Branding a new pro soccer league

Nike marketing veteran Roy Nasrallah tells an inspirational story to support the launch of the Canadian Premier League.
Canadian Premier League4

The Canadian Premier League, Canada’s own professional soccer league, is set to kick off next spring. And although the country is already a nation of soccer fans, building out a new league from scratch will require a strong marketing push.

Differentiation will also play a key role, as the existence of other similar leagues could leave non-soccer aficionados confused about the difference between the CPL, the Canadian Soccer League (a semi-professional league) and Major League Soccer (the American professional soccer league that includes Canada-based teams like the Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, all of which will remain in the MLS.)

To grow the game, expand its fan base and support its future players and coaches alike, the CPL has looked to its VP of marketing, Roy Nasrallah, whose experience includes 15 years with Nike’s Middle Eastern division. As a former marketing director for the clothing brand, he led strategy, brand communications, digital marketing, retail marketing, visual merchandising, events and sponsorships in the region.

Nasrallah also worked in soccer while in the Middle East, helping to support local and national teams. Around that time, he worked on the Nike Pro Hijab, a product designed to inspire Middle Eastern Women to embrace active lifestyles, which eventually went global.

As a marketer, he sees similarities between his current work and his past at Nike: putting the consumer “at the heart of everything we do” remains imperative. There are other similarities between the brand-building efforts for a league and for a product, particularly in the athletics space. At CPL, it’s all about driving support for soccer through an inspirational narrative – a tone noticeably present in its recently unveiled video manifesto, developed with J. Walter Thompson.

“We want to be a platform for the fans. A platform that connects the fans directly to the game, and build the league together,” says Nasrallah. “We’re building this league from the bottom up.”

Earlier this year, he visited ten cities from Halifax to Vancouver, collecting insights along the way, to better understand regional differences in how Canadians feel about the sport. Over the coming year, as the league unveils its participating clubs, the next step will be to tell stories about CPL coaches and players, with the goal of inspiring young talent to make it to the professional level. New stories will continue to emerge from the pitch once the league kicks off next spring, says Nasrallah.

While hockey is often thought of as Canada’s sport, soccer is still highly popular, with around one million people involved in the game as coaches, players and referees across leagues, including amateur levels. And Canada is among the countries to purchase the most tickets to attend the World Cup, while not qualifying to play in the tournament, according to Nasrallah.

Last week, CPL named the York 9 Football Club as one of its founding clubs. It will be announcing six to eight other participating cities in the coming weeks.