Manitoba government puts together 2020 CFL hub city committee

The province of Manitoba has provided further details on its plan for the management and execution of the Winnipeg hub city.

As the Canadian Football League has tentatively selected Winnipeg as its hub city for a potential fall 2020 season, the province created a community-based volunteer committee to oversee the plans, Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler and Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox.

“A major event like being the CFL’s hub city will bring positive economic benefits to Winnipeg and help return more Manitobans to work in hard-hit areas like tourism and hospitality,” Eichler said.

“With public health and safety at its foundation, the committee will focus on engaging the community and ensuring Manitoba gets a good return on our investment.”

On behalf of the province, the CFL 2020 Hub City Committee will provide community oversight of the detailed plans and strategies developed by the league and the Winnipeg Football Club. It will focus on:
•    overall economic return on investment of the province’s $2.5 million commitment, through tax revenues, direct and indirect economic impact and social indicators;
•    building and fostering community engagement, spirit and support;
•    providing community oversight and support to the CFL and the WFC to facilitate the effective delivery of the 60-game CFL season.          

The volunteer committee will be chaired by Brock Bulbuck, executive chair of Boyd Group Services Inc. Other members are:
•    David Asper, Q.C., acting dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba;
•    Barb Gamey, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Payworks, Inc.;
•    Obby Khan, founder and CEO of Shawarma Khan restaurants and former Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive linesman;
•    Dr. Peter MacDonald, orthopedic surgeon;
•    James Murphy, community and youth liaison, Manitoba Construction Sector Council, and former Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver;
•    Jennefer Nepinak, associate vice president of Indigenous Engagement, University of Winnipeg;
•    Hannah Pratt, founder and freelance consultant, Hannah Rose PR;
•    Paul Robson, former general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and former chair of the CFL; and
•    George Sigurdson, founder and president of Sigurdson Financial Group Inc.

The committee will also include ex-officio members Philip Houde, CEO of the Manitoba Economic Development Office and Secretary to the Economic Growth Committee of Cabinet; Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba; and Dayna Spiring, president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg and chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors.

“We are excited for the return of CFL football to our city and the opportunity to support the shortened season and boost community pride,” said Cox.

“The games will have a different look and feel without fans in the stands, but our priority is the health and safety of all Manitobans and all event participants, so we can continue to be one of Canada’s safest jurisdictions.”

All plans and strategies will consider the health and safety of all Manitobans and visitors, including CFL personnel and players, and require Public Health approval on all related elements. The committee will not be responsible for developing public health and safety protocols, which will continue to be created and enforced by public health officials.

“Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living has worked closely with the CFL to ensure that the health and safety of Manitobans comes first,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer. “We will continue to do so when the season starts, to ensure that the appropriate steps are being taken so everyone involved is safe as we learn to live with this virus.”

Everyone associated with the tightly-controlled hub city environment will be expected to follow all public health protocols at all times. International players will be required to isolate for 14 days at home before arriving in Winnipeg and seven days upon arrival. The general public will not be allowed inside dedicated CFL host hotels or IG Field. Only players, staff, league officials and media can enter the stadium. Violations will result in strict penalties, which could include players being sent home for the remainder of the season.

Earlier this week, the province announced the creation of an $8 million #RestartMB Event Attraction Strategy to maximize the potential of Winnipeg and rural destinations to host large-scale meetings, conventions and events. The strategy will carefully balance public health considerations with ongoing efforts to restart the Manitoba economy.

Of that fund, the province has earmarked $2.5 million to facilitate the CFL hub city event, which would offset eligible event-specific league expenses such as food and accommodations, practice field rentals and group transportation. The investment by the province was a required component of the bid to have Winnipeg selected as the hub city.

Should the abbreviated 15-week season proceed, Winnipeg would serve as the backdrop for 60 football games televised across Canada and the 108th Grey Cup Championship. The hub city event would bring an estimated 800 participants to Winnipeg and generate $45 million in business sales, $4.5 million in direct tax and approximately $4 million in hotel stays, as well as support 600 jobs.

The province of Manitoba had several inaccuracies, with Postmedia’s Dan Barnes reporting that the season will consist of a maximum of 27 regular season games and seven playoff games for a total of 34 televised games, not 60 as suggested. TSN’s Dave Naylor added that the bubble will also exist for just 11 weeks, not the 15 written in the release, with nine weeks for games and two for training camp.

Either way, the committee won’t have any job to do if the league and its players can’t come to an agreement on an amended CBA and the Canadian federal government doesn’t provide financial assistance.