Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has used his annual “road trip” to 10 Canadian cities to promote his vision for growing the game internationally, the so-called “CFL 2.0” initiative. But during his recent stop in Halifax, Ambrosie revealed an even more daunting part of the agenda: taking on the NFL.
After drawing his usual parallels to the English Premier League, the international expansion of the NHL and the impact of Yao Ming on the NBA, Ambrosie questioned how the CFL and its fans see themselves in relation to the NFL. Canadians, he hinted, have something of an inferiority complex.
“At some point along the way, we somehow thought that the role for a big international football league was another league, maybe somewhere south of here, that somehow they should just be bigger than we are, they should just be the international league,” Ambrosie said. “And I say, ‘well, why?’ I didn’t read that anywhere, I don’t think I read a document that said we gave up the territorial rights to the rest of the world.”
The NFL has been playing games internationally since 2007, mostly in London, though there was also the ill-fated “Bills in Toronto” series from 2008 to 2013. The league is slated to play five games internationally in 2019, including four in London and one in Mexico as the NFL powers towards its goal of $25 billion in revenue by 2027.
According to TSN’s Dave Naylor, the CFL generated $210 million in revenue last year and CFL 2.0 hopes to double that. By comparison, the NFL’s number was about $15 billion in 2018.
Despite that disparity, Ambrosie questioned the entertainment value of the NFL game when compared to the CFL, including a reference to last season’s low-scoring Super Bowl game.
“Can anyone remember the last time a CFL game was 3-3 at half-time? You have to run during the commercial break to get your nacho chips and cool drink because if you walk probably 14 points got scored while you were away,” he said. “This game is worthy of being big and international.”
He also took a subtle shot at American president Donald Trump, who has been focussed on building a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
“Football is being played in 40 countries around the world – 40 countries – and we can sit at the epicentre of those 40 countries,” Ambrosie said. “And while other people are busy building, or talking about building walls, we’re going to build bridges.”
Ambrosie seems convinced that Canadians want more international sporting events and used a comparison between the Memorial Cup and the World Junior tournament to illustrate his point.
“This past year, the Memorial Cup was played in Regina and their average per minute audience was 287,000,” Ambrosie said. “If you compare that to the World Junior hockey tournament, it has an averaged per minute audience rating in excess of a million viewers. What it tells us is that Canadians love big international sports. We just do.”
Well, maybe. But it also could be that Canadians love the World Juniors because it features the absolute best junior hockey players on the planet and it appeals to our national pride. CFL 2.0, on the other hand, seems intent on bringing in players of middling quality from other countries that may or may not take jobs away from Canadian players.
Finally, Ambrosie debunked the theory that CFL 2.0 is just his way of travelling the world on the league’s – and therefore fans – dime.
“This exercise is not just about getting air miles – my daughters use them anyway – it’s about establishing our place in the world, a place that we’re worthy of,” he said.