CFL officially cancels 2020 season

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras/

The Canadian Football League will not play a shortened season in 2020

The CFL is shifting its focus to 2021 and beyond after deciding not to play this year.

“Our league governors decided today it is in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement Monday.

“We are absolutely committed to 2021, to the future of our league and the pursuit of our vision of a bigger, stronger, more global CFL.”

The league lost its number one source of revenue – fans in the stands – when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large gatherings. Unlike US-based leagues that can count on television or streaming to provide the lion’s share of their revenue, the CFL depends heavily on its live gate. Still, it spent the past several weeks working on a plan to launch a shortened season this September.

It was to be played in a single location – Winnipeg had been chosen as the hub city – with players living in a protected “bubble” consisting of the game day stadium, practice fields and hotels. But the league also consistently said the plan would require some meaningful federal government support, sign-off from public health authorities, and a new collective bargaining agreement with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association.

The league and the union worked together towards an agreement that would see players return to the field this year. Public health authorities in Manitoba had formally approved the safe return to play plan and federal authorities had praised it publicly. The league and its governors worked tirelessly to explore options to enable play in 2020. However, despite months of discussions, the government ultimately declined the CFL’s appeal for financial support.

“Even with additional support, our owners and community-held teams would have had to endure significant financial losses to play in 2020,” Ambrosie said.

“Without it, the losses would be so large that they would really hamper our ability to bounce back strongly next year and beyond. The most important thing is the future of our league.”

The federal government did suggest at times that the CFL pursue a commercial loan which would be partially backed by Ottawa, but it was short-term and very costly in terms of interest and fees.

“That kind of arrangement would hamper our recovery more than bolster it. On two occasions, in June and again at the beginning of August, the government reached out to us with new indications they might step up and help in a more meaningful way. But at the end of the day, the help we needed to play this year never materialized,” Ambrosie said.

“This outcome after months of discussions with government officials is disappointing. But we’re focused now on the long-term future and we will continue to work with the federal and provincial governments in that context.”

The league did have very positive discussions with the CFL Players’ Association and the two parties were close to finalizing a tentative agreement which, if ratified, would have met another requirement for play to resume this year.

“We look forward to building on our relationship with our players as we look to the future. We need to use this time to build a bigger, better, stronger CFL and I’m confident we can do just that,” Ambrosie said.

“We know people have been longing for certainty,” he said. “But we felt we owed it to our fans and our players to do everything we could to find a way to play this year if we could so safely and in a way that was responsible and feasible, as well as, prudent and safe.”

The commissioner acknowledged that the waiting has been hard for players and their families, as well as coaches, football staff and office staff across the league. Ambrosie thanked CFL fans, players and partners for their ongoing commitment to the league.

“The support, understanding and patience have been outstanding. Our players have hung in there despite the hardship imposed on them and their families by a postponed season,” Ambrosie said.

“Unfortunately, not all the necessary pieces came together. Now the time has come to shift our focus to 2021 and beyond. We will be back. And we will use this time to ensure the CFL comes back stronger than ever.”