CFL cancels season after request for financial help turned down

By | August 17, 2020

The CFL has cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It marks the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919.

“Our league governors decided today it is in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “We are absolutely committed to 2021, to the future of our league and the pursuit of our vision of a bigger, stronger, more global CFL.”

The decision dashes hopes of a shortened season in the hub city of Winnipeg and comes after the CFL couldn’t solve a number of issues in an effort to try to salvage a season.

The league was unable to secure financing from the federal government after presenting Ottawa with a $30-million, interest-free loan request Aug. 3 to stage an abbreviated 2020 season.

“Even with additional support, our owners and community-held teams would have had to endure significant financial losses to play in 2020,” Ambrosie said. “Without it, the losses would be so large that they would really hamper our ability to bounce back strongly next year and beyond. The most important thing is the future of our league.”

The league had maintained it required government funding to stage a shortened season, despite having a far more stable ownership situation than in previous years.

The CFL said the federal government suggested the league pursue a commercial loan, which would be partially backed by Ottawa.

“That kind of arrangement would hamper our recovery more than bolster it. On two occasions, in June and again at the beginning of August, the government reached out to us with new indications they might step up and help in a more meaningful way. But at the end of the day, the help we needed to play this year never materialized,” Ambrosie said.

“This outcome after months of discussions with government officials is disappointing. But we’re focused now on the long-term future and we will continue to work with the federal and provincial governments in that context.”

Gate-driven league

With the cancellation, the CFL becomes one of the few major North American pro sports leagues to wipe out play in 2020. Major League Baseball is running a shortened season, while the NHL, NBA and Major League Soccer have resumed play. The NFL says it’s planning to start its season on time next month.

Unlike other major leagues in North America, however, the CFL does not have the luxury of a billion-dollar television contract. While its deal with TSN has become more lucrative over the years, the CFL remains a gate-driven league — which is a major problem when fans aren’t allowed in the stands.

CFL officials announced in late July they had chosen Winnipeg as a hub city for a regular season with six games, followed by an eight-team playoffs. No fans were scheduled to be in attendance.

But it was contingent on the league securing financial assistance from the federal government, solidifying an extension of the collective bargaining agreement and approving health-and-safety protocols.

While the CFL said it could have staged the Grey Cup game after its traditional late November date, time was running out to get about half the league’s players back to Canada, follow quarantine rules, stage training camps and hold a season and playoffs.

The CFL also couldn’t line up federal funding. In late April, Ambrosie told The Canadian Press the CFL was seeking up to $150 million in federal assistance in the event of a wiped-out season.

WATCH | Randy Ambrosie tells MPs league is in ‘jeopardy’:

Testifying before the House of Commons standing committee on finance on Thursday, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie stated the league could need up to $150 million from the federal government if their season is wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 4:47

The league dropped its ask to about $44 million in the summer as it tried to find a way to grapple with next to no revenue. Later, it requested the loan of $30 million.

Meanwhile, the league also struggled to mend fences with the CFL Players’ Association. Politicians from all major parties criticized the CFL for not having its players involved in its initial financial assistance request.

While the players eventually supported the league’s second financial assistance proposal, the two sides could not come to terms on an extension of the CBA, though the CFL said it was close to a deal when it called off the season Monday.

The cancellation also puts the new-look Edmonton team on hold. The team announced it was dropping its name this summer after facing pressure from sponsors, along with other teams with racist or stereotypical names.

Now, the Edmonton Football Team faces the challenge of creating a new name with extremely limited revenue.

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