NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund believes NFL team in Toronto could make the CFL more popular

Photo courtesy: NFL

Cynthia Frelund may be the NFL Network’s resident data analytics specialist, but her knowledge of Canadian football goes beyond facts and figures.

“I grew up in Michigan, so of course I’ve been to Canada when I grew up. We went to Canada a lot and I have definitely watched a lot of Canadian football when I track for players, but also Quinton Porter, who I went to Boston college with, he spent some time up there as well,” Frelund said Thursday during an appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show.

“I’ve been to one Roughriders game. It was very fun. That’s more than maybe most people who talk about football in the US.”

That working knowledge of the Canadian side of the sport, along with her extensive NFL background, made Frelund the perfect person to ask about the cross border topic du jour: NFL expansion. Toronto was among four cities that were recently floated as potential homes for expansion franchises at the NFL owners’ meeting, a prospect that many believe would put the future of the CFL in jeopardy.

A recent national survey done at the University of Lethbridge indicated that only 11 percent of Canadians would support the arrival of the NFL even if it meant the demise of the CFL and Frelund understands why.

“I’m a big fan of [the CFL] and I think it’s good to have the CFL for a number of reasons, but not the least of which is because it’s pretty pure,” she said. “These guys want to be there because they’re having fun and  they’re not breaking the bank there. Everybody likes to see someone just enjoying themselves at a game, so I don’t want it to die either.”

However, unlike many CFL analyst, Frelund believes that the CFL and NFL could find success in the same market.

“I think two things can co-exist together. I think we’ve seen that in other areas,” she said. “The hard part about a non-NFL entity for football is we’ve seen two examples of large-scale failures, the XFL twice and the Alliance of American football once. People are down on if it can exist or if there’s enough potential for both and I think that both can exist and I think they should.”

Toronto had already been pegged as the likeliest destination for a new international series game in 2022 and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that he would ‘love to see’ games played in Toronto.

The Buffalo Bills played the role of home team for the only regular season games ever put on in Canada, which all came during the Bills in Toronto series. Buffalo played one regular season game per year from 2008 to 2013 at Rogers Centre. Toronto mayor John Tory has been ‘open to the idea’ of a similar arrangement returning, but that could be more permanent.

Rumours circulated earlier this summer that Argos’ ownership group Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was enthusiastically pursuing talks with the XFL in the hopes of leveraging an NFL franchise for the city down the line. That has long been a goal of MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Goodell has said in the past that Toronto would be “a great city for an NFL team,” but there needs to be a state-of-the-art stadium for a franchise there. That means dreams of NFL expansion could take awhile.

Nevertheless, Frelund remain hopeful.

“I hope that we get the NFL in Canada and it may be actually even have the net effect of making the CFL more popular,” she predicted.

On that theory, the NFL Network’s numbers guru may need to produce some actual data to convince CFL fans.