When it comes to the Canadian Football League, you’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate advocate than Bob Young.
The self-described ‘caretaker’ of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who purchased the team in his brothers memory, is often considered the epitome of what CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie dubbed ‘philanthropist owners.’ Following the league’s announcement that they were actively in talks to collaborate with the XFL, many fans turned to Young to set the expectations.
As a member of the league’s board of governors, he’s well aware of the ongoing discussions and has his own strong beliefs, but those are ever changing.
“I do have strong opinions, loosely held. The other expression is I’m seldom right, but never in doubt,” Young chuckled during an interview on FAN590 on Thursday.
“I really would be the first to admit, I don’t fully understand how marketing works in the modern world, even though that’s technically my job, and how someone like Dwayne Johnson, ‘The Rock,’ can accumulate I think the number is 300 million followers on social media. You know, it just makes your brain hurt when you start thinking of numbers that big, but what you do see is that the world is always changing.”
That changing world, and The Rock’s enormous stardom, is why the CFL is entertaining conversations with the XFL.
“The CFL’s need to reach an international audience is absolutely necessary if the CFL is going to prosper,” Young explained, pointing to the early success of the league’s Global initiative.
“All of the businesses that were parochial, that tried to stay in their local geography, are under a great deal of pressure by those businesses that are broader in ambition and that are thinking more internationally. The CFL has to do that as well.”
Leadership of both leagues has been tight-lipped about what direction these collaborative talks might take, with ideas ranging from data sharing to a full merger being floated by fan. Young himself is intrigued by the possibilities.
“What’s intriguing to me about these conversations — whether we do anything on the football field — is whether there is a partnership there with the XFL and with Dwayne Johnson that instead of just playing for the Grey Cup, we can also play for the International Gridiron Football Championship of some sort and develop a much, much broader reach than the CFL has ever had,” Young speculated.
“That’s why I’m enthusiastic about the conversations. I’m not enthusiastic about the outcome, because I have no idea what that might be.”
The prospect of amalgamating with the XFL is horrifying to many old school CFL fan, particularly the idea of adopting American style rules.
The CFL has been awarding the Grey Cup for over 100 years. Meanwhile, the original XFL lasted one full season in 2001 and it’s rebirth was bankrupted by the pandemic after only six games. The Rock and his people are working to have it around much longer the third time around and Young sees the potential for growth while maintaining tradition.
“You both have to respect and honor your traditions — you have to bring your loyal fans along with you on your adventure — but you equally have to move forward,” he said, noting the Stanley Cup was once a national prize before becoming a national symbol for hockey supremacy.
“I was watching on Twitter and [fans] were saying, ‘Canadian football has been around for a hundred years and if they change any of the rules, I’m going to refuse to watch!’ I go, ‘Hold on, a hundred years ago you were not allowed to pass the ball forward,'” Young continued.
“Our rules do keep changing and as long as they change for the better our fans will follow us. If they change for the worse, they won’t follow us. That’s our responsibility, to figure that one out and take our fans on a journey that they’re excited about.”
An answer as to what that journey will look like is almost certainly months away and Young insisted Wednesday that the league’s main focus continues to be on a 2021 season.
After losing between $60 and $80 million by canceling the 2020 campaign, some have questioned whether it was the right call. That’s one thing Bob Young won’t speculate on.
“To this very day, we do not know if we made the right decision and had we played, we would not know to this day if we made the right decision,” he admitted.
“The only thing you can do is look exclusively forward because trying to second guess decisions you made in a global pandemic is just a waste of cycles.”