‘We’ve had to say goodbye to some wonderful people’: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie

After cancelling the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFL knows it has to redefine and reinvigorate its business model.

With plenty of financial challenges to go between them and that goal, the league head office has felt the pain of seriously deep cuts.

“We’ve had to say goodbye to some wonderful people. We can’t forget that,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie told Postmedia reporter Dan Barnes.

“We can’t be disrespectful to them at any point. This isn’t about what they didn’t do. It’s about what we can try to do differently to make the league stronger.”

The league has let go nine head office employees and furloughed 20 others since its decision to focus on 2021 as cuts were made to almost every department. Gone is longtime statistics man Steve Daniel, viewed as a lynchpin by many who cover the league. Among the furloughed is vice president of football ops Kevin McDonald, which caused Sportsnet reporter Arash Madani to compare the current head office situation to Game of Thrones.

Unlike the Kings and Queens of Westeros, Ambrosie does not seem particularly pleased to have to lop off heads. It’s a means to an end, an unfortunate reality in the search for a more streamlined, leaner CFL business model.

“I think leaner is not a bad way to describe it. We will look to have fewer people at the league office. But one of the core strategies is to look for ways to resource share amongst the teams and the league office. This is why these conversations need to start now. There is a lot of work to pull this all together. It can put us in a position to come back leaner and just as strong,” Ambrosie said.

“Things that just have to be done, that are really necessary for where we want to go in 2021. We’ve done a good job of being disciplined around our priorities, making sure we kept the people we needed to execute against those priorities. The goal is to come back stronger. The goal is to use this crisis to really help reset our business model in a very positive way.”

The CFL has already assembled a team to head up that process, a working group of team and head office leadership that is talking to every major sports league from here to England in order to emulate their business models.

“We are taking in a lot of very valuable information and I think it is going to lead us to some conclusions that we can do some things differently going forward,” Ambrosie said.

The commissioner knows that a revamped business model will require expanded broadcast and streaming deals, an avenue that may be close to tapped out in Canada. That’s par of the reason why his focus on the international strength remains steadfast.

“It’s really critical to keep talking to our international partners, because one thing is clear, long-term we need an international TV deal if we are going to create the revenue model that other leagues have,” Ambrosie said.

While global partners in Mexico, Europe and Japan are a big part of that, so too is gaining a foothold in the football hungry United States market.

“We have to find our way into a much stronger position in that big U.S. football market. We have not done as well as we would have hoped in the past and we have to find a way to get there because those big opportunities for real digital broadcast growth are important to us,” Ambrosie admitted.

Relying on butts in seats, as the CFL has for years, crippled the league in the face of a raging coronavirus crisis, but was turning into a failing proposition regardless. Attendance is down in nearly every major sports league as fans take advantage of online streaming. The CFL has a lot of catching up to do, but Ambrosie believes it’s possible if done piece by piece.

“Every deal we can make, every piece of the puzzle we can add, every fan base we can grow creates long-term revenue streams,” Ambrosie explained.” So it is not about one blockbuster deal. It is literally about putting together a coalition of partners that can really help us to widen our revenue model.”