CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie put out a bleak forecast for the 2020 CFL season amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has put the majority or professional sports on hold across North America.
Ambrosie spoke via video during his testimony before a House of Commons standing committee on finance, following reports that the CFL had requested up to $150 million in financial assistance from the federal government due to the pandemic.
According to the Canadian Press (h/t TSN), Ambrosie said the league’s future is “very much in jeopardy” while pointing out that league teams collectively lost around $20 million last year, admitting that a cancellation of the 2020 CFL season is the most likely route to take.
“Ours is a big brand but not a wealthy business,” Ambrosie said. “Unlike large US-based leagues, our biggest source of revenue is not TV — it’s ticket sales.
“Governments coping with COVID 19 — for reasons of public health that we totally support — have made it impossible for us to do what we do. Our best-case scenario for this year is a drastically truncated season. And our most likely scenario is no season at all.”
Ambrosie’s comments were met with a bit of kickback from MPs Kevin Waugh (Conservative, Saskatoon), Peter Julian (NDP, New Westminster-Burnaby) and Peter Fragiskatos (Liberal, London North Centre), who took aim at Amrosie’s comments, picking holes in his arguments.
“Some of your comments have a lot of holes in them,” said Waugh, who also asked if the CFL was looking for a bailout or loan.
“What we’re looking for is a partnership with government,” Ambrosie said. “Our fundamental position is that we are looking for financial support that we want to pay back to Canadians.
“If it’s in the form of a loan, perhaps we pay some of that loan back through programs . . . we’re really looking for a business relationship that would be good for Canadians in the long run.”
Waugh also pointed out the 2018 profits of teams such as the Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers while adding that the league’s six remaining franchises are privately owned by people or corporations with deep pockets.
“The fact is that in the face of essentially a zero revenue model, all of our teams, including our community teams, are going to suffer significant losses that are going to be hard to recover from,” Ambrosie said. “The real issue is this crisis is essentially going to quadruple or more the financial losses that our teams will take in a season that could potentially be lost altogether.”
Julian asked why the CFL Player’s Association wasn’t present, or a part of, Ambrosie’s presentation.
“Those are the world-class athletes, as you’ve said, that actually are the heart and soul of the CFL,” Julian said. “What would they be saying if they were before the committee?
“And how much of the financial support you’re requesting would be going directly to the players of the CFL?”
“As for how much will go to players, we have to work that out,” Ambrosie said. “We know, for example, our players and alumni could be a potential solution in the healing of Canada.
“Our approach was that we simply wanted government to know we need help. The details of how it all comes together are yet to be decided and that has to be with our players and that has to be done with government as partners.”
“Thank-you for your answer,” Julian said. “But the reality is, as we know, it’s the CFL players that are the heart of CFL football and I think it’s important we hear from them as quickly as possible.”
Julian also asked that while during the pandemic, the league’s wealthier ownership, “stepping up to provide support for the CFL?”
“All of those groups and people you mentioned have been stepping up,” Ambrosie said. “The question really for us is how many losses can these owners take when they’ve been losing approximately in total $20 million a year?
“And there is now, of course, a dramatically accelerated level of losses that will come with a truncated season or a lost season altogether.”
Later on in the contentious conversations, Ambrosie again pointed to a rather bleak future for the CFL, if current conditions continue.
“We are currently operating on the money (of) our fans, and to a lesser extent our broadcasters and sponsors, pay us in advance for games,” Ambrosie said. “The day is fast approaching when we will have to cancel several games and perhaps the season.
“And then our fans and partners will have every right to demand their money back. At that moment, our financial crisis will become very real and very big.
“A ban on large gatherings means no revenue, no business, for us. We want to ensure it also does not mean no CFL, for the future.”
“I don’t mind telling you, this is humbling but the fact is we need your support,” he said. “So we can be there for all the community groups that depend on us.
“Whenever it comes, we want our next Grey Cup — Canada’s 108th — to be the place where we can all celebrate that we did get through this. And that Canada is back.”
Read even more about the comments, responses, and pleas, at the full report on TSN from the Canadian Press.
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