National league, local guy
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.
Hamilton’s Derek Martin.