Is Ontario sports betting market impacted by CFL strike?

Photo courtesy: B.C. Lions

Unfortunately, the Canadian Football League Players’ Association and the league failed to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement by last Saturday’s deadline.

As a result, training camps did not open on Sunday as scheduled, initiating a work stoppage (a league first since 1974) for seven of the league’s nine teams, though the two Alberta clubs plan to join shortly.

The dispute impacts every segment of the Canadian Football League landscape in a negative way and indirectly, it also has a negative effect on the burgeoning Ontario sports betting market that is eagerly anticipating Canadians being able to watch and wager on summer football in the country’s most populous province.

CFLPA rejects league’s final proposal before deadline

The current situation is a result of delayed negotiations pushing both sides up against the May 15 deadline, which signaled the intended first day of training camp for the 2022 season.

A few weeks back, it was reported that the league initially offered a 10-year agreement with no salary cap increases and a virtual eradication of the Canadian ratio. A wholly insulting proposition, it set an extremely low bar for what would come next. Because even though the league’s next offer was a major improvement, it wasn’t good enough to be presented as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

The CFLPA feels it has been on the short end of past deals and this time, isn’t willing to settle for what the league offers via hardball tactics. As stated by our own Josh Smith, the union made some serious concessions in the amended CBA before the 2021 season (originally from 2019) and the league would’ve done well to return the favor in good faith this time around.

Instead, the league made an ultimatum that Smith noted should’ve likely been its initial offer. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie shared some details from the league’s final offer in an attempt to flip public opinion on the matter, but the tactic is a transparent one that not many who are around or watch the league are buying.

The CFL put off negotiations to force the pressure of a deadline that was set less than a month out from Week 1 with hopes of getting yet another CBA signed that was most beneficial to them. The league doesn’t exactly get to spin the ‘we tried our best and it’s the other side’s fault’ narrative when it built this situation to begin with.

CFL work stoppage timing couldn’t be any worse

While it is being reported that the two sides are not too far apart, the current situation forces us to consider the possibility that the upcoming season will be pushed from its intended June 9 start date, which is just weeks away at this point.

With a May 15 deadline that also marked the first day of training camps, the timing is miserable. For the league, sure, but it’s hard to feel bad for the ones who created this mess. The people you really feel for are the players and coaches, and the fans who just want their football back.

Another area impacted is the sports betting landscape in Ontario, which expanded massively in April. Many fans are eager for the increased amount of CFL betting options on their teams as part of their sports-watching entertainment for the very first time.

Thanks to the newly-launched Ontario iGaming market, there is due to be a massive influx of eyeballs and betting options when it comes to the CFL this season, which has been billed to consist of 18 games for each team over 21 weeks from June until late October.

Even if a deal is reached in time for the season to be played, training camps can be shortened only a certain amount, which means a delayed season with potentially fewer games and a later end date than normal. We saw the late start date for the 2021 season push the Grey Cup into the second week of December, but that was also just a 14-game regular season.

While there’s nothing wrong with extending into December, the possibility of cutting games off the CFL schedule is not an ideal way to start what has been billed as a full-length season.

What this means for Ontario sportsbooks & bettors

Sure, single-game betting has been around since August 2021, but not like this. The 2022 season is due to be the first with widespread regulated betting allowed in Ontario, which certainly adds another layer of interest for fans and bettors in the province.

April 4 marked the start of full-scale single-game sports betting in the province. This open, competitive model is an ideal one for the betting public and after decades of unregulated options, this CFL season is slated to coincide with the changing landscape of sports gambling in Canada.

The CFL already has a huge fanbase as a league, as do the individual clubs, but Ontario’s online sportsbook expansion has led to a Rolodex of the sports betting industry’s biggest names offerings its services in Canada’s most populous province.

While sportsbooks themselves will manage to survive even with a delayed or shortened CFL season, there’s no arguing there’s plenty to lose by not having the CFL play games as the light summer sports schedule intends. The popularity of the CFL in Canada and the ongoing presence of summer football mean plenty of business for sites that are paying a hefty price to operate in Ontario.

Plus, many fans are also eager for more CFL betting options on their teams as part of their sports-watching entertainment for the very first time.

There are tons of betting options for CFL futures markets such as the Grey Cup, but for each team’s individual games as well. Many of these options are ones that Canadians will be experiencing for the first time, and it’s a huge opportunity for these operators to make a first impression on CFL fans in Ontario. 

The uncertainty that comes along with delayed seasons and canceled games could also impact what Ontarians are offered from a sportsbook perspective in terms of promotional offers or the number of markets available for a standard game. 

We’re already seeing the effects of the strike on the CFL betting world, as lines for Week 1 aren’t yet posted despite the season being scheduled to start in three weeks. Some sites (PointsBet) don’t even have futures available, while others have only Grey Cup odds, but none for the East and West divisions. 

Ordinarily, this is the time of year to get value on futures odds and even make some early bets on Week 1 as training camp gets rolling. But with the start of preseason not yet in sight, there are fewer options for bettors and less information to go off when practices haven’t yet begun.

In short, the league’s tactics have created a situation that negatively impacts every level of the CFL, most of all the players and coaches. But that leaks down to the fans, who want to watch and wager on their teams over an 18-game season for the first time in a long time. 

And it also includes the iGaming market that is set to capitalize on a full-length CFL season at a relatively quiet time of the sports year.