Takeaways from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s town hall

Screengrab courtesy: CFL

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie put on a cross-country town hall with a lot of CFL news and context behind the decisions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league announced the following: the earliest the 2020 season could start would be September; if played, the 2020 Grey Cup will be hosted by whichever team holds the best record; the Saskatchewan Roughriders will now host the Grey Cup in 2022; and the Touchdown Atlantic game was cancelled.

Ambrosie provided an update regarding the league’s scenarios for potentially being on the field, including hub cities, CBA hurdles, the Atlantic Schooners franchise and financial issues facing the CFL.

Clock ticking

If there is no season in 2020, it’s estimated the CFL could lose approximately $100 million. Health and safety plus dollars and cents will ultimately decide on the fate of a potentially lost season.

“The very real possibility exists that we won’t play this year. All of this at some point we’re going to have to make a final decision on what’s best,” Ambrosie said.

“We’ll be guided primarily by health-related issues, but there will be financial considerations that we’ll have to account for as well.”

Playing games with or without fans

Ambrosie stated that the league has been in conversations with the governments in all of the league’s jurisdictions, most notably their public health officials.

“Of the many different scenarios that we have been investigating, all of those are on the table. One, being playing without fans at all. Another being some kind of a social distancing protocol that would allow us to have some fans in the stadiums,” Ambrosie said.

Based on advice and guidance the CFL has been looking at their facilities and figuring out strategies for how fans might be brought in safely, how many could be in the stadiums, and how they could be accommodated.

“We’re really looking at these things through multiple lenses. One, the safety and health of our fans. Another, the safety and health of our players and football operations people, coaches, etcetera,” Ambrosie said.

“But ultimately the most important consideration of all is the health issue. We’re talking with public health officials literally day in and day out and getting guidance from them. So we are looking at multiple scenarios, we’re not really ruling anything out. We think that a practical consideration for this season is to start in September.”

The NCAA and NFL are full speed ahead for playing in September. Although, the United States and President Donald Trump have handled the coronavirus crisis in a more careless manner. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Canada overall, has taken a more careful approach and it could pay-off in the long run for the country and CFL.

What’s all the hubbub?

Hub cities are hot topics among the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS as North American pro sports leagues try to figure out the best way to possibly hold games. Ambrosie admitted the CFL has a committee investigating the scenario.

“It’s complicated by all the moving parts. Central to that are the health issues that relate to our players, our coaches, our football operations, our medical staff, and all the people who would interact with our players,” Ambrosie said.

“The notion is you would bring everybody essentially into isolation and try to keep them isolated as they play the games. There is a lot of complexity to that. For the time … work on that will continue in the days ahead.”

The commish didn’t appear to be particularly enthused about the hub city concept. However, there are rival executives who believe it could be plausible if certain cities prohibit large gatherings into the fall or heavily populated centres such as Toronto are still higher risk areas for contracting the virus.

Making it up on the fly

No one foresaw a pandemic coming when the CFL and CFL Players’ Association negotiated their collective bargaining agreement last May. The same could be said for all other major sports leagues.

It’s caused uncertainty when it comes to the original agreement under which the league was operating, but in a new world there has to be new order.

“What’s obvious is that there was no planning for a pandemic in our collective bargaining agreement and collective bargaining agreements from all around the world, nobody had a line of sight to a pandemic scenario,” Ambrosie said.

“So all of these things are going to have to be discussed with the players’ association to figure out what’s best going forward.”

Fortunately, Ambrosie is listening to the players as the two sides have seemingly come together for the betterment of the CFL. That said, there are a litany of items that need universal approval to play, top among them: salary for a shortened season, if games happen.

Schooners stadium sailing

There were many who believed that COVID-19 sunk the Atlantic Schooners’ boat from officially docking in Halifax. But Ambrosie assured the masses his vision remains unchanged out east.

“I give you this assurance, while the COVID pandemic may cause some interruptions in our planning, that dream — that idea of the 10th team, the truly coast-to-coast Canadian football league — is not going to die and we’re going to continue to work at it in the weeks and months ahead,” Ambrosie said.

Prior to the pandemic, Halifax Regional Municipality debated the proposed stadium and it ended with council voting 10-7 in favour of funding $20 million for the project. It was a major win for Schooners Sports and Entertainment, but the pause button has certainly been hit on the process.

$150 million reasons

Less than two weeks ago, Ambrosie presented to the standing committee on finance and asked for up to $150 million in financial aid from the political powers in Canada.

“We’ve had ongoing conversations with the federal government as recently as late Friday afternoon last week. Our strategy was always going to look at a number of different ways to see ourselves through this crisis. One of those conversations was with the federal government, we’d been talking to the provincial governments,” Ambrosie said.

“And, there are things we’re working on, on our own. There’s no quit in any of the governors or presidents and we’re looking at all possible ways to make sure that we survive this crisis and that we come back bigger, stronger and better than ever in 2021 and beyond.”

CFL business model reimagined

Even though Ambrosie pled for an eye-popping amount of money, he insists the three-down league doesn’t want to rely on a government handout for the league to keep itself alive.

“How do we restructure our business model? What changes can we make to make our league stronger? We’re looking at our business models, we’re looking at our cost models, we’re having really good discussions with the players’ association. We’re going to be talking with our coaches and football operations partners because they play such a vital role in our game,” Ambrosie said.

“It’s time to really work on our business model — to really look at the foundation on which our league sits. One where we get our cost models into place. That’s the single greatest lesson from this, is we need to do work on our business now. This is a chance for us to work on our business, to set a new foundation for the league’s future.”

Whether money comes from the government, the CFL needs to ensure it can maintain operations, especially after Ambrosie revealed collectively CFL teams lose between $10 and $20 million dollars a season

“There is an opportunity to take a step back, revisit our business model and make sure that we’re set up for a prosperous future,” Ambrosie said.

“Yes, there are significant challenges. Yes, there are obstacles to overcome. It’s survive the crisis, that’s our strategy, and then set ourselves up to thrive into the future.”

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