A rising tide lifts all boats: revenue sharing could revolutionize CFL business ops

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

What will the CFL look like in the future? That’s a question that’s on the minds of many right now.

We’re wondering if there will be games played this season, where they will be played, and how they’ll look should the players take to the field in 2020.

One of the big questions right now is how will the CFL change as a business because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been hitting the talk show circuit after his town hall meeting with season ticket holders. Among all of the usual questions and non-answers that we’ve seen from the commish for a while, one topic Ambrosie he’s being pretty clear on. If the CFL is going get through this (without or without government money), then things are going to have change on the business end.

At this point, Ambrosie hasn’t dug down into any kind of specific changes we could see to make the CFL stronger as a business. It’s probably too early in that process to really know for sure, so that’s entirely fair.

Will teams have to tighten their belt and spend less? For sure. Though we don’t really know how six of the nine CFL teams spend their money, we do know that the Riders, Eskimos and Blue Bombers spend pretty heavily in their front office. Some of that is by design, as these teams are technically not for profits and therefore have to put revenue somewhere. These teams probably could afford to cut their fans a break and adjust elsewhere, but that’s another story.

Do the other teams try to keep pace with the publicly-owned teams causing them financial hardship? We don’t know. Regardless, the league as a whole needs to shorten the gap between player salaries and front office/football ops pay. Most pro-sports leagues run around 50-50, give or take. The CFL may not be able to afford an even split, but the gap as it currently stands is too wide.

None of this is all that revolutionary. Businesses across all industries are always watching their expenses and adjusting accordingly. One big thing the CFL needs to adopt sooner rather than later to help change the business model is revenue sharing.

Currently, the NHL, NBA, and MLB all have some form of revenue sharing between teams. The NFL doesn’t but their national TV and sponsorship deals are so big that they don’t need to share additional revenue with teams.

I’m not going to sit here and say which model is the best one for the CFL. I’m no expert when it comes to these sorts of things. However, at the very least, bringing in some form of revenue sharing would mark a massive symbolic change in how the league operates as a business.

For far too long the CFL has felt more like nine businesses doing their own thing, everyone essentially looking out for number one. If there was a pool of money that came from some different sources to distribute among all teams or at least to teams that need the help, then the entire league would be better off. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.

A good starting point for the league could be to no longer give teams the option to buy back playoff games and put that money in the pool. A greater portion of the revenue generated by the Grey Cup could also go into this pool of money every year (an idea I’ve admittedly stolen from friend of 3DownNation Dan Plaster of CBC based on conversations we’re always having about football.) The idea being the entire league could benefit from the Grey Cup every year instead of once every nine to 10 years.

The league and TSN ever figure out how to put together a streaming package? Money in the pool. Neutral site games? Money in the pool. CFL 2.0 related revenues? In the pool. The league really could get as aggressive as it wants with revenue sharing.

It’s more important than ever that the league work as a group to make sure everyone is as strong as they can be financially.

If the CFL wants to get serious about evolving their business model, then they need to lead the way in making big changes, especially if they expect any concessions from the players.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.