VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Now that the CFL isn’t going forward with its shortened fall season, a sports economist fears the league might end up losing some teams.
Ticket sales are important for every league, but it is especially true for the CFL because its gate revenues exceed the cash brought in by its broadcast deal. And so there have been major questions about the league’s viability in an era of indefinite physical distancing.
“They’re going to have to completely re-imagine what exactly is this league and what is its direction going forward. I think they have to recognize the future of this league is probably going to be a reduced number of teams. I can’t see that all nine are going to make it,” says Moshe Lander, a sports economist with Concordia University.
A shortened season was being planned, with Winnipeg being chosen as the hub city. The league proposed a “bubble” concept in order to ensure the safety of players and staff involved. This would only be possible with financial support from the federal government after coming to an agreement with the CFLPA and public health authorities.
The CFL tried to secure a $30-million interest-free loan from the federal government to make it through the 2020 season, but it was denied.
“These aren’t hugely profitable teams,” Lander says in comparison to other leagues. “They’re very much small community teams, even though they have a large place in Canadian hearts.”
So he says there’s risk of ownership groups deciding to unload the teams.
“If you can’t muster up enough interest for ownership groups to take on these teams, then at some point — and we’ve been through this before with the CFL — you hand them back say, ‘Thanks, we’re out,'” he says.
The league says it’s shifting its focus to 2021.
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James Cybulski from Sportsnet 650 says foegoing the season will be a big loss, even though the CFL has struggled to attract younger fans for a number of years.
“It just has not resonated,” he says. “They’ve been asking the question for a quarter of a century and they still don’t have an answer.”
He notes CFL TV ratings are still strong, but consist mostly of older demographics.
“There is a generation of people that grew up with the Canadian Football League that represents everything wholesome in Canadiana. It’s a big part of Canadian culture, I mean, Grey Cup parties have been an institution in this country for a very long time.”
It will be the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919.
Cybulski says the people who have been running the league are to blame if the CFL fades to black because of COVID-19.
“This is a league that has had some major financial turmoil,” he says. “We’ve seen some major businesses with a lot of clout and established names go down as a result of this pandemic over the last few months. It doesn’t surprise me at all that we’re seeing a sports league with over 100 years of history to be in the same position because they don’t have the pockets like the other major sports leagues in North America.”
-With files from Dean Recksiedler and the Canadian Press