What might have been: this weekend was supposed to be the Grey Cup in Regina

·4 min read

This weekend Regina was supposed to be celebrating the biggest party of the year as host of the Grey Cup.

Instead, because of COVID-19, the streets are quiet and Mosaic Stadium sits idle under a blanket of snow. It's the first time since 1919 the Grey Cup has not been awarded to a team.

The future of the Canadian Football League is dire as it tries to recover from a lost season.

"There's no mistake that it has been very difficult, especially difficult on our community-based teams," CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told Blue Sky's Garth Materie.

Ambrosie said the league is resolved to find a way back onto the field in 2021.

He would not disclose how many millions of dollars CFL teams have lost because of the pandemic, but said it was significant.

"If we can't arrest the problem, if we don't end up, you know, with a solution to the COVID crisis, it will only serve to get worse," he said.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Roughriders president and CEO Craig Reynolds said it is the worst financial crisis the club has faced.

"Our original projections, where we were anticipating losing upwards of $10 million this year due to effectively the inability to generate really any revenue," Reynolds said.

"The good news is the club has a rainy day fund and the other good news is through expense management and some creative sort of revenue solutions, we've been able to reduce what we anticipate are loss to be.

"So it's not as dire as we originally forecasted, but it still is a challenging situation for us."

The CFL released its 2021 schedule on Friday. It is slated to start June 10 and culminate with the Grey Cup Nov. 21 in Hamilton.

The Riders would kick off their regular season on the road in Edmonton on June 12. and the home-opener would be June 19 against the Ottawa Redblacks.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ambrosie said it is plausible to think about a full schedule despite the pandemic.

He said potential vaccines could be a game changer and that the league may also be able to play with fewer fans in the seats.

Reynolds said the Riders are working to see what percentage of fans need to be at games to make it financially viable.

"Now we need to hone in on exactly what are sort of the break even points in terms of the number of fans," Reynolds said. "Is that feasible based on what we know now? When will we have those decision points that tell us whether or not it's feasible? So that's that's sort of the work plan that we're all collectively working on right now."

Reynolds said 70 per cent of fans who had committed to season tickets in 2020 have kept their money with the club to roll over to the 2021 season.

Some even donated that 2020 season ticket money to the club, Reynolds said.

David Stobbe/Reuters
David Stobbe/Reuters

Earlier in the pandemic the CFL had asked the federal government for a $30 million dollar interest-free loan, which was denied.

Ambrosie said the money would have been used for ongoing operations.

"Most of our money goes to people," he said. "That [money] would have gone to players. They would have gone to coaches. They would have gone to administrative staff and football operations staff."

Former Rider president and CEO Jim Hopson said the CFL business model has not been working well for years.

Hopson said there have been good years, especially with the Riders, but that every team needs fans in the seats, which hasn't been the case in places like Toronto.

"It can work,"" Hopson said. "But clearly, this is a time to reset the business model and get our costs in line with our expenditures and find all kinds of ways that will make it viable for us to keep the league alive."

Hopson said the league needs a salary cap that covers not only salaries for players, but also coaches and other staff.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy Fleece
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Troy Fleece

Ambrosie said the league could do better as a business enterprise, but the main reason it is suffering is COVID.

"We've been looking for cost efficiencies. We've been looking for ways to share resources," he said.

Ambrosie said he is optimistic about the future of the CFL, despite the bleakness of today's world.

"I know we've got lots of hard work in front of us. There are going to be hurdles to overcome. But that is true of businesses all across the world who will have been hit hard by what we hope will be a once in a lifetime experience."