CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie acknowledges failure in cancelled season, expresses optimism for 2021

Screengrab courtesy: CFL

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie spoke to the media on Monday following the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season.

The league had been working for months to play a six-game campaign with Winnipeg serving as its hub city. Those plans were scrapped over the weekend when the federal government refused the league’s request for a $30-million interest-free loan.

A number of fans expressed concern following Monday’s announcement regarding the possibility of the league folding. The CFL hasn’t been at serious risk of ceasing operations since the late 1990s, but it’s a valid concern given how much money the league could lose in 2020. Ambrosie addressed those fears during his opening statements of Monday’s availability.

“We want all Canadians to know that we are absolutely committed to the 2021 season and a bright future for the Canadian Football League,” said Ambrosie. “We’re going to now shift our focus to our future and the 2021 season, which we believe will be the biggest comeback season in the history of Canadian football.”

It’s no secret that there is financial disparity among the CFL’s nine teams. The three community-owned clubs — Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton — turn consistent profits, while those in larger markets often struggle. Ambrosie is confident that all nine teams will return to the field in 2021, but believes part of the league’s recovery will be a more cooperative approach between its member clubs.

“What has become obvious to us is that we have an opportunity to run the league differently than it’s been run in the past: a more cooperative ecosystem off the field; more sharing of resources. I’m confident that if we look for ways to be a more unified organization off the field, it’ll allow us to be as competitive as we’ve ever been on the field.”

Ambrosie expects that revenues will be “soft” in 2021 given that the COVID-19 pandemic could still be ongoing. Government support would go a long way to helping the league regain its strength and there’s reason for optimism on that front.

The federal government rejected the CFL’s request for a $30-million interest-free loan, but that doesn’t mean they will let the league die. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault provided a statement to 3DownNation expressing his intention to ensure the league’s survival.

“Football and sports are an important part of the life of many Canadians, allowing good-natured rivalries between teams to unite the country in a common passion for the game. We will continue to engage directly with the CFL and its teams to ensure they’re around for many years to come.”

Guilbeault also specified that the CFL was eligible to take advantage of government business programs, but the Board of Governors decided not to pursue those options for the 2020 season.

Ambrosie’s optimism for the future was accompanied by an acknowledgement that he failed to lead the CFL to short-term success. When asked if he could have handled the pandemic better — dating back to an abysmal performance before of the finance committee in May — Ambrosie was candid.

“I do feel responsible for the fact that we’re not going to play this season. The honest answer is in all things there are things that we can learn,” he said. “I have looked back at how this all unfolded and there are things that I would like to have done differently. You try to learn from those things and move on.”

The CFL has suffered a serious wound, but it’s not on life support. How the league navigates the next ten months will go a long way to determining how quickly it makes a full recovery.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.