Published on September 14, 2009 7:40 PM by dbo.
Expansion has been a hot topic in the CFL for around 30 years. From the first suggestions of a team in Atlantic Canada in the early 1980’s to the American expansion phase in the 1990’s to the Ottawa Renegades and expansion efforts this decade, the CFL has expanded enthusiastically when presented the opportunity though perhaps not always wisely for the long-term. Still, expansion suggestions are the the most frequent comments and questions placed on fan forums and sites around the Internet. For the most part, the suggestion of a location as prime for expansion is enough for the suggester to believe the CFL should grant a franchise there tomorrow. If only it were that easy.
In commissioner Mark Cohon’s recent Q & A posts on CFL.ca (part II, part III, part IV), 10 out of 40 questions, or one-quarter, were regarding expansion. Opinions on expanding to the US, with Rochester and Portland and Alaska offered as locations, and Canada with Quebec City, Windsor, the Maritimes, Saskatoon, Victoria and Whitehorse(!) mentioned as well.
This is not meant to disparage these questions or the open process commissioner Cohon has adopted to allow direct fan and transparent access to himself. All the questions for the commissioner indicate a strong and passionate fan base for the league. The expansion comments, though, like many others, such as ones that indicate a fan’s dislike for a television commentator or a rule, are opinion based on no more than looking at a map and saying there should be franchises there and there. Again, I am not saying this is bad, just that it is not helpful advice for the league.
For the health of the league as a whole, the league must approach expansion cautiously and judiciously. While expansion appears to be easy money for the league, new expansion fees and growing its audience, there are other factors. Expansion cuts the league disbursements to each club — first from one-eighth to one-ninth, then one-tenth and one-twelfth. If the league does not increase revenues with each expansion, clubs will get less from the league office, potentially placing stress on the clubs which are not on strong financial footing. Since much of the league revenue comes from the television contract, it is appropriate to expand just before the contract is renewed to put the league in the best position during negotiations.
In addition to effects on revenue, expansion increases travel costs and competition for player talent. While it seems simple to put teams in Victoria, Saskatoon, and Windsor if they want teams (not saying they meet the qualifications), you end up in an NHL situation where they have 30 franchises and want to expand with another franchise in southern Ontario for the $400 million plus fee, but don’t want to contract or relocate any of the existing struggling franchises. The CFL needs to control its growth so it does not outgrow the availability of quality Canadian players. Quick expansion from eight to twelve teams would do just that. Though the issue of Canadian talent can be addressed in collective bargaining negotiations with the CFLPA, reducing the number of Canadians per roster as the league grows does nothing to increase and improve opportunities for Canadian players.
Commissioner Cohon defines the basic expansion requirements explicitly in the eighth question of his first Q & A post.
Our Board of Governors will consider expansion interest from cities with two things: serious prospective owners, with a strong, long-term commitment to our league and deep financial resources, and an appropriate stadium to play in.
This is the process followed for the current conditional franchise granted to Ottawa. A serious, local ownership group applied and due to the stadium situation, were granted a franchise in April 2008 on condition of acquiring a stadium lease. Ottawa had a stadium, but at least a portion of it was scheduled for demolition in July, 2008. This unique case required the conditional tag until a stadium lease was acquired. The franchise had to be granted conditionally before the stadium lease was obtained so it could be a factor in the stadium decision. After these two critical keys to success are in place, the remaining details can be worked out.
Those conditions – strong ownership and an appropriate stadium – have to be in place before we can discuss other factors, such as expansion fees, strength of market, and revenue projections.
It is easy to dream and dreams provide goals to strive towards. The dream is the end point and does not indicate any of the hard work needed to see it accomplished. As such, ideas for teams in Windsor, Saskatoon, Victoria and the US are just dreams. Ottawa is the CFL‘s current focus and beyond that, there is a lot more work to do. The groundwork is being laid in Quebec City and Moncton, but those cities each face obstacles — a stadium in Quebec City and ownership and stadium questions in Moncton.
Quebec City has been mentioned this past year as being close to becoming the CFL‘s tenth franchise. First, stadium expansion plans were thwarted. Then the Montreal Gazette published a story about a business woman interested in a Quebec City franchise (original Google cached version). Following that revelation, Marc Bellemare indicated his investment group would be willing to partner with Christina Saint Marche to bring the a second CFL franchise to Quebec. It appears with a combination of groups the ownership requirement may be met if their resources and commitment are confirmed. The stadium remains the stumbling block, with the Université Laval obstructing any attempt to expand PEPS stadium to a CFL-sized facility.
This is not a slam dunk nor a matter of time. There are questions about Saint Marche’s financing and intentions. She has been associated with CFL franchise bids in Calgary and Ottawa and the Saint Bernard Pass Charitable Foundation which established the Wally Buono Award for recognizing the top junior football player in Canada. Her public comments on being approached to buy the Toronto Argonauts may hurt her standing in the CFL. It is unclear whether she is sincere about her plan to expand PEPS stadium and gift that to the university or whether the university will even accept such an offer. The other ownership group, which claims to have raised $20 million, is unknown to the public except for their spokesperson, Mr. Bellemare. The seriousness of any Quebec City potential franchisees will likely be more visible when the Ottawa situation is finalized and the CFL can determine the potential of the investors and stadium there.
Moncton has the beginning of a stadium and a potential deal for five regular season CFL games to gauge interest in the Maritimes. However, no investment group is in sight or potential investors even mentioned. The CFL is hoping that successful games in Moncton will help draw out investors for a CFL franchise, but those goals along with a suitable stadium are five to ten years away.
To support CFL expansion, simply support CFL football. Consider these ways to do that:
The CFL is a grassroots league and likes to advertise that. With a little effort and commitment from the grassroots fan base, expansion can get rolling in the most promising markets. Doing something other than just making the suggestion will help see the league expand to ten and twelve teams in the next 10-15 years. It will take money to build stadiums and finance teams, they will not appear out of good intentions, so fans in those cities and across Canada who want expansion need to put their money down and show their commitment to their community and the CFL.