Saskatoon MP Kevin Waugh: loud and clear the CFL’s business model is broken

Conservative member of parliament Kevin Waugh wants the Canadian Football League to fix its business.

“That’s come loud and clear here: what is the business model needed for the Canadian Football League?” Waugh asked on the Growing The Game podcast with Michael Ball.

“Is it that we need more Canadians on the field? Is it that we need more Canadians in the head office? In the coaching staff? This is something that they’re going to have to really talk about.”

The elected representative for the Saskatoon-Grasswood constituency saw the ups and downs of the CFL during his 39 years as a sportscaster for CTV Saskatoon. He still follows the league closely and was asked to sit in on the finance committee as a fill in when commissioner Randy Ambrosie made his presentation for up to $150 million in financial relief.

“I think the commissioner won’t come back to the finance committee. Maybe the CFL Players’ Association will, although I did have discussions with the CFL Players’ Association, Solomon Elimimian the Roughrider rep and the president of the CFL Players’ Association talked on their behalf what they would like to see,” Waugh said.

“The league right now because of the pandemic isn’t operating and there’s financial struggles, but that’s always been the case with the CFL. There’s always been a lingering issue with certain franchises. There’s a concern now that we might not have football when I think the nation is really looking forward to the resumption of CFL.”

The Saskatoon native has admitted his love for CFL football, but he wants to serve his constituents in the most prudent way when it comes to government money. The Canadian citizens and taxpayers are the ones who will ultimately have to foot the bill if the league receives any funds.

“We’ve had so many businesses in our cities and country, rural Canada, really in need. I deal right now with a lot of businesses quite frankly that are not going to open when this pandemic is over. People that have spent their whole life putting their resources into a business that quite frankly right now doesn’t make sense to open,” Waugh said.

“That’s the issue that people are struggling with, we know this is a huge hit to every Canadian. Moving forward we just want to see that we spend our taxpayers’ money to the fullest. The $30 million that is being asked up front just to get the league off and running maybe is a pretty good investment. You look in our province it means a lot to the city of Regina, the province of Saskatchewan with tourism and we desperately need a big jolt.”

Ambrosie stated the earliest the CFL might return to play – for a shortened but meaningful season – is September due to COVID-19. If there is no season in 2020, it’s estimated the CFL could lose approximately $100 million. The league lost between $10 and $20 million in 2019.

“The league is going to specific cabinet ministers who are in control of the purse, in this case the Liberal government, and that’s wise on Randy Ambrosie’s decision to go there and gain some support,” Waugh said.

“I think this would be a very good time for the league owners and the commissioner to sit down and have a new vision for the CFL because I think fans are ready for a new vision for this league. Even if they didn’t play football this year, the CFL would exist I think next year, it would look a lot different.”

Waugh has a theory that the recent surge in salaries for starting quarterbacks has hurt the bottom line. For example during free agency in 2019, the B.C. Lions signed Mike Reilly to a four-year contract worth $2.9 million, $725,000 per season. It was an approximate $200,000 jump from what the Edmonton Eskimos paid Reilly in 2018.

“That is an issue with certain teams, the salary for American quarterbacks just absolutely doesn’t fit the model that the league needs right now. What happened to the CFL they got caught over a year ago,” Waugh said.

And the 63-year-old Waugh wants to see an increase in the amount of Canadians playing on the field, coaching on the sidelines and evaluating talent in the front office. He didn’t agree with the CFL 2.0 Global initiative pushed by Ambrosie and believes if the “C” in CFL was more prominent it would result in increased revenue for the league.

“We’ve got enough good Canadians in this country to play football. Our pool of Canadians is getting better, there is no question we are producing better Canadian talent. Not all of them make it to the CFL for various reasons. It’s time to absolutely give credit to the Canadian player,” Waugh said.

“We’ve got some dreams for some Canadians that could be filled in this Canadian Football League and at the same time we don’t have enough Canadians on the field when we are playing this game, and that’s a crime I think to Canadians.”

The players are a critical element in producing an exciting product on the field which leads to $1.2 billion in economic activity each year. Waugh understands the impact the CFL has in Saskatchewan and around Canada.

“When you look at the economic value of the Canadian Football League – in our province when it’s game day the highways are full, we’re buying gas, we’re buying food, we’re in hotels, we’re buying merchandise – it is a big economic provider for the province of Saskatchewan,” Waugh said.

“And I would say out of the nine teams it probably is in six of them and the government should think about the tourism industry because right now the tourism industry has been hit hardest along with the restaurants in this country.”