Winnipeg Blue Bombers president Wade Miller knows the CFL must put football on the field in 2021.
Miller was spearheading the efforts for a potential hub city in the Manitoba capital as part of a shortened season in 2020, but after the federal government refused a $30 million interest-free loan, the board of governors voted against it.
“We need to play and we’re going to do everything to make that happen,” Miller told Bombers radio voice Bob Irving on 680 CJOB. “We’re going to all figure out a way to get playing in 2021 for our players, coaches, and especially our fans.”
The CFL unveiled its 2021 schedule last November with the pre-season scheduled to begin on Sunday, May 23, while the regular season is slated to get underway on Thursday, June 10. Miller stated the league will be working with public health authorities across the country over the next few months.
“Each province will have to agree to the CFL plan and we’re working with the players right now to finalize that. Then we’ll go to the different public health authorities to review return to play and be able to come to training camp,” Miller said.
“We’ll need to work with the federal government as well to get an exemption to get our international and US players across the border to come work. There’s a lot of moving parts to this, a lot of people putting in a lot of energy to make this happen and we’ll get it figured out.”
Miller implored fans to stay patient and positive: “It’s a little bit of a waiting game right now.” The league wants to put the players back on the field, and fans back in stadiums. The key part of the equation is playing football and in order to do so the CFL’s plan will be “very similar” to how the NHL returned to play.
“We’ve seen other leagues in Canada do it, and we’ll do it as well in 2021,” Miller said.
“As a country, we’ve seen in Manitoba how we’ve stomped out this second wave, all very positive signs, and vaccinations are starting to role now. We’re moving in the right direction, very hopeful and positive that we can figure this out.”
The NHL ran two bubble cities in Toronto and Edmonton last year to finish the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup. Commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ association executive director Donald Fehr worked on a different plan to create the North Division with Canadian teams travelling only in Canada for the 2021 campaign.
“It’s going to be extremely expensive for each team to test. You’re going to have a testing regiment and daily screening of players,” Miller said.
“First and foremost is the health and safety of our players and coaches, and everybody in the organization, and ours fans, so that’s going to be the cost of doing business in 2021.”
That’s the players side of it, but from the business end it’s well known the CFL relies on fans in the stands as its most fruitful revenue stream. However, there have not been fans allowed at NHL games north of the border or for any other league that’s played for that matter.
“That’s pretty tough, we’re looking at everything, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are as well,” Miller said.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has speculated about the possibility of the league starting the season without fans to get it going. The league is hoping spectators would be allowed in after the schedule has started and numbers could increase as the weeks go along.
“It’s too early to be discussing that right now. We need to see the case counts in Canada continue to drop like they have, they’re down 75 percent from January,” Miller said.
“We just need a little more time for everyone to see where this virus is heading.”