Hamilton Tiger-Cats chief operating officer Scott Mitchell is a savvy sports business man with a football background.
Mitchell shared his unique perspective regarding the CFL asking the federal government for $150 million and the importance of playing games in 2020 on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Writers Bloc with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt.
Question: Has it been difficult to sell the government and broader Canadian society on support for the CFL?
Mitchell: Generally anytime you’re talking about this you’re eliminating 50 percent of the population who aren’t sports fans and then you’re going to get down into a bit of a more specific conversation about where your own league falls in line of the importance.
Q: From the Ticats perspective, can you outline the business predicament the coronavirus presents?
Mitchell: In essence our business has been shut down. In our particular case, close to 100 percent of our revenue, very close, is predicated on putting on events. The government for great reason has made difficult decisions that we all support, but that includes shutting down our business, which is live events. When you have no access to revenue and your business is predicated on putting on live events, it becomes a very, very serious financial challenge.
Q: How do you explain the players not being represented in commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s presentation to the standing committee on finance?
Mitchell: Our CBA didn’t deal with pandemics, so that’s the issue. The reality is that of course the players are going to be part of this, there’s no league without the players, and without a league there is nowhere for the players to play. Some of the rhetoric was unfortunate, the players a little bit more public about things, our method of operations is behind closed doors — there’s plenty of reasons why things happened the way they did. On a going forward basis we need to work together. The players are a fundamental part of the game, and there’s no way we’re going to be successful without both groups working together.
Q: Can you explain how the league got to asking for $150 million?
Mitchell: You can get to the numbers very quickly. We can do a great job of educating our fans and being more transparent. With the Ticats, our total player costs are closer to $7.5 million rather than $5 million, that includes everything you do from injuries to some of the other stuff you can do with the players, your benefits, your pension and everything else. The total football operations piece is generally about half of what your total operations are for the season. In our particular case, if you think about our entity on the Ticats side as a $25 million business, it’s about half of that is football operations, that’s all football operations, and half of it is just running the business.
For us in particular the Ticats we will have by the end of the month burned close to $6 million dollars to get prepared for the year. Typically you’re spending that money to prepare for a season and you’re investing that money to get yourself in a situation where you can put on the events. Clearly in our particular case, and I think you’ll see this from other teams, you’re looking at somewhere in that $12 million shortfall if you’re not playing any games, per team.
When you add that together obviously you get to a number that’s north of $100 million dollars, combined with the league office challenges. And then you get into the situation around the uncertainty of when will you be able to get back into playing games with fans, putting on events where all your revenue streams come from. Is that in September? Is that in November? Or is that in March? Or is that in June of 2021?
Q: What are the consequences for the league if you don’t get close to what you’re asking for from the government?
Mitchell: It’s hard to model out the financial model because literally things are changing everyday. It’s very tough to model things out because I think a few weeks ago we were thinking maybe it’s much more likely we could have fans in the stands in August and September, I think that’s becoming more and more challenging.
Part of the challenge is we’ve got different teams and different ownership structures. Certainly everybody understands that Bob Young has been willing to spend a lot of money to get the organization, the Tiger-Cats, to where it is, which is a sustainable, in a regular environment, it’s a good organization. But the simple fact of the matter is, even if Bob was willing to continue doing that, with the uncertainty of knowing when we could ever put on live events, you still need the league to play in, you still need other teams to play against.
It’s very, very complicated quite frankly on how to see your way through this without having the involvement of government, which they want to know what the impact to the CFL is right now, and the impact is significant economically. We employ thousands of people across this country both directly and indirectly and government wants those people employed, and we want to keep them employed. How do we do that without an access to revenue? Which for great reason has been shut off because of the measures that need to be taken to keep people healthy and safe.
We need to get back to playing football this year, and we need to figure out a way to get playing football this year, we need to get our players an opportunity to play. First and foremost in a safe environment with our coaches and our players and our staff. Clearly that’s going to be without fans to start, if not for the whole year, and we need to figure out a way to do that. The only way to do that is to figure out with government, is there a solution that’s going to enable this league to be on the field this year and enable this league to be sustainable going forward.
Q: Can the CFL play games without fans in the stands?
Mitchell: We’ve got some time to figure it out. If we can play a season, and if we can figure out a way to play without fans to start with at least, what would constitute a fair season? I would argue that we need to do everything possible — if we can figure this out — to get games on the field this year.
The challenges of putting on events with fans in the stadium, adhering to social guidelines, at Tim Hortons Field we would be looking at the absolute most — if we were ever allowed to play and if it was healthy and safe for our community and for the fans in the stadium, the most you could get into Tim Hortons Field for a Ticats game would be 4,000 people. Clearly the cost of putting a game like that on would eat into the revenue dip of 4,000 people.
It’s very, very important that we figure out and exhaust every opportunity to play. And the first and foremost focus has got to be on the health and safety of the players, of the coaches and, of course, your community. But I think, and we think, it’s very, very important to exhaust every opportunity to exhaust every opportunity to play CFL games this year for a number of different reasons.