Lions owner David Braley: ‘If we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that CFL won’t survive’

B.C. Lions owner David Braley believes the CFL must put on games in 2020 or the league could risk folding altogether.

“I don’t think we should throw it out because I really believe that if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” Braley told TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver.

“There’s no money. How can you afford to lose $5 and 10 million a team? I think we still have time to play from September 5 or 6 on, say an eight or nine game schedule.”

The CFL regular season was scheduled to kick-off on Thursday, June 11, but Randy Ambrosie has stated the schedule won’t start before the beginning of July. Ambrosie presented to the standing committee on finance for COVID-19 financial aid and Braley was asked about the commissioner’s performance. 

“I can’t comment on that, I had nothing to do with his preparation, I had nothing to do with getting it ready. I can’t comment on something that I had nothing to do with,” Braley said.

“Some teams are on the edge. I’m not going to discuss that publicly. I’ve asked to look at some of the books, talk with the commissioner about some of them to see where we are.”

During Ambrosie’s plea for up to $150 million in coronavirus financial aid, he asked for $30 million in working capital to maintain operations through the crisis and estimated the league could need as much as an additional $120 million over the next two years — if the most negative scenarios, all of them, come true.

“They may finance us for $20 or $30 million. If that happens, and as long as we get the television money, it’s possible then to find a way to get by without each team losing too much,” Braley said.

“But if we don’t have the finances in place it’s very difficult to play. I would say that it’s very marginal, there’s no sympathetic ear to start with. You make the presentation and hope that you get somewhere.”

Ambrosie divulged the future of the CFL 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.

“I see over the next month some of these things coming to the forefront and being handled then, but right now, not all the facts are in. If the people don’t come out to watch the games, then things could get very difficult,” Braley said.

“Our budgets are made up of basically two-thirds fan revenue, and one-third other. In the United States, TV covers everything. I wouldn’t make any decision on that until I see the facts.”

Back in 1997, the NFL and CFL agreed on a five-year partnership, it allowed the NFL to play one pre-season game in Toronto or Vancouver for the span of the deal. For the three-down league it provided a $3 million loan. Perhaps a discussion worth holding considering the CFL’s current situation in needing aid to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

“You have to consider anything depending on all the facts involved. That was 20 years ago and we borrowed $3 million and we repaid them half a million a year for several years after, that was a loan,” Braley said.

The Burlington, Ontario resident has owned the Lions for 23 years, purchasing the franchise in 1997. During his time as owner, B.C. has won three Grey Cups in 2000, 2006 and 2011. The Leos are not contending in 2019 as the only team to miss the playoffs in the West Division.

“Basically, I’m not down that much money overall, if any, because of the money I made on three Grey Cups I’ve had that were very good, the one in 2011 one was just an outstanding one,” Braley said.

“When and if we do play, by gosh, come on out and buy a ticket. There has to be enough money behind the franchise to justify a franchise.”