TORONTO – The Canadian Football League is shifting its focus to 2021 and beyond after deciding not to play a shortened season this Fall.
“Our league governors decided today it is in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future,” said Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
“We are absolutely committed to 2021, to the future of our league and the pursuit of our vision of a bigger, stronger, more global CFL.”
Season ticket holders can expect to hear soon from their clubs with news on how they can apply their deposits to next season or other offers.
And the CFL will have lots to say in the days ahead on next season, including the 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton, which Ambrosie predicted will be the largest “reunion” in Canadian sports history.
He added the league and its teams are working together on a new initiative that will allow fans to show their pride in the CFL’s storied history at the same time they pledge their support for the future, which will be unveiled in the coming days.
The league lost its number one source of revenue – fans in the stands – when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large gatherings.
Unlike US-based leagues that can count on television or streaming to provide the lion’s share of their revenue, the CFL depends heavily on its live gate.
Still, it spent the past several weeks working on a plan to launch a shortened season this September.
It was to be played in a single location – Winnipeg had been chosen as the hub city – with players living in a protected “bubble” consisting of the gameday stadium, practice fields and hotels.
But the league also consistently said the plan would require some meaningful federal government support, sign-off from public health authorities, and a new collective bargaining agreement with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association.
The league and the union worked together towards an agreement that would see players return to the field this year. Public health authorities in Manitoba had formally approved the safe return to play plan and federal authorities had praised it publicly. The league and its governors worked tirelessly to explore options to enable play in 2020. However, despite months of discussions, the government ultimately declined the CFL’s appeal for financial support.
“Even with additional support, our owners and community-held teams would have had to endure significant financial losses to play in 2020,” Ambrosie said.
“Without it, the losses would be so large that they would really hamper our ability to bounce back strongly next year and beyond. The most important thing is the future of our league.”
The federal government did suggest at times that the CFL pursue a commercial loan which would be partially backed by Ottawa, but it was short-term and very costly in terms of interest and fees, Ambrosie said.
“That kind of arrangement would hamper our recovery more than bolster it. On two occasions, in June and again at the beginning of August, the government reached out to us with new indications they might step up and help in a more meaningful way. But at the end of the day, the help we needed to play this year never materialized,” he said.
“This outcome after months of discussions with government officials is disappointing. But we’re focused now on the long-term future and we will continue to work with the federal and provincial governments in that context.”
The league did have very positive discussions with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association and the two parties were close to finalizing a tentative agreement which, if ratified, would have met another requirement for play to resume this year.
“We look forward to building on our relationship with our players as we look to the future. We need to use this time to build a bigger, better, stronger CFL and I’m confident we can do just that,” Ambrosie said.
The Commissioner acknowledged that the waiting has been hard for players and their families, as well as coaches, football staff and office staff across the league.
“We know people have been longing for certainty,” he said. “But we felt we owed it to our fans and our players to do everything we could to find a way to play this year if we could so safely and in a way that was responsible and feasible, as well as, prudent and safe.”
Ambrosie thanked CFL fans, players and partners for their ongoing commitment to the league.
“The support, understanding and patience have been outstanding. Our players have hung in there despite the hardship imposed on them and their families by a postponed season. Our fans keep asking how they can help. And our partners, especially our friends at Bell Media, have been incredible to us,” he said.
“I want to thank all of them. I also want to express our gratitude to all our fellow Canadians because their efforts flattened the pandemic’s curve to the extent that a 2020 season appeared feasible. Unfortunately, not all the necessary pieces came together,” Ambrosie added.
“Now the time has come to shift our focus to 2021 and beyond. We will be back. And we will use this time to ensure the CFL comes back stronger than ever.”