Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivers his annual state of the league address to reporters during the CFL Grey Cup week in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. The focus remains on the 2021 season but CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie hasn't closed the door on partnership talks with the XFL. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

CFL commissioner Ambrosie not closing the door on resumption of XFL partnership talks

CFL commissioner Ambrosie not closing the door on resumption of XFL partnership talks

The focus remains on the 2021 season but CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie hasn’t closed the door on partnership talks with the XFL.

Last month, the two leagues announced separately that negotiations had ended. In March, the CFL and XFL began serious talks about a potential partnership and how they could collaborate to grow football.

“We both decided and agreed that we would go back to our respective businesses and focus on our own leagues, for now,” Ambrosie said. “We haven’t set any plans to reconnect.

“But because the relationship was positive, the door was left open for the possibility that we talk again down the road. But today and for the foreseeable future, it’s all CFL all the time.”

Following the end of negotiations, the XFL revealed its plans to return in 2023, not 2022 as was previously announced. The league cancelled its 2020 campaign after five weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was put into bankruptcy proceedings by former owner Vince McMahon.

That led to actor/former wrestler Dwayne (The Rock) Johnston, business partner Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital purchasing the XFL for US$15 million. Johnson played football at the University of Miami and the former defensive lineman spent time on the Calgary Stampeders’ practice roster in 1995 before being released and ultimately joining the pro wrestling ranks.

The joint announcements came days before the start of CFL training camps. The Canadian league didn’t play in 2020 due to the global pandemic but will kick off an shortened 14-game campaign Thursday night with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visiting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg and Hamilton met in the last CFL game to be played, with the Bombers downing the Ticats 33-12 in the 2019 Grey Cup game.

Ambosie wouldn’t divulge what was discussed between the two leagues but said no stone was left unturned.

“It would be disingenuous to suggest that we didn’t talk about everything,” he said. “Now, we’ve got our game, our league and our own future to navigate and I think that’s going to mean having conversations about how do we take our league to the next level?

“How do we grow the game? How do we double, then double again and double again our success? We’ll have an opportunity for consultation with our stakeholders, our fans, with amateur football, with university football because we don’t need to grow the CFL, we need to grow football in Canada. We need to make our game stronger.”

And be it with the XFL or Canadian-based organizations, Ambrosie said that means thinking outside of the box.

“They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” he said. “We’ll be encouraging everyone to get out to look at where are the possibilities to grow and expand our game because what we really owe to the game is long-term success.

“I’d continue to encourage our board … certainly myself and my team that we keep our eyes open, we keep our ears open and we keep our minds open to new possibilities and that’s across the board.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

CFL