Former CFL commissioner Larry Smith: ‘You have to play this year — people forget quickly, especially your sponsors’

Photo courtesy: National Speakers Bureau

Former CFL commissioner Larry Smith has a unique perspective on the current coronavirus crisis the league is trying to work through.

Smith was the eighth commissioner of the CFL, a post he held from 1992 to 1997. He knows how vital it is for the three-down league to find a way to return to play this year.

“The No. 1 objective is: there has to be a season in 2021. You cannot go two seasons in a row without some form of a season. The owners have to recognize that this social distancing will stay in place to a certain extent because of the variants,” Smith said on TSN 690 radio in Montreal.

“Whether it’s June training camp, whether it’s July training camp, whether it’s a short training camp in August, you start on Labour Day and you have a shortened season. You have to play this year because out of sight means out of mind, and then people forget you quickly, especially your sponsors.”

Smith is currently the Conservative Senate leader and wants to see improved vaccine practices throughout Canada. It could be one of the major factors in helping the CFL be able to play football again amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The key is the federal government with the provinces has to make sure that all these commitments that they have for getting access to vaccines, that they’re actually going to get it. It’s one thing to promise that you have a contract, but the supplier has to deliver,” Smith said.

“We have to get the needles in the arms of all Canadians, or the majority of Canadians, so that you’ll be able to allow certain numbers of people inside the stadiums. Stadium revenue is the biggest part of the revenue for each CFL team.”

The Hudson, Quebec native knows the economic model for the CFL relies heavily on ticket revenue and dollars generated in and around game days in facilities across the country. Smith believes the CFL’s TV money is in the $5 to $6 million range per team, which wouldn’t cover operating costs without bums in seats.

“You’re going to lose money and so the owners have to recognize that this year there will be a revenue loss for each particular team. Are they going to bite the bullet? And are there any other revenue streams that they can create?” Smith questioned.

“Can they sell more patches on jerseys? Can they replace the money that they will not get from the gate with other saleable properties? What are you going to merge with if you don’t have a league? No. 1 objective this year: you gotta play.”