CFL remains committed to global initiative despite it generating no substantial revenue

Photo courtesy: CFL

The CFL’s goal of adding euros, pesos, and Australian dollars to its coffers remains at the start line four years into a race for global outreach.

League commissioner Randy Ambrosie addressed the media on Friday and acknowledged that his “CFL 2.0” initiative has yet to generate any substantial revenue. He remains committed to the program even if it has yet to positively impact the league’s bottom line.

“Has the program started to show some signs of progress? I think the answer is yes. The real goal was not really about international players — it was, but really it was about a paradigm shift in our own thinking. It was about thinking big. It was about looking at our league differently than we had looked at in the past,” said Ambrosie.

“We’ve taken a more progressive view of our future by saying that everything’s on the table. How do we think about growing our game? How do we improve it? How do we make it more global? We’re a relatively small country: roughly 37 million people, if memory serves. It’s a relatively small country. How do we grow our revenues and grow our game? Part of that is global outreach.”

The league introduced the initiative in 2018 with the goal of growing the game internationally and creating new streams of revenue. Combines were held in several countries, which was a significant financial investment. The league still invites global prospects to its national combine, which creates extra travel expenses and takes away spots that could otherwise be filled by Canadian players.

Ambrosie believes the program is being held back by a lack of star players. Teams are required to have a minimum of two global players on the roster, though they are almost exclusively utilized in positions that fall outside of the spotlight.

“I think when we will start to see global revenue kick in is when we get more and more global players who are making more significant contributions. We’ve had a few that have done incredibly well. This year, I think we had five of our punters that were Australians,” said Ambrosie.

With all due respect to legendary punters like Bob Cameron and Hank Ilesic, it seems unlikely that Australians will tune in to watch their countrymen boot the ball around the field in the CFL. It’s an important position, particularly in Canadian football given the size of the playing surface, but it’s not remotely interesting to the casual fan.

Ambrosie also highlighted the performances of Thiadric Hansen and “a great player in B.C.” as evidence that global players can make an impact in the CFL. Hansen made 12 tackles for Winnipeg this season before suffering an Achilles injury, while Tibo Debaillie, presumably the Lions player to whom Ambrosie referred, made 20 tackles and three sacks on the west coast.

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association ratified a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement this past off-season and Ambrosie confirmed that global players will remain in the league at least until its expiration.

“It’s a long-term process. It was never going to be the flip of a switch but we’re looking towards our media rights that expire at the end of 2026 and we’re thinking about our long-term global media rights as the entirety of what we’re working on: the game, the business and everything else that we’re working on are all focused on,” said Ambrosie.

“How do we make sure that we’re poised to harness the biggest global media rights opportunity when our current deal with TSN expires at the end of 2026? It’s all part of a patchwork quilt of things we’re doing that are trying to set us up for long-term success. Again, not everything is going to yield an immediate result, but I think this is one area where we’ve seen some progress.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.