Fans may be clamoring for a full slate of CFL games in 2021, but those in control of the league may be less enthused about the prospect of maintaining an 18-game schedule when teams hit the field this summer.
TSN insider Dave Naylor joined Dustin Nielson on TSN 1260 in Edmonton Thursday to talk about the league’s return to play plan and threw cold water on Randy Ambrosie’s aspirational insistence on 18 games.
“I think that is highly, highly unlikely and I’ll tell you a couple reasons why,” Naylor told listeners.
The harsh Canadian winter plays a factor in being unable to push the season on the backend, but money, not weather, ultimately plays the biggest role.
“I suspect there are owners in this league that would not be unhappy about losing a lot less money on a 10-game schedule than losing a lot more on an 18-game schedule,” Naylor said.
“While I understand the commissioner saying that the goal is to play 18, I’m not sure he’s in a board room full of guys pounding their fists on the table saying we must play 18 in 2021.”
While that reluctance on the part of ownership may be unconscionable to the average CFL fan, Naylor explains it is simply economics.
“They are going to lose a lot of money every week and if I’m an owner and someone said best case scenario we may get 25, 50 percent of the stands open and we may have to start with nobody in the stands, would you like to play 18 games or would you like to play 10, I’m choosing 10,” he said.
“It’s not a matter of breaking even this year, its just about how much pain the owners in this league are willing to endure.”
The CFL has already begun to make progress on a return to play in 2021, with the league and CFLPA set to submit health and safety protocols to various levels of government later this week.
Naylor believes receiving government approval to play is the easiest part of the process.
“The other shoe to drop is getting fans in the stands and that one is a lot trickier. That one does have a lot to do with where we are at with the virus when we get to June and I think it could be very different based on the status of the vaccination programs across the country and what the infection rates of new cases are. Governments have also been extremely cautious about opening up places for large gatherings.”
Naylor has insisted that fans in the stands are a requirement for the CFL to play this year, leading to speculation that a delayed season may better fit with the federal government’s current vaccination timeline.
Randy Ambrosie has said the league could play the first few weeks in empty stadiums if a guarantee for later fan attendance is made by government, but that may be wishful thinking.
“Here’s the difficult part, what’s a guarantee in a pandemic?” Naylor asked rhetorically.
“You can start a season and say we’ve talked to government and they’ve given us a high degree of confidence that by four weeks in we are going to have 25 percent capacity and then there is a report of a new variant.”
The league is expected to be heavily involved in lobbying efforts to ensure fan attendance and Naylor believes they have a strong case for consideration.
“You can certainly make the scientific argument that it’s been more dangerous to spend two hours sitting inside at a strip club than sitting outside at a football stadium,” he said dryly.
“One of those was open last summer and the other one wasn’t.”
If those lobbying efforts prove successful and fans can be in stadiums to start the season, Naylor may change his expectation on a shortened CFL season. Until then, a Labour Day start may be everyone’s best case scenario.
“That’s really when you’re going to see the incentive for the owners to get these teams on the field and play, once they know that it is economically beneficial for them to play rather than sit another year.”