Published on July 11, 2008 12:56 PM by dbo.
The launch of the 2008 CFL season brought much media attention. Some of it was not focused on the game, the players, the off-season changes, but on the CFL’s response facing an invasion from the Buffalo Bills, and eventually in the Canadian media’s eyes, the NFL.
It is a big story, a polarizing one, and gets more eyeballs and sells more papers, in Ontario at least, than regular CFL coverage. The repeated stories on the Bills games in Toronto, the CFL’s survival and a Senator’s desire to support the CFL with proposed anti-NFL legislation (many of which we have pointed out on our pages) has put the issue in the forefront of many Canadians minds. Commentary pieces about areas where the CFL needs to improve its image and the challenge it faces in maintain the electric, high-scoring offensive displays it is know for are completely valid, even if they include ancient stereotypes and out-of-date characterizations of the league. As these points are made by fans and media alike, with a CFL on the upswing, they will be addressed over time. Commissioner Mark Cohon has already accomplished a lot in professionalizing the league and there is no reason to believe that he won’t address issues like the disciplinary system, standardized roster and injury lists, and consistent rules for clubs in dealing with the media. However, some issues are dependent on opening negotiations with the player association, and others are farther down the task list as there are a lot of marketing and grassroots programs which have a higher priority. As for scoring, the league is best not to meddle with the rules too much to try to increase scoring, but should maintain their monitoring of the situation and look at pre-season preparation rather than changing the rule book.
As the warnings and solutions and FUD are all added to the discourse, the threat seems to be present right now, as if we need a call to arms to repel the invader at the border. Despite our desire for immediate resolution, of a passing of the threat so we can rest easy that the CFL will survive, this challenge will be present for the CFL for the long-term, perhaps forever. This does not change what Canadians who want the CFL to survive should do. Continue to support the league. Purchase tickets (even if you can’t go, purchase and donate to a community group), watch the games, and wear the merchandise.
The reason a resolution will not happen immediately is because the issue is complex and set to play out over the next few years. The current situation is the Bills will play eight games over five years in Toronto. Beyond that nothing is certain. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has provided hope for the fans in Buffalo with a statement that the NFL would like to see the team remain in Buffalo, and noted there was strict relocation rules for franchises. The NFL had been mostly quiet about this issue in the past year. The ticket prices for the Bills in Toronto may have been to pricey for some of Toronto’s wealthy, with an eight game VIP package set at $9,200, and only half of these packages sold. While prices may be inflated for this series of games, you can be sure that owners will set the prices at what people are willing to pay, and these prices will prove the market rate. The slow sales of the most expensive ticket packages may show there are not as many of Toronto’s wealthy as expected ready to shell out that kind of cash for NFL football entertainment. By the time a team finally arrives in Toronto the public may be hesitant to pay five figures for a season ticket on top of a $30,000 seat license, depending on the economic situation at the time.
The CFL, on the other hand, is not the sinking ship that it was ten to fifteen years ago. The CFL is in the first year of a five-year television contract reportedly paying $15 million per season, which should result in a doubling of television revenues to member clubs. Over the five years of this contract a lot of things can happen. If the CFL growth continues, with an Ottawa franchise added in 2010 or 2011 and a slim possibility of a tenth franchise announced for the negotiations of the next contract, the CFL could be in a good position indeed. With CFL commissioner Mark Cohen’s guidance, CFL numbers growing and an expected bump from a new stadium in Winnipeg and stadium expansion in Montreal, the CFL looks to be in good shape to put itself in a much stronger position five years from now. At that time, the reality of an NFL team in Toronto may be closer, and the CFL in a much strong position to handle it. However, the league will not disband over night upon the arrival of an NFL team full time in Toronto, if that ever does happen. In this scenario, the CFL will face its biggest challenge in re-negotiating its television and corporate sponsorships, and needs to show stability and growth in its popularity to be in a position to retain sponsors and increase revenue. Attention will need to be paid to attendance in southern Ontario and the corporate sponsorship situation, as this is the area the NFL will suffocate those teams. Right now though, these long term challenges can only be handled by the league addressing its internal issues today to put in on a strong footing for the future.