CFL’s new equity partner Genius Sports making ‘real push’ towards four downs: report

Photo courtesy: CFL

The CFL’s partnership with data and technology firm Genius Sports has been billed as a major win for the league, but it could spell the end of Canadian football as we know it.

In the midst of commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s cross-country road trip, Sportsnet reporter Arash Madani told The Rod Pedersen Show that the CFL’s new partner has been vocal about their support for a conversion to four downs.

“I’m told that Genius Sports has really made a push to the league office about four downs and that Randy Ambrosie has let the teams know and let some of the football people know that there is a real push towards four downs from their now partner over at Genius Sports,” Madani said Wednesday.

“Keep that in mind as this kind of unfolds, that some of the reporting that came out of Grey Cup week, it’s getting a real push now from one of the key stakeholders on the business side of that entire operation.”

The same week that the CFL unveiled its groundbreaking relationship with Genius, reports emerged that the league would be undergoing a review of its entire operation, including weighing the merits of three versus four downs. The idea was met with swift backlash from fans and commentators, but appears to have powerful supporters.

Genius Sports owns a minority stake in the league’s new commercial arm, CFL Ventures, allowing it to profit off the revenue it is intended to help create. The high profile firm is set to provide everything from tailored marketing research to revolutionary new broadcast technologies, as well as spear-heading the CFL’s approach to legal sports gambling, but may see the operation as more viable with a more familiar four-down model.

On Tuesday, Ambrosie was asked about the possibility of an Americanized CFL in an appearance in Calgary and avoided answering the question directly.

“I’m constantly struck by the quotes that I read that are attributed to the league. Look, I think there are three fundamental priorities right now and they are this,” he rambled.

“One is to use this bargaining to build a long-term mutually beneficial partnership with the players. That is our number one priority. The second priority is to use this product review process that’s underway to learn and educate ourselves and to work with the ambition of building the fast, funnest, most dynamic game of football on the planet — that’s it. Funnest, fastest, most dynamic game of football on the planet is our ambition. And the third is to grow our fan base.”

“Those are the three priorities. That’s what’s driving our agenda, that’s what’s driving our efforts and those are gonna be the things that we’re gonna be focused on. You have to, for your sanity and for the sake of relationships with all of our key stakeholders, stay away from those specific solutions because they drag you down a rabbit hole and they never lead to anything good.”

The CFL rules committee is set to meet in April, but a monumental shift in how the game is played likely won’t be possible on such a short timeline. Fans should expect this controversy to percolate within league circles for quite some time before a decision is made either way.