CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie: four-down story ‘took on a life of its own’ following Genius Sports report

Photo courtesy: Justin Dunk

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie took a veiled shot at Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after he reported in mid-March that Genius Sports, the CFL’s new data and technology partner, was pushing the league to play four-down football.

“You know how that story got started, right? A certain member of the media circulated a story suggesting that Genius was pushing (for the CFL to add a fourth down) — which was not true, and certainly Genius indicated it wasn’t true — but then it took on a life of its own as though it was the truth,” Ambrosie told Sean Campbell on TSN 690 in Montreal.

The CFL unveiled its partnership with Genius Sports in December 2021 and reports emerged that same week suggesting the league would undergo a review of its entire operation, including the number of downs. The idea was met with backlash from fans but persisted through the off-season until Ambrosie quashed it ten days following the initial report.

“We had a great league meeting — I think the best ever, quite honestly, certainly in my five years — and we talked about how do we take our game and make it the best, most exciting brand of football in the world and that’s our focus going forward,” said Ambrosie.

“We have got the plans to be the best, fastest, most exciting brand of football in the world that happens to be played with three downs.”

The league is currently working with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires on May 14, which is one day before training camps are scheduled to get underway.

The league conducted market research in January to help determine the best path forward coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the findings was that player transiency, which has gotten worse since one-year contracts for veteran players were implemented in 2014, has hurt fan interest.

“Our fans want more roster continuity. They not only want to see the stars, but they want to see the stars stay in their communities and play for a long time. And when you think back to some of the greatest players in CFL history — Ron Lancaster, who I played for, and George Reed in Saskatchewan to name two — came (to Regina), played their entire careers there, and raised their families in the city,” said Ambrosie.

“I think we’ve got great stars. We’re excited about kinda getting back to a more normal operating environment. One of the advantages of this long-term partnership with Genius is how we enable our stars to reach out to the fans and make them more connected both physically and virtually and we’re very, very excited about that.”

The CFL recently shared the findings of its market research with the CFLPA in the spirit of transparency ahead of CBA negotiations. Genius Sports also did a presentation to the CFLPA’s bargaining committee as a way to convey its plans for the future.

“I think we’ve worked very hard to get together over the past many, many months to really set a new and stronger foundation for our relationship. One built on mutual respect and trust, one built on openness,” said Ambrosie.

“We need transparency. We need openness. The players need to feel like they’re being treated as partners in our league. We had a great session with them and I know the feedback from the Players’ Association was very positive.”