Ottawa play-by-play man AJ Jakubec: former CFL executive valued major market franchises at $1 each

Ottawa play-by-play man AJ Jakubec has heard plenty of chest-beating from CFL purists over the last month, stating the 100-year old institution doesn’t need major structural changes to survive.

He doesn’t buy it for a second.

“I think there is a lot of people, even in the media, that are in denial about how much trouble these franchises are in, in the big markets,” he told The Rod Pedersen Show on Friday.

His firm belief in the severity of the crisis facing the CFL stems from a recent conversation with a prominent former CFL executive, who had some startling things to say about franchise values across the league.

“I asked him what are the Saskatchewan Roughriders worth? He’s a guy that would know and he said probably over $100 million. I don’t know the exact number but certainly triple digits. What are the Ottawa Redblacks worth? Well, depending pre-pandemic or post-pandemic, he said $15 million to maybe $35 million. Somewhere in that range,” Jakubec recounted.

Other valuations weren’t nearly as kind.

“Toronto Argonauts, what are they worth? $1. Montreal Alouettes, what are they worth? $1,” Jakubec continued.

“I didn’t ask about the B.C. Lions. I didn’t think I needed to ask abut the B.C. Lions. This league needs a shot in the arm in those three cities.”

Problems have long existed for the CFL in the major Canadian markets of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but those financial difficulties have been significantly worsened by the pandemic.

After the Canadian government refused to provide a $30 million interest-free loan a year ago, the board of governors voted to cancel the 2020 season rather than play without fan attendance, their primary revenue stream. The CFL became the only major North American sports league to spend 2020 on the sideline.

“[Deputy commissioner] Bill Daly of the NHL talked extensively about protecting the asset. That’s why they are playing. NHL teams, even with their broadcast revenue, they are losing a pile of money right now, but they are playing because they are protecting the asset,” Jakubec explained.

In its three biggest markets, the CFL might not have an asset worth protecting in their current form.

The league reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million last year and are set to lose millions more if any kind of season is played in 2021. That has led to serious conversations with the upstart XFL on how the two might work together to identify opportunities to innovate and grow the game of football. 

The most recent incarnation of the XFL lasted just five games before the COVID-19 pandemic put their season on hold, which led to Vince McMahon filing for bankruptcy and selling. RedBird Capital, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Dany Garcia were selected as the winning bidders. It cost $15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league in the future, which could include an agreement with the CFL.

The XFL reportedly wants a foothold in Canada’s biggest markets and according to Jakubec, it behooves the CFL to listen.

“We are getting pretty good info here, from Dave Naylor, from [Rod Pedersen], from people all across the country, and you can connect the dots and say for these three franchises, the status quo isn’t going to work,” he said emphatically.

“Well if the status quo isn’t going to work and the XFL goes and covets those markets, what do you do if you’re the other six teams? What do you do if you’re Craig Reynolds or Wade Miller or Mark Goudie or Scott Mitchell? You just decide you are going to carry on with six teams and without Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver while they try this new entity?”

That would be ludicrous in his opinion and so a merger seems the logical option. While Jakubec accepts there will be things about the new league he doesn’t like, he isn’t all in on a complete destruction of the CFL either.

“I don’t want to sell out everything. The Grey Cup to me is a hill that I’ll die on. Nine Canadian cities is a hill I’ll die on. I think the Canadian players – I’m not necessarily saying the numbers need to be the same—but there has to be Canadian content in whatever this new league is,” Jakubec said.

If both sides present a tangible deal with real TV dollars behind it, everything else is negotiable, just so long as buying the Argos isn’t more affordable than shopping at Dollarama by the time pen hits paper.

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