Cohon: Why the CFL matters

Published on June 14, 2008 9:44 PM by dbo.

The National Post published a series entitled Turf Wars this weekend, perhaps predicated by the launch of the CFL season and the recent CFL protectionism bill introduced by Senator Larry Campbell. In the series, Sean Fitz-Gerald reports on the stakes of an NFL invasion and answers both sides of the question of whether an NFL team will ever land in Toronto, while an editorial looks at the things other than a law that the federal government can do for the CFL and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon provides his reasons why the CFL matters in a guest opinion piece.

The main article in the series focuses on Rogers Communications executive Phil Lind, who is leading the Rogers initiative to bring the the Buffalo Bills to Toronto for eight games over the next five years and secure a permanent NFL team for Ted Rogers and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. Lind provides statements which are not supported by any facts such as “I like the NFL, I like it better and so do most people in Toronto”. Later, after numbers from a Rogers study claiming that 63% of professional sports fans in southern Ontario consider themselves NFL fans, while 55% consider themselves CFL fans are mentioned, Lind gets in “In Southern Ontario, this is NFL territory. The CFL’s great, wonderful, terrific, but this territory is NFL territory”. An 8% spread, and both have over half of the group’s support, but the NFL wins according to Lind. They don’t report the numbers for the NBA, but if they were below 50%, should the MLSE’s Toronto Raptors be forced to leave Toronto?

Of course Lind has an agenda. It appears he gets to be the hammer on this issue in the face of political opposition after Rogers and Paul Godfrey have been pledging support for the CFL. Now the attitude toward the CFL has switched to condescending, perhaps in the face of switching public opinion they need to minimize the value and support of the CFL to make people think it is not worth saving.

Bob Young, owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, brings the monopoly issue finally to the front with the statement “It isn’t protectionism when you have a billion-dollar player trampling on a $100-million player’s marketplace”. The fact is this is different than any other league. MLB presence in Montreal and Toronto didn’t compete with an already existing Canadian professional baseball league. Same with the NBA’s move to Canada. Whether the NFL’s presence in Canada hurts the CFL on purpose or as a consequence, the fact is the NFL would be gaining a monopoly in the Canadian market due to its size, eliminating an unique cultural institution of Canada. The CFL has no way to compete within the market place if the NFL’s presence in southern Ontario eliminates just one team and takes away a national television contract, the league will not be able to survive on gate revenue only. Currently the CFL is not only surviving, but revenues and profits are increasing. If this is destroyed by an NFL team in Toronto, then that is unfair monopolistic behaviour.

Toronto Argonaut owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon make the point that leaving a Canadian institution such as the CFL to fend against an American monopoly could lead to others wanting other Canadian institutions and industries being left open to American competition. For those that do not believe this is a slippery slope issue, ask yourself if these other industries such as television and magazines are worth protecting, why isn’t the CFL?

These points are unconvincing to billionaire Ted Rogers. Acquiring his wealth from a cable monopoly, then a communications oligopoly, capitalism and the pursuit of more wealth are his purpose, and it is natural for him to want to join the NFL monopoly and billionaire owners club. I get the feeling that Rogers and Lind have no connection with the average Canadian across this country that they market their products to. Lind’s description of driving from Toronto to Buffalo for the first half of a Bill’s game, then taking the 3-hour drive to Cleveland for the second half of a Browns game before returning to Toronto, leaves you with the impression that he doesn’t understand that most people don’t even think about affording tickets to one NFL game a week, let alone two, and would have an environmental conscience about driving 10-12 hours to watch two halves of separate games. As Senator Campbell states, this is all about money. A way for a billionaire to make even more money, while rubbing shoulders with the powerful businessmen or athletes to make him feel fulfilled. A Canadian cultural icon should not have to be destroyed to in order for one man to see his dreams accomplished.

Should their be legislation to keep the NFL out of Canada? Since it is very unlikely to happen, it can’t be counted on. The National Post editorial put forward some other ideas which can help the CFL survive no matter what the NFL does. The ever-present cry for Canadians to rally around the league is listed, along with changes to broadcast rules to allow broadcasters to qualify CFL games as Canadian content to satisfy their quotas. Next, they state federal government should look to support the CFL by providing money to improve or build new stadiums. While CFL teams have been well supported by local and provincial governments, the federal government has done little to provide stadium infrastructure except the initial funding of the construction of some of these stadiums for other purposes (Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, B.C. Place Stadium and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, only partially used by the Alouettes). Neglected stadiums is one of the major factors limiting attendance growth, considering the amenities fans experience in many new hockey stadiums and US baseball and football stadiums.

So if not legislation, then what? I don’t feel anyone should block an individual’s right to free commerce, but I do believe strongly that large organizations should not be able to wield their size to eliminate and stifle competition, whether it is Wal-Mart, Microsoft, the NFL or large telecommunications oligopolies. So any NFL franchise owner in Canada should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to see the CFL continues to survive, even in southern Ontario. This may mean paying territorial fees, working with the league on schedule and media issues, and accepting that they do not need to eliminate the Ontario CFL teams to grab 100% of the football market. Taking a “let the market work it out attitude” is not acceptable, because whether the consequence is intentional or not, the mere presence of a franchise will have a ripple effect on media and sponsorship dollars, not just locally in Toronto, but across the whole Canadian league. This is not about the CFL needing a hand-out to survive. The CFL has survived for almost 100 years, got through some hard times, and is now thriving again. It will continue to thrive on its own in the current marketplace as long as it is not squashed by an institution more than 50 times as wealthy. Once an prospective owner is willing to put their commitment where their wallet is, if that is what it takes, then we can believe in their support of Canada and its institutions.

Finally, Mark Cohon put out an impassioned argument in his editorial, “Why the CFL matters”, republished on CFL.ca, stating the CFL is celebrated by millions of fans across the country as evidenced by attendance and television numbers, bringing the nation together and providing part of our cultural identity. He says it is not about being the biggest, flashiest or wealthiest. If it were, many parts of Canada, and Canada itself would not measure up. The fact is this is our country, our game, our league. Let’s rediscover it.

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Cohon: Why the CFL matters was published on June 14, 2008 9:44 PM by dbo.

1,421 words.

This article is categorized under Finances and tagged with bob-young, david-cynamon, howard-sokolowski, mark-cohon and stadiums.