November 22, 2018 8:05 pm
Updated: November 23, 2018 3:01 pm

CFL commissioner talks possible Mexico game, expansion franchise ahead of 106th Grey Cup

WATCH ABOVE: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie explains how the league came up with the idea to play in Mexico, and signs a letter of intent Friday with the Liga de Futbol Americano, an eight-team Mexican semi-pro American spring football circuit.

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The CFL will move a step closer to playing in Mexico next year.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie signed a letter of intent Friday with the Liga de Futbol Americano, an eight-team Mexican semi-pro American spring football circuit. The league president Oscar Perez attended the commissioner’s annual Grey Cup address Friday.

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The letter of intent is not a binding contract but paves the way for the two leagues to jointly plan such events as a CFL scouting combine in Mexico this winter, increase co-operation and share resources.

Ambrosie, Perez and Jaimes officially signed the letter following Ambrosie’s annual state of the union address.

“It just lays out the framework of our relationship,” Ambrosie told The Canadian Press on Thursday. “The idea was, ‘Can we bring the best players from Mexico to the CFL and can we send (Canadian) players there to continue to develop their skills and through that come back and play in the CFL?’

“I’d love to see how do we get our world-class coaches to help them? Can we invite them to our training camps? Can we go there and do some coaching clinics? It’s all about sharing resources and then it’s going to lay out an opportunity to potentially play a CFL game or games in Mexico.”

READ MORE: WATCH: Eye cam captures Grey Cup Festival fun in downtown Edmonton

By signing the letter of intent, Ambrosie said the prospect of staging a CFL regular-season game in Mexico City next year will take a big step towards becoming a reality. And for now, Ambrosie said he’s setting his sights on staging one game there in 2019.

“We’ll focus on one super successful game,” he said.

But Ambrosie isn’t done with taking the CFL globally. He said he’s also spoken with officials of the Ligue de Football Professionnel in France about the two leagues working together.

Ambrosie’s desire to take the CFL internationally comes at a time when the league is heading into an uncertain off-season.

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association will begin collective bargaining talks in the New Year with the present deal set to expire in May. Last time around, negotiations got testy before an agreement was hammered out and this time around bargaining is expected to be contentious.

WATCH: At this state of the league address, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie speaks about the current collective bargaining agreement with players, which is set to expire on the first day of training camp.

Also this season, both Toronto and Montreal struggled at the turnstiles, while questions remain whether owner David Braley will sell the B.C. Lions. But Ambrosie doesn’t apologize for making growth a CFL priority.

“Growth is a solution and those three markets are a really good place to start,” Ambrosie said. “Those cities aren’t national cities but international cities and let’s use world juniors as an example.

READ MORE: Roughriders lead CFL attendance rankings through Week 5

“World juniors have an average minute audience rating of almost 3.1 million fans while the Memorial Cup, which is unbelievably good hockey with the same players basically, but the domestic version of that game has an average minute audience rating of 280,000 fans. There’s an attraction for people to be interested in international events and you only have to look at the power of the Olympics, Ryder Cup and World Cup. These things drive fan interest.”

WATCH: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie talks about the progress of launching a 10th football team in Halifax.

The CFL is looking to grow in Canada as the Maritime Football Limited Partnership is working to secure an expansion franchise for Halifax. Ambrosie reiterated the biggest challenge that group faces is the construction of a suitable stadium.

“Really, the entire thing is gated on one issue,” Ambrosie said. “If you’d imagine you’re in a game and down by five points with three minutes to play and you’re getting first downs you really feel good.

“But you’ve still got to score that touchdown. People have asked me about (granting Halifax) a conditional franchise but all I care about is one thing: franchise franchises because the rest of it is just terminology.”

Listen below: Atlantic Schooners continue Grey Cup traditions & promote east coast expansion team pitch

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Earlier this month, the NFL moved a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams from Mexico City to LA due to unsuitable field conditions at Estadio Azteca. But Ambrosie said it’s too early for that to be a concern for the CFL.

“I don’t know enough about it to make any real specific comments,” he said. “I can say wherever we’d go to play, we’d want our players to play on safe, high-quality conditions.”

On Sunday, the Ottawa Redblacks will face the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium. Redblacks cornerback Jonathan Rose is expected to play after appealing the CFL’s one-game suspension levied after he pushed an official during a melee in the East Division final.

READ MORE: Redblacks’ Jonathan Rose appeals suspension from Grey Cup game

Jocelyn Paul, the official Rose pushed, will also be on the crew working Sunday’s game.

“I have an incredible level of comfort that these guys (Rose and Paul) are professionals and will get on with their jobs,” Ambrosie said.

And the CFL commissioner has no animosity towards the CFLPA for appealing Rose’s suspension or players donning union T-shirts during post-season interviews.

“The players are passionate and the Players’ Association wants to represent its guys the best way it can,” he said. “Will there be tense moments? I’m sure there will be because it’s the nature of the beast.

“But when you’re sitting where we’re sitting today and looking at a future that could be so remarkable where we may’ve found a little opening to drive through to a much bigger future, I think there’s solutions for everything out there.”

VIDEO GALLERY: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses several topics at his state of the league address: developing quarterbacks, player safety and concussions, domestic violence against women, the future of the Grey Cup party planning, and how the coaches salary cap affects support staff. 

READ MORE: Edmonton and the Grey Cup: A brief history of hosting

Also on Sunday, the league will again employ an eighth official whose job will be to watch for hits to the head or neck of the quarterbacks. The change comes after Winnipeg defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat received a maximum fine for a controversial high hit on Saskatchewan quarterback Brandon Bridge in the West Division final.

The level of CFL officiating has long been a bone of contention. Ambrosie said the extra official will be one of many aspects the league will review this off-season, as it does every year.

“I think we should talk and think about how we might use technology to enhance our officiating,” Ambrosie said. “We should always be looking.

“We should take this experiment with an eighth official and see what it does for us . . . but after the season we can slow down and take a more thorough review. If you said to our officials today, ‘Would you like to do it even better than you are?’ Their answer would be a resounding ‘Yes.”

WATCH: Ongoing Global News coverage of the Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton, ahead of Sunday’s final tilt

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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