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Agent: More could be done to market Canada's soccer players, brand

Despite the success Canada's men's soccer team had in qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and its increased exposure from it, a high-profile agent says more could be done to promote its players.
Canada forward Alphonso Davies, left, defender Sam Adekugbe, centre, and forward Tajon Buchanan joke around during practice at the World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Monday, November 28, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Despite the success Canada's men's soccer team had in qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and its increased exposure from it, a high-profile agent says more could be done to promote its players.

Nedal Huoseh, who represents superstar Alphonso Davies as well as international teammate Sam Adekugbe, said Canada Soccer and Major League Soccer clubs could do a much better job of marketing Canadian soccer players.

"I do feel still though Canadian players are bigger in Canada than they are outside of Canada. OK, we still don't, you know, have a lot of high quality players," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "But I just feel like as we're still a bit behind in marketing our players, marketing our brand."

The qualification for the World Cup in Qatar helped raise the profile of Canadian players, but the domestic leagues and Canada Soccer haven't fully taken advantage of it, Huoseh added.

Part of the issue, he said, is what he says is a lack of social media engagement encouraged by clubs when it comes to driving a player's brand over the team collective.

"Our Canadian players are a little bit behind in that because, you know, everybody's struggling to get out of a soccer system that's broken," Huoseh said, referencing the controversy Canada's soccer association has found itself in regarding its finances and deals with its men's and women's national teams.

Cheri Bradish, the director of the Future of Sport Lab and Sport Initiatives at Toronto Metropolitan University said there's normally a window for athletes, who aren't necessarily household names, for advertising following a major sporting event in terms of their marketability.

"It may be a shorter window, shorter opportunities," she said. "It maybe some creative partnership with the brand for a shorter term."

Part of the issue now is a different economic situation than what existed before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It will be generally more of a challenge for athletes and brands right now just because of the economy and other factors coming out of COVID, even the opportunities, the reality is the belt is tightened a little bit right now," she said.

Another aspect, Huoseh added, is the ongoing dispute between Canadian players and the national soccer organization.

"Canada Soccer, with all the issues going on and all the problems with the players associations and Canada Soccer issues with the (Canada Soccer Business deal), it's just why would a big brand come in and invest?"

The deal Huoseh references is Canadian Soccer Business essentially markets Canada Soccer's product, on the field and off, via broadcast and sponsorship agreements. It pays the governing body a set amount each year.

Canada Soccer, which does not hold an ownership stake in CSB, is reportedly receiving $3 million to $4 million a year currently under the deal as "the beneficiary of a rights fee guarantee.'' It is attempting to renegotiate the deal.

Canada Soccer did not immediately return a request for comment on Huoseh's views.

The signings of Adekugbe and Nottingham Forest's Richie Laryea for the Vancouver Whitecaps was heralded by the team for their roles as Canadian national team players and the ability it would give them in marketing the team.

"These are two Canadian national players," said Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster at the time the signings were announced. "The biggest vibe you feel in our market is around Canadian soccer. Giving them two famous faces of the Canadian national team is something that attracts a wider audience."

Huoseh agreed.

"It's a big thing," he said. "I think it's important that they do come back because … I think it'll just create a lot more buzz around him. We're seeing interest from our end for him, from brands that we've we've been in talks with."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press