CTFL Season 2 Recap with Founder Quinn Lyness
CTFL journalist Nkele Martin sat down with founder and CEO Quinn Lyness to talk about the league’s second season, and its future
By: Nkele Martin
On Aug. 5, the Canadian Track and Field League closed out its second season with the championship meet in Ottawa. 104 CTFL athletes competed in the final meet of the season which ended with the Spitfires retaining their lead and becoming the 2023 CTFL champions. As the season came to an end, founder and CEO Quinn Lyness felt the same as he did at the beginning of the season, filled with hope.
“If I were to describe it [the season] in one word, it would be hopeful,” he said. “Hopeful for what was to come and then hopeful for what is to come now.”
Hope can only take you so far, however, so Lyness had to do what he knows best, work hard.
Going into its second season, the CEO was preparing for a season featuring more athletes, a bigger budget, and an increased prize fund. After a successful inaugural season, the CTFL quickly became a well-known league in the Canadian track and field world, and instead of searching for athletes to join, he was managing the registrations that were flowing in.
“Heading into year two, everyone who is anybody knows about the Canadian Track and Field League,” he said. “If you're an athlete, the likelihood is that you have a teammate that's already competing in it.”
After its first season, the number of athletes in the CTFL jumped from 128 to 232. An increase of athletes meant an increase in work for Lyness, who had a majority of the responsibility fall on him. The 23-year-old said he found himself managing “everything.”
“[I was looking after] all the facets of the business, and then just trying to do day-to-day things as well. I have to be big picture and also very fine details. We have standings updates, the administrative side of things, the marketing side of things, which, included in that is social media. It was quite difficult,” he said.
To manage the growing league, Lyness had to expand his team. He took on fellow track athletes in administrative and creative roles that ranged from updating standings to shooting and editing content.
The growth of the league was undoubtedly a good sign for Lyness, and he felt more prepared for the second season than the first. “Last year there was a lot of uncertainty, like ‘would it even work?’” he said. “[This year] we already had the system in place, so it was a much easier season on me. I'm not growing any more gray hair this season.”
Despite having a system in place for year two, the season did not come and go without any challenges, the biggest of which involved the official CTFL singlets. The league partnered with track and field giants New Balance for the season, and the singlets featured new designs and sponsorship logos.
Prior to the commencement of the season, the CTFL created buzz on social media about the singlets, but it would take some time for them to be seen on the track.
According to Lyness, the singlets were supposed to be shipped a month before the first meet but, due to logistical issues, they did not arrive before the season kicked off in Calgary. Lyness was left with no choice but to send over singlets from the previous season. In the end, only a few CTFL athletes ended up participating in the meet, meaning the short-notice shipment of singlets from Ontario to Alberta was an unnecessary financial burden on the young league.
For the following London, Ont. and Montreal meets, the singlets still had not arrived. The only available singlets were all black. When Lyness received that information, he decided to take matters into his own hands, printing singlets himself.
“I had to print, like, a hundred something singlets by myself in my basement, printing the CTFL logo, the sponsorship logo, and the team logo. Thank goodness I had extra team logos from last season because I did not have time to order any for this coming season,” he said.
More than the representation of the league and distinguishing teams, the absence of new singlets through the first few meets threatened the leagues sponsorship partners. Sponsorship makes up a large part of the leagues revenue and if the agreed upon requirements aren't met, sponsors can get cold feet.
“That's where the business goes belly up,” said Lyness.
The new singlets finally arrived just before the fourth preliminary meet in Guelph, Ont., more than halfway through the season.
When that problem was solved, another arose.
Some athletes, when provided with their singlets, chose not wear them in the meets. Lyness said that participating in CTFL meets without representing the league was a “bad look,” and he aims to prohibit athletes from doing so next season.
“We've come up with rules now that will be enforced next season, where your time just won't count if you're not wearing a CTFL singlet at the pre-meet for your event,” he said.
