The CFL will be starting its season a week earlier in 2021, according to commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
As part of the Grey Cup announcements last week, Ambrosie said the date of the 2021 game in Hamilton was set for the third Sunday in November – Nov. 21 – one week earlier than usual.
The move comes after several years of discussion regarding the CFL season, which traditionally begins around Canada Day and finishes at the end of November. The addition of a third bye week in 2018 meant the start of the season was moved up a week – regular season games begin on June 13 this year – but the Grey Cup remained in place.
But some fans have complained that playing games in late November in Canada has made the in-person viewing experience less than enjoyable, a point that was stressed by Saskatchewan Roughriders CEO and president Craig Reynolds during Ambrosie’s town hall in Regina on Sunday.
Reynolds pointed out that the team didn’t sell out the first-ever playoff game at Mosaic Stadium last November, something he attributed to the cold. The temperature at game time was -9C with wind chill making it feel much colder. Attendance was 30,609, roughly 3,000 less than capacity.
“That’s been a big concern of ours here. The evidence is just there. When you have the first-ever home playoff game at Mosaic Stadium and you’re just unable to sell it out given the support we get, there’s really only one reason for that and that’s the weather,” Reynolds said. “We really need to think about changing demographics and the at-home experience which we are now competing with. That’s No. 1 with the league and to Randy’s credit, there’s some really good movement towards that.”
Ambrosie said the move was made in conjunction with TSN and he acknowledged that the league’s broadcast rights holder has significant influence over the decision given that they pay $40 million a year to the league.
“They don’t want to bump up against the hockey playoffs. The earlier you would play going back not just to June but into May that puts you head first against the hockey playoffs,” Ambrosie said. “They are our biggest revenue partner by a long shot and so we’ve had a collaborative conversation with them and for the 2021 season we’re going to advance the season one additional week forward.”
TSN’s deal with the CFL expires after the 2021 season and Ambrosie seemed to leave the door open to further changes to the schedule in the future.
“Is this the final destination? We don’t know but it is a move in the right direction,” he said.