lic be­cause of our sit­u­a­tion,” Martin said. “That’s why you hear more of us than of the oth­ers.”

The Ti­cats’ Mitchell said, “There is still a lot of work to do” on firm­ing up which teams will be the first to play in the league.

Sports and En­ter­tain­ment At­lantic has had suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ences with sport pro­mo­tion, and with mod­u­lar sta­di­ums. They built vol­ley­ball courts and a tem­po­rary 2,000-seat sta­dium in a down­town park­ing lot for the 2011 and ’12 world ju­nior beach vol­ley­ball cham­pi­onships. In ’15, they hosted a rugby in­ter­na­tional be­tween the Cana­dian na­tional team and Glas­gow War­riors, us­ing tem­po­rary seat­ing at Wan­der­ers Grounds.

They’ve also hosted the Cana­dian Open for Vol­ley­ball Canada, have a two-year con­tract for the Fi­nal 8 of U Sports bas­ket­ball, and have owned or pro­moted a num­ber of other sports events.

Martin ar­rived at soc­cer through a long road that be­gan with three­down foot­ball.

Af­ter leav­ing Glen­dale, where he played with Rob Hitch­cock, he started un­der cen­tre for five years at St. FX, and in his sopho­more year led the X-Men into the 1996 Vanier Cup game, where they were de­feated by Saskatchewan. Af­ter that, it was pro foot­ball in France and Spain from Jan­uary to June for two sea­sons, while he spent the other half of the year back in Canada as an in­tern work­ing on the Vanier Cup.

“That was my in­tro­duc­tion to sports mar­ket­ing,” he said.

Af­ter his brief pro ca­reer, he was hired by NFL Canada. While work­ing for them in Toronto he met his wife, Al­li­son Flem­ming, who is from Hal­i­fax, and they de­cided Nova Sco­tia was where they wanted to raise a fam­ily.

Martin founded Sports and En­ter­tain­ment At­lantic and even­tu­ally con­nected with Paul Beirne, the CPL’s project man­ager he’d known in Toronto.

Beirne made a cou­ple of quite vis­i­ble trips to Hal­i­fax to dis­cuss the pro­posed new pro league and Hal­i­fax’s po­ten­tial place in it.

Martin says the Hal­i­fax Wan­der­ers Sup­port Group — a fan group like Hamil­ton’s Bar­ton Street Bat­tal­ion — al­ready has 500 mem­bers.

“Be­fore there’s even a team, they are al­ready the am­bas­sadors for it,” he mar­velled. “They are the ones who jump in and de­fend the idea.”

The idea is to draw 6,000 to 8,000 fans per game and to give Hal­i­fax a vi­able sum­mer sport at­trac­tion.

“Hal­i­fax is just itch­ing for some­thing to call our own,” he said.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Hamil­ton’s Derek Martin.

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