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Does the CFL need federal funding to survive the COVID-19 pandemic? Sports economist raises questions

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is still planning for a 2020 season, but the situation continues to change.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is still planning for a 2020 season, but the situation continues to change. The Canadian Press / Andrew Vaughan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal officials are working with the Canadian Football League on a request for up to $150 million in financial aid for the league.

“We are currently looking at how we can support various organizations,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

READ MORE: Canadian Football League asks government for $150M in assistance amid COVID-19

“We recognize that this is an important issue for the league and for many Canadians and we are continuing our discussions with them.

“The CFL has approached us about support. We know it’s important to them and important for many Canadians.”

The CFL says the initial ask is for $30 million, but it may need up to another $120 million in the future if the 2020 season is cancelled altogether.

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“We don’t know what the future holds,” a statement from the league said.

“At best, our season is delayed and, at worst, we could lose several games and even our entire 2020 season. If concerns about large gatherings in stadiums persist, our future itself could be in jeopardy.”

Sports economist and a professor with Concordia University, Moshe Lander is questioning how dire the league’s situation really is.

“They are right that they’re going to lose money. But the fact is, they did have a nice TV deal in place,” Lander said.

“All games were broadcast, they had kind of cornered that niche market of Victoria day to Remembrance day on the Canadian calendar, so they were reasonably safe.

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“I don’t think that this is going to take them down if they lose the season.”

READ MORE: CFL player’s assocation seeks answers from league as COVID-19 shutdown continues

Prior to the 2019 Grey Cup, the CFL and TSN announced a long-term extension of their TV deal.

A press release states that the 2019 CFL season reached more than 15 million Canadian viewers — or 41 per cent of the country’s population.

Still, the CFL said it makes the bulk of its money from fans in the stands.

“The CFL is unique from other professional leagues. We value our sponsors and broadcast partners, but our biggest source of revenue, by far, comes from ticket buyers,” the statement said.

“We have told federal officials we would want to earn any funding — and pay taxpayers back — by using all the tools at our disposal, including community and public education programs across the country, the use of our digital channels, stadiums and broadcasts for advertising and promotion and tourism initiatives surrounding the Grey Cup and other CFL events.

“We want to be accountable.”

Click to play video 'Premier Kenney on fate of CFL and NHL sports in Alberta this summer' Premier Kenney on fate of CFL and NHL sports in Alberta this summer
Premier Kenney on fate of CFL and NHL sports in Alberta this summer – Apr 29, 2020

The CFL did not respond to Global News’s requests for clarification on how the money would be used or distributed among its nine teams.

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It’s unclear whether any funds would assist players or game-day staff, or if the CFL player’s association was consulted on the request for help.

“If you want to pay back, then ask the government for a loan on commercial terms, and pay it back like a loan,” Lander said.

“Just saying give us money now and we’ll do things to promote football in the communities… that’s not it.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg Blue Bombers forced to cut salaries, staff due to coronavirus pandemic

 

For its part, the Calgary Stampeders say season ticket holders won’t be charged for the full season if it’s cut short, and they’ve only taken deposits on seats at this point.

The 2020 CFL season was slated to kick off on June 11.