CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivers plea to Canadian finance committee for $150 million

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivered his plea to the Canadian federal government for the up to $150 million the three-down league could need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

If there is no season in 2020, it’s estimated the CFL could lose approximately $100 million. The regular season was scheduled to kick-off on Thursday, June 11, but Ambrosie has stated the schedule won’t start before the beginning of July.

Ambrosie appeared via video conference. He said in part:

“Its future is very much in jeopardy. Ours is a big brand, but not a wealthy business. Collectively our teams lose between $10 and $20 million dollars a season. 

The salary of NBA superstar Steph Curry is equal to the salaries of all of our players combined. 

Our product is football but what we really do is bring Canadians together. Two million Canadians buy tickets to our games each year. Large gatherings is the lifeblood of the CFL. 

Unlike large US-based leagues our biggest source of revenue is not TV, it’s ticket sales. 

Our best case scenario for this year is a drastically truncated season. And our most likely scenario is no season at all. We are currently operating on the money our fans and to a lesser extent the broadcasters and sponsors pay us in advance for games.

The day is fast approaching when we will have to cancel several games and perhaps the season. And then our fans and our partners will have every right to demand their money back, at that moment our financial crisis will become very real and very big. 

The spirit and substance of our ask to the federal government has been obscured somewhat by the power of a headline. 

We have told the federal government we need $30 million in working capital to keep operating and keep as many people employed as possible. It is very challenging to be precise on what additional help we might need because COVID-19 has literally created a world of uncertainty. 

What about 2021? Can we pack our stadiums then or not? A friend of mine says we’re all operating in a Fog Bowl right now. 

We estimated that we could need as much as an additional $120 million over the next two years — if the most negative scenarios, all of them, come true. 

Here’s our bottom line: we want the support we need to get through this crisis, and not a dime more. 

We support the decisions government have made, but the effects on our business is devastating. We just don’t want it to be fatal. A ban on large gatherings means no revenue and no business for us. We want to ensure it does not mean no CFL for the future. 

We need the support so we can be there for all the community groups that depend on us. So we can continue to deliver $1.2 billion in economic activity each year. 

Whenever it comes, we want our next Grey Cup, Canada’s 108th, to be a place where we can all celebrate what we did to get through this, and that Canada is back.”

After Ambrosie made his statement, members of the standing committee on finance in Canada, including noted Saskatchewan Roughriders follower Kevin Waugh, asked Ambrosie about the details of his request for federal aid amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ambrosie was taken to task for not having the players by his side.

The mandate of FINA is to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of selected federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency, and to conduct pre-budget consultations.

Ambrosie’s presentation was a critical step in the league’s quest to secure funding from the government.

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