It’s almost like a rebirth of sorts for the CFL when Randy Ambrosie, the commissioner of the league comes out with an announcement like he did yesterday afternoon.
“We will play football in 2021,” he said. “Our revised target date to start our regular season is August 5th. To facilitate our 14 game season, for our players, fans and partners, we are re-scheduling the Grey Cup to December 12th in Hamilton, Ontario.”
You might be thinking that this means there will for certain be football on August 5th, and that would make sense in a perfect world that would be a yes, but in the times of COVID-19, that isn’t actually the case.
“So, what must take place for us to kick off on August 5th?” asked Ambrosie. “Two things. One, the approval of public health officials across the country of our plans for protecting the health of our players, coaches, and ultimately our fans so a 2021 season is safe. Two, permission from governments to host a significant number of fans in the stands in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that so a 2021 season can be financially tenable for our clubs.”
No one really knows what a “significant number of fans” looks like for teams right now, but we have an idea of what some clubs are hoping to be able to get at the start of the season. The B.C. Lions are hoping to get between 17-18% of the lower deck at B.C. Place full this season and the Ottawa Redblacks are hoping to have 5,500 “ASAP” according to Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun.
“The CFL depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America,” said Ambrosie. “Fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue. Our clubs already stand t0 suffer substantial financial losses this year. Playing without fans in the stands would dramatically increase those losses.”
While hearing Ambrosie say they will play football this year is encouraging, they have left the door open to shut down once again. It feels like COVID-19 should be subsiding by the time August comes around with vaccines rolling out, but after being in this pandemic for well over a year now, it’s hard to see it ending so easily. The good news however is that if the league can’t get going by August 5th, they say there is a backup plan.
“We are prepared to be creative as well as prudent,” said Ambrosie. “For example, if we are unable to host fans in the East because of COVID-19, we are prepared to start play in the West, provided eastern teams can return to their home provinces, and play in front of their fans, later in the season.”
“We have contingency plans in place, should factors beyond our control delay the start of our season beyond August 5th,” he said. “The bottom line is we are optimistic we will have a season in 2021, culminating in a great Grey Cup.”
There have been some conversations between teams and players about when training camp might begin according to Dave Naylor, but no official announcement has been made on that front.
Right now, it seems like the CFL is ready to rock and roll and they are relying heavily on the government to give them a yes to play. Hopefully, there can be vaccines in enough arms to get the season going.