- The Canadian Football League (CFL) has announced that a shortened 2021 season will begin later this year.
- The ‘revised target date’ to start a 14 game regular season is August 5.
- The Grey Cup championship game has been rescheduled to December 12 in Hamilton, Ontario.
After cancelling the 2020 Canadian Football League (CFL) season due to the COVID-19 pandemic commissioner Randy Ambrose made an unequivocal statement earlier this week: “We will play football in 2021”. The plan is in place for a shortened 2021 season though many of the details remain tentative due to Canada’s ongoing struggles reining in the COVID-19 virus. The current ‘target date’ for a 14 game regular season to begin is August 5. To accommodate this timeline, the league announced that the Grey Cup was being rescheduled to December 12. The original start date for the 2021 regular season had been June 10 but the poor vaccine rollout and COVID resurgence in Canada put an end to those plans.
“We will play CFL football in 2021.”
“Our revised target date to start our regular season is August 5. To facilitate a 14-game season, for our players, fans and partners, we are re-scheduling the Grey Cup to December 12 in Hamilton, Ontario.”
“I say ‘target date’ because our plans are subject to the state of COVID-19 across the country. A so-called ‘third wave’ in some provinces is forcing us today to postpone the start of our regular season, which had been scheduled for June 10.”
“So, what must be in place for us to kick off on August 5? Two things. 1. The approval of public health officials across the country of our plans for protecting the health of our players, coaches, and ultimately our fans, so a 2021 season is safe. 2. Permission from governments to host a significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that, so a 2021 season is financially tenable for our clubs.”
“The CFL depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America. Fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue. Our clubs already stand to suffer substantial financial losses this year. Playing without fans in the stands would dramatically increase those losses.”
Response to the announcement has been mixed. Many fans expressed disappointment about the delayed/shorten season though there was some degree of happiness/relief that a season is planned this year at all. The Toronto Sun noted about the rescheduled Grey Cup that the average low temperature in Hamilton, Ontario (where this year’s game will be played) is -6 Celsius. That sounds much worse than it is—6 Celsius is 21 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not going to be balmy but that’s not an uncommon temperature for late season NFL games.
Commissioner Ambrose made clear that the league was prepared to do whatever was necessary to make sure that a season can be played:
“We are prepared to be creative as well as prudent. For example, if we are unable to host fans in the East because of COVID-19, we are prepared to start play in the West, provided eastern teams can return to their home provinces, and play in front of their fans, later in the season.”
“And we have contingency plans in place, should factors beyond our control delay the start of our season beyond August 5. The bottom line is we are optimistic we will have a season in 2021, culminating in a great Grey Cup.”
The Commissioner’s statement ended with a strong reminder to get vaccinated and continue with social distancing and mask guidelines:
“Everyone who loves the CFL can help us and their communities. Please, when it is your turn, get vaccinated. And please follow your local public health guidelines on measures including wearing a mask and social distancing.”
“To our players, fans and partners: thank you for your patience as well as your passion for our game. Thank you all the frontline workers out there for all they’re doing for all of us. We look forward to keeping you posted on our progress and to kicking off another great season of CFL football on August 5.”
The problem in Canada hasn’t been desire to get vaccinated, it’s been a low supply of vaccines. This is in contrast to the United States which now has plenty of vaccines but is now working to convince the intellectually backwards that they need to get vaccinated.
CFL + XFL >>>????>>>>PROFIT!
An intriguing subplot to come out of the CFL’s announcement is the revelation that they are in discussions with the XFL for a possible collaboration. Commissioner Ambrose didn’t reveal any details but he did indicate that talks have been positive and spoke effusively of the management of the US alternative football league formerly own and operated by WWE majordomo Vince McMahon:
“Our discussions with the XFL have been very positive. What we’re focused on is really understanding what this opportunity might look like. If I back up from there, one of the things that I shared with an alumni group that I spoke with at their annual general meeting last night was what has become increasingly obvious to me is that the business of our league has never been as good as the players who play our game and the game itself.”
“What we’re looking at and what we’ve been working on on our own is improving our business model. We’ve made a lot of adjustments in the past number of months to make sure that we’ve got the best business model possible. The discussions with the XFL are really focused on that. How would working together help to improve the business model? When you get that answer, you have nearly an infinite list of possibilities on how you would make it work. What our fans really deserve and what our amateur football partners really deserve is a business that’s as good as our game. That’s what we’re working to deliver here.”
“We don’t have those answers today but we do know that we are working with world class people. Every time you are on a call with them, you are struck by how genuine, authentic, how sincere they are in trying to determine if there is an opportunity to do better, do better together in some form. That’s been the spirit of our discussion so far.”
ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith is one of the best in the business and he speculates that a ‘cross border championship game’ could be in the offing:
It’s unclear how a CFL-XFL partnership would work, but a championship game between the two teams could generate some interest from fans on both sides of the border. That won’t happen in 2021, but in 2022 the two leagues may find a way to collaborate that would be pleasing to the kinds of hard-core football fans who want more than the 272 regular-season games a year that the NFL offers.
There has been some pushback to this idea north of the border. Rob Vanstone in the Regina Leader-Post is of the opinion that the CFL’s emphasis should be rebuilding their foundation in Canada:
“CFL is an acronym for Canadian Focus Lost. The priorities seem to be the pointless CFL 2.0 initiative — with a global pandemic creating endless uncertainty, the league is nonetheless proceeding with a colossal waste of time known as a global draft — and to build some sort of alliance with the XFL. Fortunately, there are people who grasp the neglected necessity of aggressively selling the game in Canada — where, the last time we checked, the CFL was based. “There is no magic touch here,” Sportsnet’s Arash Madani said last week on the Rod Pedersen Show. “You have to roll up your sleeves, sell tickets two by two, and do the work. This is not Folgers. This is not instant coffee. This is not add water … add partnership with another league and all our problems are solved — especially a league that’s folded twice in the 2000s.”
Longtime CFL fans/Las Vegas residents remember the last attempt to merge Canadian Football with a US fanbase. Among other things, it gave us the short lived Las Vegas CFL franchise the LAS VEGAS POSSE. Although my most vivid memory is the announcement of the team name which involved a nearly naked Melinda: First Lady of Magic doing a dance routine while a couple of flustered sports radio types repeatedly observed that “she’s not wearing much at all” it might be sadly lost to history. Yes, the dance number was *on the radio* and we all know how well the visual arts work on the radio, particularly when described by a couple of flustered sports radio types. This clip from Melinda’s act might give you some idea:
If you have some time on your hands you might enjoy this archival footage of the first CFL regular season game ever played in Southern Nevada–a game I actually attended live:
Despite the short run of the Las Vegas Posse–and for that matter, the entire CFL in the US experiment–the team does have some historical significance. It was the first attempt to place a professional sports team of any type in the Las Vegas Valley. It’s been attempted several times since. Spoiler alert–the most recent attempts have worked out pretty well: