The CFL Lives but at What Cost?

Tradition, and prestige, are terms that usually surround things that are of value, especially in sports. We value teams and organizations steeped in history, doing what we can to preserve them. Sports are not immune to the realities of life, and sometimes sports must give way to more important issues. The Canadian Football League (CFL) was forced to close its doors for 2 consecutive seasons for the first time in the league’s history. Now the CFL is set to return, but with a reduced schedule. So how will a reduced season schedule impact the CFL? There will be pros and cons that we will explore in this article by taking a closer look at the CFL Season Schedule, focusing on the effect on the teams and the overall on-field product.

Some Background on the Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League (CFL), officially began its first season in 1958, the Grey Cup, which is the trophy awarded to the winner of the championship final game, was first handed out in 1909. That is over a century of history, photos, audio, and video clips brought to football fans in Canada and the United States.

After dodging a few confrontations with a cancelled season, mostly due to financial reasons, the CFL finally shut down. Similar to many Canadian businesses, the CFL was forced to cease operations for a year for the first time ever.

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The Return of the CFL

Currently, the league is set to return with a reduced schedule of 14. A regular CFL season consists of 18 games, followed by playoffs, and the Grey Cup. Of course, having any season at all is a good thing for the CFL, however, the league struggles to keep its head above water financially normally with a full slate of games and full stadiums.

The CFL generates most of its money from ticket sales, concessions sales, and advertising revenue. Teams such as the Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes, and BC Lions, are major markets that do not rely as much on fans coming to games because they can gain revenue from advertisers, and sponsors.

Small market teams will struggle for certain. The Saskatchewan Rough Riders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and the Ottawa Red Blacks, are examples of teams who depend heavily on bottoms

being in the seats at games. The cancelled season cost the Rough Riders a loss of $7.5M according to team executives. Fewer games equal fewer opportunities to capitalize on fans spending their hard earned cash at the stadium.

Once the gates open, there will be more than likely, less fans allowed into the stands to watch the CFL and its reduced schedule. Each province has its own set of protocols and the teams in each province must adhere to what health officials and the government have set out.

Capacity in each stadium will be different, negatively affecting the CFL’s bottom line. There will be no consistency as some teams will be able to operate at full capacity, while others will open their doors to a controlled number of fans. The CFL’s Commissioner Randy Ambrosie is also delaying the start of the season from June to August. That is 2 months of potential revenue that the CFL will not be receiving. Ambrosie is handcuffed by health and safety protocols in Canada, so by delaying the start of the regular season, the hope is that once there is a return, more fans will be able to attend than if the season had started on time.

Teams such as Ottawa, have had to fold in the past due to not driving in enough revenue and that was under normal circumstances. The CFL is rumoured to have lost between $60 and $80 million dollars due to the 2020 shutdown of their season. Ambrosie had approached the Canadian Federal Government for funding to continue operating but was denied.
Historically in the CFL, when teams struggle financially, the other teams and owners combine so that the league can keep going without a hitch. This does create a burden, however, on the other teams and the CFL cannot afford that in its return.

The combination of 4 fewer games, fewer fans, a delayed beginning to the season itself, and the smaller market teams becoming a burden to the rest of the CFL equals the possibility of a gigantic financial loss for the league.

On-Field

Players are paid to play, and coaches are paid to coach. This much we know. Under normal circumstances, the CFL season brings training camps, exhibition games, and an 18-game regular season, all culminating for one team into a Grey Cup championship.

A delayed and reduced CFL season schedule will have a negative effect on the wallets of the league but will also potentially harm the teams themselves.

Training camps are opening on August 5th, provided that health trends continue to grow positively in Canada. Normally they would have already started, and the season would be underway by now.

Players will still get a camp to shake off the rust from not playing for nearly 2 years, but the reduced season also compacts the schedule. Less games mean less chances to implement new players to new systems and teammates. The new coaching staff will have less time to make adjustments with the likely rapid pace the reduction in games will produce.

With less time to prepare, train, and better acclimate themselves, injuries and a less-than- stellar on-field product will no doubt be the results of a reduced schedule. This is a fact that can be seen in every other major professional sports league in North America right now. Injuries cause teams to have to pool their resources to find replacements and in a regular-season of 18 games, there is more time to develop talent.

Depending on the position, an injury can be a more significant loss to a team than losing money. A starting quarterback, for example, is the most difficult position to replace because he must run the offense. The QB has to know every play, where every player should be on the field, as well as how to read the defense. This is a monumental task to undertake for coaches and the backup players under the best of times, let alone in a reduced CFL season schedule.

A reduced season forced an early return from the previous shortened season for the NBA. The result has been catastrophic because of a rash of injuries to star players.
The CFL is not a player-driven league, but the athletes need a consistent schedule just as any other professional athletes do. The last thing the CFL needs along with lost revenue is a tarnished product due to injuries. No disrespect to backups, but they are on the bench for a reason.

Fans of the CFL have missed out on a year of their game. Cancelling a season for the first time since its inception in 1958 cost the CFL a tremendous amount of potential revenue and any revenue it had prior to the shutdown. Have no fear fans, the CFL is coming back, albeit delayed and with a reduced schedule, but it will be back. Yes, there will be bumps and bruises along the way to the Grey Cup. Injuries, lack of fans, and the potential for inferior talent to be thrust into the spotlight, therefore, taking away from the tradition and prestige for the sake of some dollars looms large for the CFL. Money is the be-all, end-all, but for the return of the CFL to be truly successful, the league must ensure a return of what was truly lost, Canadian Football.

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