The coronavirus pandemic brought the sports world to its knees, suspending play indefinitely. If they return they'll be playing in front of an audience of empty bleachers, with teams losing out on millions of dollars of ticket sales. For the Canadian football League, the virus could mean axing their entire upcoming season.
So, the CFL went to the federal government to ask for help getting back on its feet.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie asked Canada’s Standing Committee on Finance to provide 30 million dollars immediately and up to an additional 120 million dollars over the next two years to help the CFL overcome their expected loss of gate revenue in the 2020 season.
Ambrosie predicts the league might have to wait for up to another year to take the field, including the four Mustangs drafted into the CFL less than a month ago.
“Our best case scenario for this year is a drastically truncated season,” said Ambrosie at the meeting on May 7. “Our most likely scenario is no season at all.”
Peter Fragiskatos, Liberal MP for London North Centre and member of the Standing Committee on Finance, believes Ambrosie is correct and that public safety restrictions could lead the 2020 season to be cancelled.
Ambrosie proposed a “partnership” between the CFL and the federal government, offering “in-stadium, online and broadcast assets” in addition to expanding the CFL’s community involvement.
“Our product is football, but what we really do is bring Canadians together,” Ambrosie told the committee. He hopes that "the CFL can continue to be one of those things that connects us as Canadians, something [that’s] uniquely ours.”
However there was confusion about what Ambrosie was asking of the government, as Fragiskatos expressed in an interview with the Gazette.
“It was unclear as to what constituted as a partnership,” said Fragiskatos, questioning a lack of specifics brought forth by Ambrosie. “That was never really defined in the meeting unfortunately."
Restrictions on large gatherings, whose implementation Ambrosie understood and agreed with, has hurt the CFL financially. The CFL is heavily reliant on gate revenue. Larger professional leagues have the advantage of big network deals to keep them afloat, whereas the CFL's has a smaller contract with TSN.
“Large gatherings are the lifeblood of the CFL,” said Ambrosie.
Ambrosie claimed that even in a regular year CFL teams operate in the red. These losses make obtaining loans from banks unrealistic, which is why Ambrosie appealed the government. However, Fragiskatos believes that banks' unwillingness to loan the CFL money should have a negative influence on the government’s decision.
The Standing Committee on Finance does not have the power to compel financial documents and the CFL didn't provide them to the committee, and so the CFL’s claims about their desperate financial state could not be proved.
“If I was to recommend something today to the government … I would absolutely not recommend that the federal government grant financial assistance to the CFL,” said Fragiskatos. “I can’t see why the federal government should back the league in financial terms.”
At the end of the day, it won’t be the Standing Committee on Finance’s decision as to whether to grant the CFL’s request. That decision will rest with Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet.
CFL preseason games were supposed to begin May 24 and the regular season on June 11, but games have been postponed indefinitely as the league rides out the pandemic.