25 percent capacity the ‘rough guideline’ for fan attendance required to launch CFL season: Lalji

The CFL announced the postponement of the 2021 season on Wednesday, but with continuing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, just how important is that type of clarity for the prospect of football in Canada?

“I think the date matters a lot and the date matters because the CFL is just generally been reluctant to give one,” Farhan Lalji said during his regular appearance on The SportsCage following the announcement.

While the delayed season now has a projected start date of August 5th, commissioner Randy Ambrosie placed two important caveats on meeting that deadline. Approval for return to play must be granted by public health officials prior to season launch and a “significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues” must be allowed by government.

The first criteria has already been met in four of the six required provinces, but when fans will be allowed and how many remains a mystery. With reduced capacity a given, what the CFL deems ‘significant’ enough attendance to begin the season is at top of mind for many fans.

“My understanding is that 25% is kind of a rough guideline that they’re using in the majority of stadiums. They want to at least get there,” Lalji said.

While that may be the overall threshold, each team has their own internal numbers that vary across the league.

“Now that said, when I talked to the BC Lions today and their president said if we get to 17% to 18%, which is what they’ve been discussing for months going back to last season, they would live with that,” Lalji continued.

I heard Winnipeg talk about a little less than 50%, but certainly that’s a bit more of an aggressive statement than just coming out and saying 25%. And then we’ve also heard the Ottawa’s and Hamilton’s of the world say we’ll play with no fans if that’s what it takes. But I think the goal is to get 25% or more in the majority of stadiums.”

If that number can’t be met in Eastern jurisdictions, the CFL is prepared to frontload the schedule with games in the West, where provinces like Alberta have suggested restrictions could be lifted as early as July.

The CFL reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million by not playing last year and are set to lose millions more if any kind of season is played in 2021.

Fewer games played would be better for owners’ pocket books, but the league has scheduled a 14-game campaign and delayed the Grey Cup until December 12th with the hope that full capacity could be reached by then.

While the current proposal is not a guarantee, Wednesday’s announcement is by no means a bluff to buy time.

“Knowing how reluctant this league has been to put dates out there, these are educated dates. They’re not darts at the dart board,” Lalji insisted.

“These dates are based on conversations they have had with government officials. They put August 5th out for a reason and right now I believe they’re going to meet it.”

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