CFL Play Returns, but Will Revenues and Fans?

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
June 15, 2021 Updated: June 15, 2021

CFL players will return to action in August for the first time in 21 months, despite uncertainty over when fans in Ontario will be allowed in the stands.

On June 14, the Canadian Football League’s board of governors voted unanimously to proceed with a 14-game season that will kick off on Aug. 5.

“This is an exciting day for Canadian football and for Canada itself,” CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a press release. “This is great news for everyone who loves our game and our country.”

The news was welcomed by fans and by players like the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo.

“To everyone involved in making this morning feel like Christmas morning thank you! To the fans thank you for your patience & support during this long delay. I hope to see CFL viewership & engagement skyrocket as it has been greatly missed. It’s time to play some @CFL football,” Fajardo tweeted.

Massive salary rollbacks by the owners this year, and the players agreed to all of them.

“They’re bouncing off the walls. The players are excited obviously,” Pedersen said in an interview.

“It was late last week that they accepted the owners’ amended collective bargaining agreement, and I knew the players would play no matter what. So they had their fingers crossed this would be the outcome.”

The league and CFL Players’ Association ratified an amended deal on June 10, which the board of governors also agreed to on June 14. Adjustments had to be made to accommodate a season that will be four games shorter than usual.

“Just about every player that I talked to redid their deal to take a 20 percent pay cut. So yeah, massive salary rollbacks by the owners this year, and the players agreed to all of them,” Pedersen said.

“What I was told is the incentives, which are a big part of the CFL contracts—1,000-yard receiving, 1,000-yard rushing seasons—was still a grey area last week, but the players signed it and sent it off because they just wanted to play so bad they didn’t want to haggle over that.”

The league hopes for similar goodwill from the Ontario government. Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod said she will work with the province’s chief medical officer on how to accommodate fan attendance. In the meantime, teams can take the field.

“The local public health unit would have to sign off in Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto. We’d have to make sure they put in place strict travel and quarantine rules of seven days’ isolation. They’d have to cohort, essentially adopt many of the practices that the NHL and AHL had to,” McLeod said at a press conference on June 14.

CFL broadcaster TSN has reported that Ontario’s seven pro franchises made a joint submission to the provincial government requesting that home stadiums and arenas be allowed 35 percent capacity at stage two of reopening and at full capacity at stage three.

Ontario launched stage one of its reopening on June 11 and will maintain each step for at least 21 days. This makes July 2 the earliest date for stage two and July 23 the earliest date for stage three.

Edmonton Eskimos Become Edmonton Elks

Edmonton players will return to the field as the Elks, having ditched the Eskimos moniker they had used since 1949. Moshe Lander, an Edmonton resident and senior lecturer in economics at Concordia University, said the initials will remain the same in the new logo.

“You wanted to keep the EE, which was a very smart move,” Lander said in an interview, adding fans will have an adjustment phase to embrace the new name.

“It has to eventually build into the public consciousness, and that takes some time. Success on the field will never hurt that … and that goes a long way to satisfying fans who don’t like the idea of giving up a long-historic team name, regardless of its appropriateness.”

Lander says “making sure the fans are satisfied and happy and feel welcome” will be important as Edmonton rebrands and the league reboots, while noting the timing could have been better.

“My concern is that by starting in August and trying to end in December, they’re going to go head-to-head with the NFL and with U.S. college football. And so while there’s a hard-core group of fans that love the CFL and can’t wait to get back, I think that there might be a few too many competing football leagues for the limited number of eyeballs, and I think that might end up with some ratings issues, especially with the Grey Cup.”

Training camps will begin July 10 and the 108th Grey Cup will be held on Dec. 12 in Hamilton. The last time Hamilton hosted a championship game in December was in 1972, when the home team Tiger-Cats beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13–10.

Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.