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CFL Has Got to Start Thinking Now for Long Term Success

When Randy Ambrosie took over the helm of the Canadian Football League as Commissioner on July 5th, 2017, there was a lot of optimism in the CFL.

And why not?

After retiring from football, Ambrosie became the North American head of sales at HSBC Securities. 
In May 2004, Ambrosie teamed with AGF Management Ltd. as their head of sales and marketing.
In June 2006, Ambrosie was appointed president of AGF Funds Inc.

Ambrosie served as CEO of Accretive 360 Inc. from 2010 to 2012, before joining investment firm MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier as president and CEO.

So, add this all up, and it seems like a perfect fit.  You now have an ex-player who will see both sides of the ball when it comes to Collective Bargaining Agreements, along with finding new ways to seek more income for the CFL longer term.  

Then the unthinkable happened in 2020.  A world Pandemic.

In December 2019, world reports of the Corona Virus, and or COVID – 19 were now apparent and documented daily.
On March 14th, 2020, it was when lockdowns became a new normal in Canada, especially in Ontario.  Ontario became one of the most lockdown parts of the world on multiple occasions, along with longer durations as opposed to other parts of the world. 

Sports now took a back seat
Slowly but surely reality was settling in everywhere around the world and the sporting world was no different.

Whether it was the pro leagues around the world like the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, the English Premier League, tennis, rugby, etc.; everyone had to seize operations for the time being. 

The Canadian Football League was no different.  Moreover, it was going to be a lot more challenging financially where its primary income source is approximately 70% gate-driven. 

The 2021 season

When it was announced that the 2021 season will be played, it was an emotional day for a lot of fans of the CFL.

Whatever financial losses that had occurred during the canceled 2020 season, were something that the CFL would have to absorb. 

Just like all other big sporting leagues around the world that lost millions of dollars in revenue, there was also a lot that other leagues had that the CFL does not have.  Stong TV contracts, and massive merchandising sales to keep the leagues and teams afloat. 

CBA Expires on May 14th, 2022

At some point going forward, the CFL has to start looking more towards a longer CBA rather than a 3-year deal that seems all too prevalent in the last decade.  Make the CBA for at least 5 years.  Furthermore, have the CBA expire shortly after the Grey Cup.  

Any time you have more time to negotiate a new CBA, it will only favor both sides rather than rushing the negotiations during the 11th hour.  The 11th hour seems all too common during the recent negotiations and also in the past.

Whenever there are negotiations, there has always been very little news to the public about how negative and or positive the meetings have been in progress.  Start with updating the CBA news daily or close to a daily update.  “The Big 4 Leagues” generally have daily updates, why does the CFL not follow suit?  

Increase the salary cap closer to the 7 million range.  This will only benefit player development long-term along with higher salaries per season.  The slightly higher 5 million range is long overdue for an increase especially factoring in yearly inflation for the daily cost of living.

Have starting roster players at a minimum salary of $120,000.00 annually.  Anybody knows that monthly rent prices specifically in both Toronto and Vancouver are between $2,000.00 – $3,000.00.  For the most part, there are a lot of contacts that also include a housing allowance which becomes a big burden for any player playing for the Argos or Lions knowing that a quarter of your salary goes to rent assuming a player wants to stay full time in their respected city during the offseason.  

Now factoring the Canadian tax brackets, which are high in Canada, along with deductions of payer agent fees, and CFLPA contributions, well it’s safe to say that a $120,000.00 salary is now closer to a gross income in the neighborhood of $60,000.00.

Having a salary cap set at $7,000,000.00 with a 53-man roster comes to a salary of $132,075.47 per player when divided evenly. 

Television Deals

The current CFL TV deal with TSN expires in 2025 and that began in 2019.  The deal in approximately 50 million annually with incentives if certain ratings are met.

9 teams, along with the CFL Office getting their share, now you are looking at approximately 5 million spread across all teams and the CFL.

Now factor in the fact that the salary cap for the 2019 season was set at $5,350.000.00, the TV money covers for the most part your salary cap. 

Without having a strong year in ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise, most teams will not have the luxury of encountering a profit as of 2019, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Edmonton Elks, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers made good profits.  However, most if not all of these profits have been absorbed by the financial hardship of not having a 2020 season due to the current pandemic.

Although TSN does a great job with viewing football in Canada, it would be great if they show more games other than TSN.  

TSN is owned by Bell Media.  Why not air games on CTV also as it’s part of the Bell Media?  
Aside from TSN, the American viewership is primarily viewed on TSN via ESPN +.  This has been a great partnership since the inception of TSN in 1984.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Why stop there?

Why not air games via TSN on Sky Sports?

Sky Sports has a huge viewership across Europe with Football (Soccer), Rugby, F1, Tennis, etc.  

For the next TV deal with TSN, will the CFL look closer to the $100,000,000.00 annually? It would be a big help


Fanatics has taken over sports merchandising to a whole new level.  They also recently have their Canadian site which includes all prices in Canadian Dollars with all import fees.  Moreover, there is also a Fanatics European site which includes shipments to The United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany.  On the site, you can purchase NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL, F1, and Soccer gear.  

Why does the CFL not sell merchandise on Fanatics? 

The National Lacrosse League sells merchandise on both Canadian and American sites.  The CFL should look into expanding their merchandise sales aside from each team’s individual site.

Now is the time to think long term

Although the CFL was hit financially during the loss of the 2020 season, there is a ray of hope to begin to look for other sources of income.

When the Canadian Government approved single-game betting in Canada, it will definitely add more income to the CFL as a whole.  Only time will tell during this season on how active single-game bets will be for this to become a more lucrative approach in obtaining more income.  

For the most part, there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s time for the CFL to look for long-term success to be more financially stable.  With that, players’ salaries could be more competitive if the salary cap is raised.  Furthermore, not to fear losing key players and or up-and-coming roster talents to other leagues such as the USFL and the soon to restart XFL.

Although more pro football leagues are good for the growth of the game, it would be wise for the CFL to keep as much talent in the league.  You can never underestimate the possibility that the XFL and the USFL could grow strong in 5 plus years.  

What would the CFL do if there are bigger TV contracts via FOX, CBS, and NBC someday for both the USFL and XFL someday?  Moreover, what if players’ average salaries are $150,000.00 USD with the growth of the XFL and the USFL?

Is the CFL ready for this? Only time will tell.


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author avatar
Dino Sepe Reporter
Dino Sepe has been an avid sports fan since he was nine years old. He has read multiple books regarding sports history from various eras, the origins of the game, great dynasties, great coaches, and great players. Dino's experience in writing was obtained at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario through the Theater Performance program. As an avid football fan following the NFL, CFL, NCAA, and USports Football, Dino has been writing about the Canadian Football League in various capacities since 2019. In December 2021, Dino joined the CFL News Hub team. Dino is proud to be part of the CFL News Hub contributing team and looks forward to covering the Edmonton Elks going into the future.
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