Following the CFL’s request for players to take a 20% pay cut for games without fans in the stands next season, angst is on the rise in the CFL community about the state of the proposed 2021 season.
Dave Naylor believes there are far bigger issues down the road.
“To me, the bigger mystery around the Canadian Football League is not what they are going to do in 2021, we actually have a pretty good idea about what they are trying to do in 2021, it’s what about 2022?,” Naylor told Tony Marinaro on TSN 690 in Montreal.
“What if the economics don’t bounce back? What about all the owners who are sitting there looking at losses over the last two years? Make no mistake, if they play this year it’s going to be highly subsidized by every owner in this league. How many hands up in the room to continue doing this with the status quo and the current business model?”
The viability of that business model has been subject to spirited debate, but there is no questioning the fact that cash flow issues have sent the league to the table with the XFL, looking to form some sort of partnership or even merge with the upstart American league.
Some have dubbed those talks an overcorrection based on the impact of the pandemic, but Naylor sees it differently.
“I think there is a bit of a myth that the CFL was doing great and then the pandemic hit. Things were OK, sustainable, like they’ve always been, but think about your market. How close were the Alouettes to folding a year and a half ago?,” he asked rhetorically.
The Alouettes were on the razors edge and might well be again if their new owners put up their hands after hemorrhaging without ever playing a game.
There is considerable distaste within the core CFL fan base for an XFL partnership that may result in fundamental changes to the core Canadian rules and demolish the all important ratio, and while Naylor has some sympathy, he believes radical change is necessary.
“You can’t run the league like you did in 1967. Essentially the business model hasn’t changed that much, it’s the same number of teams in the same places playing the same game. The NBA’s added a three point shot, the NHL’s going on its 32nd team, all kinds of things around the sports world have changed and evolved and there were fights over these things, but the CFL has not so much been a league about trying to meet the market as it is an institution of cultural preservation,” Naylor explained.
“What are we into here? Are we marketing football for the future or is this the museum of Canadian football?”
Some Canadians are understandably attached to the idea of maintaining a unique cultural identity in the face of rising Americanization — it is one of our nation’s founding principles — but Naylor insists that resistance will come at a steep price.
“There’s a middle-ground, you don’t have to do away with everything, but it can’t be preserve our cultural institution at all costs because we are about to run into the ultimate cost,” he predicted.
As for 2021, much of that future lays in the hands of government or financial concessions made by the Players’ Association. The league is bullish on playing, but the economics will never work without full stadiums.
“This league cannot function in any way shape or form as a business without fans in the stands. There is just no way to replace what in hard ticket revenue is 30-40% of your business and in actual gameday revenue may be as much as 60% I’m told,” Naylor emphasized.
“That Plan B that you don’t have, nobody has it!”