CFL lost between $60 and $80 million through cancelled 2020 season: report

Photo courtesy: Drew Edwards

Uncertainty continues to swirl concerning the CFL’s proposed 2021 season, but the price tag for not playing in 2020 is already a hefty one.

Sources have told Dan Ralph of the Canadian Press that the year long absence has cost the three down league somewhere between $60 and $80 million dollars, though the CFL has not yet unveiled its official financial results.

The massive losses have the CFL scrambling to find a way to play in 2021 and put fans in the stands to return their primary source of revenue.

“We’ve got a schedule in place and we’re committed to it,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Thursday. “Our real focus is on all the planning that’s going to have to go into executing against that and also having maximum adaptability because there’s no doubt we’re going to have to make adjustments to our plan.

“We just need to be ready at a moment’s notice to make those adjustments . . . that’s really how we’re planning our business. We’re committed to being on the field in 2021 . . . we’re just keeping all of our avenues open.”

The CFL unveiled its 2021 schedule back in November but has yet to indicate the likelihood of it going forward as planned. The pre-season is scheduled to begin on Sunday, May 23, while the regular season is slated to get underway on Thursday, June 10.

Ambrosie has promised plenty of football in 2021, but a delayed start to the season to better match the vaccination timeline laid out by the federal government remains on the table.

Earlier Thursday, the federal government released projections that 14.5 million Canadians will receive their immunization by the end of June. That number could rise, but ensuring butts in seats regardless of vaccination numbers remains the CFL’s top priority.

“We had a pretty good playbook for health and safety but it’s going to have to be reviewed thoroughly and refreshed,” Ambrosie said. “There’s no doubt government is going to be involved ultimately in the approval of our return-to-play plan.”

In search of inspiration for those protocols, the league has looked to the NHL’s North Division for guidance on how to play in Canada during a pandemic.

“We’re watching closely [the NHL] for their experience and what they’re learning,” the commissioner explained. “We’ve received tremendous support from all leagues, including the NHL, just to really help us think through the challenges we might face through the lens of what they’re currently facing.”

Even if inoculations and protocols facilitate the return of revenue for the CFL, the way forward remains treacherous. Even before the money drain caused by the cancelled season, Ambrosie told Parliament that the league’s teams absorbed a combined $20 million in losses in 2019.

The decision to cancel the season came after the federal government refused support for a $30 million interest-free loan to fund a Winnipeg hub city and the league’s precarious financial position might require government support once again. Unlike 2020 however, the CFL won’t put all their eggs in the Trudeau government basket.

“One of the things we take away from 2020 is we’re trying not to hinge our future on any one issue,” Ambrosie said. “We’re looking at our solutions holistically, we’re being as creative as we can be on any one of a number of fronts so that we find a way to play.”

With as many questions facing the league now as there were a year ago and some anonymous sources drawing ire for suggesting a 2021 season may not be plausible, Ambrosie insists there is only one possible outcome for the CFL

“We’re going to play in 2021, we’re just going to find a way,” he says.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of being ready and flexible to so that we play a lot of football this year and ultimately culminate in a great Grey Cup game in Hamilton.”