Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie has written a lengthy open letter regarding the current state of the CFL amid the coronavirus crisis.
We are in this together, all of us who love and support, and are part of, the Canadian Football League. And that is why I want to share a short update with everyone today.
Like so many businesses, we have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been forced to postpone our season. We continue to assess whether we can still play a shortened season in 2020 against two criteria: whether we can do so safely, and whether it is financially viable. We love our game and want to see it back on the field.
We know this situation is tough on our fans, sponsors, employees — and especially tough on our players. Some have received off-season bonuses, but many have gone without pay since last season. We know that’s enormously difficult for them, their families and we’ve been working on ways to help.
One example is our ongoing work with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association asking the federal government to change the criteria for its wage subsidy program so that our players are fully eligible. Together with the CFLPA, we’ve written to government explaining the circumstances and asking for the changes. We know government is managing a crisis across the entire country, but are optimistic they will find an opportunity to act on our submission and help assist the players that COVID-19 has prevented from going to work.
We also understand that our players want certainty. So do our fans and so do I. We want to make as informed a decision as possible on this year, to make it as soon as possible and most of all to make the right decision for Canadians. Above all, with COVID-19 re-opening plans continuing to evolve across the country, we will be guided by the advice and experience of Canada’s Public Health Officers who have worked tirelessly and endlessly to protect Canadians during the pandemic.
Our focus also goes far beyond whether we play in the fall. We are committed to taking actions that not only allow us to weather the COVID-19 storm, but also ensure we have a foundation to renew, reinforce and one day continue the growth of the CFL. It was reported this week that non-player football operations across the league have been asked to cut their budgets by 20 per cent. We know this is tough on our very dedicated coaches, general managers and scouts.
But we all must show leadership at this time. That’s why I and every member of our league’s executive team voluntarily took pay cuts of at least 20 per cent back in April. There have also been pay cuts, reductions in hours and even layoffs across the nine CFL clubs as well as the league office since the pandemic struck. We continue to look for more efficiencies and opportunities to overcome the challenges of COVID-19. We are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to controlling costs and creatively looking for revenue.
Our fans make the game possible and they too have sacrificed. The vast majority of CFL season ticket holders have chosen to leave their pre-season deposits with our clubs, providing us with much needed operating capital. We can’t thank them enough. The enthusiasm and support of Canadians from coast-to-coast inspires us every day – and at no time more than during the COVID-19 crisis.
When it comes to the role of the fans, not all sports leagues are the same. Larger US-based leagues play for a larger North American market and get the lion’s share of their revenue from television. While we are grateful for our US fans — and those even further abroad — the CFL plays for Canadians and depends on ticket sales more than any other source of funds. From a financial point of view, playing without fans is far less important to making it through COVID-19 for the NBA or NHL than it is for our league.
We love our game, our players, and our fans. We’re working hard everyday to find a way to get back on the field in 2020.
We look forward to more opportunities to work with the CFLPA on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether there can be a season in 2020, the short term and long term recovery plan for Canada’s league and what we need to have in place together for 2021 and beyond. The practical and financial realities imposed by COVID-19 will –- as is the case for many Canadian businesses –- provide a framework for talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. A strong, positive, and productive partnership with our players is critical to enduring the pandemic, returning to the field, and getting back on the track to pursuing a future that will directly benefit players, the league, and our fans.
We are strongly committed to working positively with our players and to always trying to build a better relationship. Only by working together can we reach our goal: to come out of this pandemic, and out of 2020, having done all we can to secure the strongest possible future for the CFL, its players and all of us who love and support this wonderful league.