‘I’ll be honest, I’m a fan’: Farhan Lalji believes Randy Ambrosie will survive pandemic turmoil as commissioner

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The more than one hundred year history of Canadian football has plenty of tumultuous chapters, but never has the CFL experienced more turmoil than the last 18 months.

The destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can be blamed on no man, but many fans hold commissioner Randy Ambrosie responsible for mismanagement in the interim. From the public gaffe of his financial request to government to his head-scratching dreams of XFL alignment, many fans are baying for blood, but the commissioner still has advocates in the media.

“I’ll be honest with you, Randy Ambrosie is a polarizing figure but I’m a fan,” TSN insider Farhan Lalji told listeners to The Jason Gregor Show on Thursday. “He’s got vision, he’s not afraid to think outside of the box and he’s not afraid to take arrows.”

Are those attributes enough for the much-maligned commissioner to keep his job once the smoke clears? Lalji believes it is if a few of those big ideas fall his way.

“If the XFL is in play, yes, I think Randy Ambrosie is going to be the commissioner. If there’s a significant change in the business model, along the lines of what Randy has really been pushing, then I think he comes out alright,” Lalji explained.

Ambrosie took over as 14th commissioner of the CFL in 2017 following the departure of Jeffrey Orridge. He billed himself as a man of the people through events like Randy’s Road Trip, in which the former offensive lineman communicated directly with fans.

In recent years, his business vision has shifted abroad with the launch of CFL 2.0, including the league’s Global player program. After the CFL was forced to cancel the 2020 season, Ambrosie turned focus to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and the upstart XFL in search of opportunities for alignment.

Not all those ventures have gone exactly as hoped, with the pandemic playing a major role, but Lalji thinks Ambrosie has maintained the faith of those that really matter, even if fans have doubts.

“The hardest job the commissioner has is building consensus among these nine teams and these nine ownership groups. The reason for that is one in nine has way more power than one in 31 or 32, when you talk NHL and NFL. Everybody wants their way and everybody’s going to slam their fist onto the desk and say, ‘Nope, this is the way we do it,'” he noted.

“There are some tough people there to deal with, so getting that level of consensus is not easy when you’ve got these topics like revenue sharing, the gaming revenues that is eventually going to come and all of these things. He was able to get consensus on CFL 2.0, so as long as he has the buy-in of the governors to allow him to do his job effectively, then I think he does [remain commissioner].”

While Lalji gives Ambrosie his own stamp of approval, he acknowledges there have been gaps in his approach.

“If I was Randy, I would probably change the communication strategy. I think there’s been some moments where they’ve stayed dark too long and they’ve felt that they didn’t need to get out in front of it because there was no nothing hard and fast in terms of a decisions,” Lalji admitted.

“They thought all they were going to do is come out there to say nothing and get criticized for that, but I would’ve taken a different approach in terms of being a little more available for questioning. Beyond the communication strategy, I’m a believer in what Randy’s doing.”