“The idea of being able to talk in such positive terms about getting our league back on the field and our commitment to playing in 2021, man that felt good. It’s been a long winter and it feels like spring today.”
-- CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie
Canadian Football League fans have a reason for celebration.
The CFL will be back in 2021!
After postponing the entire 2020 season due to the pandemic, league officials announced last week that the season will be played in full during the second half of 2021.
The CFL's 14-game season begins on August 5 and will conclude with the Grey Cup and championship game scheduled for December 12 in Hamilton. The fall-winter format likely means some late-season games will be played in frigid conditions.
The Commish Speaks
Nonetheless, no one is complaining about possible cold weather football games. Initially, an 18-game schedule was the goal according to a report in the Toronto Sun. However, league officials now agree that a 14-game format is a more reasonable approach.
Here's the official statement from CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie:
"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.
“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.
“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.”
A Possible CFL-XFL Merger?
One of the most interesting aspects of the CFL's return is the fact the league is currently engaged in serious discussions with the XFL about a potential collaboration. The CFL could sure use a boast, especially financially given that its nine teams reported cumulative loss of at least $60 million due to the 2020 season cancellation.
Ambrosie dropped this potential bombshell via Pro Football Talk.
"Our discussions with the XFL have been very positive....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.”
The XFL clearly enjoys its own niche of popularity and appears to be on solid financial ground. Like the CFL, the "other" football league garnered plenty of spectators and television viewers before it shut down all games due to the pandemic. Moreover, the XFL also has some real star power behind it. It's backed by moviestar and superhero Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
So, a CFL-XFL deal could be a huge win-win for everyone.
Don't buy your tickets just yet. Some hurdles still remain before CFL training camps open in July and kickoff happens (hopefully) in August.
The 2021 season will depend entirely on two key issues: (1) Government approval of the league’s health and safety protocols, and (2) Permission from health officials to host a significant number of fans in the stands and a significant number of stadium venues are open so that 2021 season is financially tenable for all teams.
CFL fans have a reason to be cautiously optimistic.