Vanier Cup, Grey Cup pairing in the works; must happen for future growth

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras/

The Vanier Cup and Grey Cup need to be paired again for the betterment of football across Canada at the university and professional levels.

Fortunately, Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie feels the same way. After Ambrosie was installed as commish in July 2017, discussions surrounding the unification of football country-wide accelerated. A major focus has been bringing the USports national championship and the CFL title game back together on the same weekend.

The league wants to align the dates of its schedule with the Vanier Cup and plans are being made for the Grey Cup to move up one week in 2020. That means USports and its conferences would have to move accordingly to match with the CFL.

If the proposed partnership (which is currently in progress) moves forward and is finalized, the Vanier Cup would be played in Saskatoon the Saturday of Grey Cup weekend (November 21, 2020). Discussions between the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are serious with multiple meetings having already taken place to go over the details.

Griffiths Stadium was the venue for the last Vanier Cup on the prairies in which Laval University defeated Saskatchewan by a score of 13-8 to win the 2006 national title. The Grey Cup took place at old Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg that year with the events planned by the CIS and CFL, respectively.

The difference in the new incarnation would see the Riders take the lead on planning how the Vanier Cup integrates with their vision of Grey Cup week across Saskatchewan. The long-term success of the Vanier Cup hinges on guaranteeing a built-in football audience: the same people who attend Grey Cup every year.

The exclusive CFL broadcast rights holder — TSN — are an integral component of the partnership between USports and the pro three-down league. When TSN last produced Vanier Cup broadcasts the ratings increased exponentially.

An average national English audience of 660,000 watched the 2011 game at B.C. Place Stadium with close to three million tuning in to watch at least part of McMaster’s double overtime victory over Laval. In 2012, there were 502,000 viewers with the French average audience checking in at 408,000, a combined total of 910,000.

Based on the pure numbers, TSN has proven the network can grow interest in USports football. If the deal comes to fruition, the Vanier Cup would return to TSN along with Bowl games while conference championships and select events could be brought to TSN’s digital platform.

It’s a very comprehensive partnership from all sides, even getting down to the field level with USports schools using the CFL stats platform. TSN and the CFL recently agreed to a six-year contract extension on their rights deal that runs through 2027. So it’s only common sense to pull the two entities together on the football hungry network.

Conversations are ongoing in Quebec City and Calgary as the partnership works towards becoming finalized. For football to continue growing in Canada, it’s beneficial to be tied together at all levels.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.