To Lyness, despite the roadblocks, the CTFL season was successful. Athletes competed in preliminary meets across the country, setting numerous records. Their times - along with marks from external meets - were ranked and varying points were given to their team depending on their rank. The top eight athletes in each event qualified for the CTFL championship where they could compete for monetary prizes and earn more points for their team. This season, the Spitfires won the league, flying high above their opponents with 1824 points. The Bears (1633) came second, Huskies (1562) third and Arctics (1553) fourth.
The CTFL’s second season was quite different from the first, and that was no accident. Lyness said that after the first season, there were aspects of the league he wanted to see change, and he decided to work to change them.
One of the most important, Lyness said, was creating an environment that would foster both connections between athletes and team loyalty. In the first year, athletes would cheer for and socialize with friends and members of the same track club but this year, there was much more camaraderie between athletes.
“This year, you're getting more involved. [Even] if you're less associated, you're cheering your team,” he said. “At the final we did a 4x200m and that brought the teams together a lot, you were repping your team, everyone was cheering you on. That was kind of what we were missing a little bit last season.”
The league also inherited a whole new standings system, which Lyness said that he enjoyed, but will take some time to be easily understood by all. “I think a lot of people had fun with [the standings,] but we need to explain it a little bit better… I think people will just learn as they get into it,” he said.
The CTFL saw substantial changes from year one and with a bigger budget going into the league's third year, Lyness hopes the league will continue to change. Next season, fans can expect the prize fund to be doubled to between $30,000 to $50,000 dollars, according to Lyness. With the larger prize fund, Lyness says the league is aiming to attract more star power.
“If they [high level athletes] are staying in Canada, they will make the CTFL a priority for them to compete at. That means a higher level of competition,” he said.
There will be an increase of points earned in the finals, too. Lyness says the league will be doubling the amount of points that each athlete can win for their team in the finals, which will make them more important to attend as the results could have an impact on the standings.
The league will also look to ramp up its content creation in the third season. This season, the CTFL published races, interviews and the “Metre-By-Metre” series - focusing on the lives of individual athletes - on both YouTube and Instagram this season. In addition, athletes became involved with content creation. As part of their Athlete Content Creation Program, the CTFL offered $500 dollars to the athlete with the best video recap of their season. Beyond the ACCP, the league stated on its website that it was willing to allocate resources to help athletes with their content creation.
Next year, Lyness says the league is going to increase and diversify its content with livestreams and more. Increasing its content creation is of extreme importance to the CEO, who believes it will help the league grow exponentially. “We're gonna be producing a lot more content, day in the lives, all those kinds of things for the athletes. I think a lot more in-depth coverage is gonna be something that fans will be able to look forward to,” he said. If we're creating that good content, more investing will be done through the CTFL, more sponsorships and stuff, more revenue for the league, and that's when we can start paying the athletes more.
With the implementation of many changes, Lyness believes that the CTFL’s second season will be looked at as a “tipping point.” In its first season, the CEO said he was uncertain about how his system would work, but after two years he says he is confident that the league is sustainable. As Lyness put it in a CTFL update video posted on Instagram, “it’s no longer struggle season.”
With each season being more lucrative than the last, Lyness hopes to soon commit himself full-time to the league and its development.
“These next few seasons will set the league up to be something that will last for decades to come potentially,” he said. “Hopefully I'll be able to take a salary next season, because I will commit to trying to get that $30,000 for the athlete prize fund, which then means that I'm allowing myself to get paid. Once we get to that point, then I can work on it for the rest of my life and also hire people to assist in growing the league.
The rapid growth of the league has not gone unnoticed, and established individuals in the track community have been reaching out to the young CEO. Recently, Lyness had a meeting with a world athletics ambassador based in the United Kingdom who wanted to see a similar league developed in their country. The ambassador was seeking Lyness’s advice and opinion on the possibility of implementing a CTFL-style system into the United Kingdom’s track atmosphere.
Lyness, two seasons in, seems to have found a successful formula within the track and field world. With the season over, he is now looking to the future, and remains hopeful.
“This is the start of something that could potentially take over the world and really elevate track and field,” he said. “Even if I'm not the one to do it, this is the thing that is going to lay the groundwork for everyone else to follow.”