‘I’ve never had such a sense of optimism’: Riders’ president Craig Reynolds riding high on ‘transformational’ Genius Sports deal, Grey Cup hosting

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

It’s always darkest before the dawn, or so the saying goes, but Saskatchewan Roughriders president and CEO Craig Reynolds believes that will indeed be true for the CFL.

After being one of the key figures to lead the league through the COVID-19 pandemic and canceled 2020 season, Reynolds no longer feels like a man walking towards the gallows. In fact, he thinks the CFL’s future has never been brighter.

“It’s hugely refreshing. It was a tough grind there. We had to make some very difficult decisions that we didn’t want to make,” Reynolds told SportsCage listeners in Regina. “I think coming out of that, I’ve never had such a sense of optimism around the league and in our club as well.”

That’s a big statement about a league that still appears to be facing several major hurdles, but there is reason to his optimistic madness. During Grey Cup week in December, the league announced a new partnership with UK-based data and technology firm Genius Sports, which Reynolds feels will be revolutionary.

“I’m personally reinvigorated for the CFL. The Genius deal is transformational, there’s no other way to describe it. We worked hard behind the scenes to make that happen and I think fans are gonna start to see that coming out,” Reynolds gushed.

“We’re going to be a very innovative league here shortly. The reality is we had to get through this pandemic to get to where we are now, where we can now start to innovate and now start to really move things forward rapidly.”

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. However, it has sparked controversy in recent days after a report emerged that Genius was behind a push to convert the CFL to four downs, but the company has denied that claim.

Reynolds did not address that controversy during his radio appearance, but insisted that Genius Sports has a vested interest in the league’s popularity with fans thanks to its minority stake in the new commercial arm, CFL Ventures.

“The beauty of that deal is they’ve basically invested in our commercial business, so they want us to succeed as much as we want to succeed because it benefits them,” he said.

“I really like how they want innovate with us, because we’re a league that can innovate quite quickly. We could do some really innovative things and then they could potentially roll that out to some of their other clients.”

While the partnership has the CFL’s business leaders fired up, energy is building in Regina for an entirely different reason. Reynolds admits that hosting a Grey Cup in 2022 plays a big role in his optimism, with a chance to win one at home putting positive pressure on the organization.

Some have dubbed the 2022 season a make or break campaign for the league and Reynolds tends to agree, with the CFL perfectly situated to hit expectations out of the park.

“I think we do need a big year. I think us hosting the Grey Cup is really, really good. I think it’s good for us here in the province and I think it’s good for the league because, you saw ‘Bring it to the Heartland’ is our theme and I think we are the heartbeat of the CFL,” Reynolds explained.

“If we have a great year on the field and a successful year with our product and fans return because the COVID restrictions are lessened and we have the Grey Cup festival we’re planning to here, it’s gonna be one of the best years in CFL history.”

After enduring the league’s darkest chapter, every CFL fan hopes he’s right.