Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivers his annual state of the league address to reporters during the CFL Grey Cup week in Calgary, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Ambrosie says the league is examining all of its options to stage a 2021 season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says league exploring all options to hold 2021 season

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says league exploring all options to hold 2021 season

TORONTO — CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is examining all options — including a resumption of talks with the federal government, playing in hub cities and holding games with no fans or limited spectators — to get back on the field in 2021.

The CFL cancelled its 2020 season Aug. 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that came after it was unable to secure financial assistance from Ottawa. The league had hoped to play a shortened campaign in Winnipeg.

The CFL had maintained it required government funding to stage a shortened season. In April, it presented Ottawa a three-tiered request that began with $30 million initially, more in the event of a shortened season and up to $150 million for a cancelled campaign.

In July, the CFL modified that request to $44 million before asking Ottawa for a $30-million, interest-free loan on Aug. 3. However, the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal.

“When we didn’t succeed in August in our discussions, the federal government did leave the door open to ongoing discussions,” Ambrosie said in a telephone interview Thursday. “My strong feeling is that part of the responsibility is to be optimistic that conversations can restart and take us somewhere.

“You have to be thoughtful about it, you have to be realistic. But in the end I believe there was a genuine interest in resuming conversations and you have to hope that will lead us to an outcome that helps us to get back on to the field.”

Ambrosie believes the relationship between the CFL and federal government remains strong.

“Look, I believe it would be foolish not to acknowledge the overwhelming challenge it takes to govern in this time,” he said. “To be negative and hostile towards them would be, I think, a mistake.

“You acknowledge we weren’t successful, then you just have to dust yourself off and be willing to open up a new set of discussions. Frankly, that’s how I’ve approached this, just to be a person with a positive energy and bring that energy to every discussion we have.”

But the CFL isn’t pinning all of its hopes for 2021 solely on Ottawa. Ambrosie said the league and its nine teams are considering all options for a return to the field.

That includes playing in a hub city, staging games in an empty stadium or before reduced crowds. All of those options would be difficult ones for CFL franchises, which all rely heavily on ticket sales to generate revenue.

Ambrosie expects to have some answers about the CFL’s future Nov. 16. That’s when he’ll hold a townhall with fans to kick off Grey Cup Unite, an initiative where the league will hold many of the events usually held during Grey Cup week virtually.

However, a big challenge facing the CFL is the uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus. It’s unclear what the numbers will be like next summer or when a vaccine might be widely available.

“We are looking at a no-fan scenario, we’re looking at a couple of levels of limited fans,” Ambrosie said. “The most optimistic version of our plan is the vaccine is out and taking a positive footing and we’re looking at hub city again because you have to account for all of these things as possibilities.

“But the challenge we’re all facing, not just football, is that we don’t know where the pandemic is going to take us in the short to medium term. We’re going to look at every possible way to get back on the field … one way or the other we’re going to try to the best of our ability to figure out a way to do it.”

Another issue for Ambrosie and the CFL is the state of the B.C. Lions following the death Monday of owner David Braley.

“Obviously it’s a conversation we’ll have with his family about the future of the team,” Ambrosie said. “We’re going to have to work through the challenge of David’s passing in the middle of this pandemic … but I really believe there’s a bright and great future for the B.C. Lions.

“I spent a lot of time with David as commissioner and I’ll tell you this: He’d give me a hard time because he liked to give me a hard time. But then he’d remind me at the end, ‘Randy, remember. You’re the commissioner. You’ve got a job to do and go get it done.’ I feel in my head and heart that what David wants from me today is to find solutions and to get this league going.”

The CFL has been one of the lone major sports leagues not to operate during the pandemic. Ambrosie admits that doesn’t sit well with him.

“It will always be, for me, disappointing that we didn’t but I do think it’s important to make some distinctions,” he said. “First of all, the NHL was largely through most of its regular season … when it went into the bubble to finish it off. Similarly with basketball.

“We’d not started and faced the daunting task of bringing together the largest group that we have to bring together every year, that being your pre-training camp roster. That made our situation considerably different than what some of the other leagues were facing. Now, it is what it is and you can’t moan about it but we did face some unique challenges. I can honestly say we tried everything we could to try to get back on our feet and came up a little short.”

A burning question remains what the CFL’s future will be if it can’t play again in 2021, especially considering the league reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million because of the cancelled season. That’s a scenario, Ambrosie said, he’s not considering.

“I just feel like we’re going to find a way,” he said. “Would it be good not to play in 2021? No way.

“But I know how much our fans want us back on the field and its through that lens I’m looking at all of our activities so that we make sure we have a good outcome in 2021.”

Ambrosie said the CFL has to examine how it does everything.

“Quite honestly I’m optimistic about everything,” he said. “I have to believe the work we’re doing, the appetite I feel for our game, the importance of football in Canada, the importance of the game itself and all that it stands for will lead us to being back on the field in 2021.

“Right now we’re looking at many scenarios. That’s a word we used a lot in the spring and summer. The time we sadly haven’t been playing has given us a chance to do that kind of work and come back not just in our previous version but in a new and really re-energized version of our league.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

CFL

Just Posted

Pro-Palestinian protesters run from police following a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Tensions flare at Israel-Palestinian demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto

Tensions ran high at competing demonstrations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, then-vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. An expert in military affairs says the sudden departure of the  general in charge of Canada's vaccine rollout is unlikely to have any impact on the high-profile program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada to get 4.5M vaccine doses as questions swirl around immunization effort

OTTAWA — Canada is set to receive a large infusion of COVID-19… Continue reading

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)
Israeli strikes hit Gaza tunnels as diplomats work for truce

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military unleashed a wave… Continue reading

John Guise is seen at 4 weeks and one day after his birth, weighing two pounds and three ounces, in hospital in Hamilton, Ont., in an Aug. 1 1979, handout photo. Canadian researchers who've tracked a group of men who were born prematurely at a weight of less than one kilogram are finding they tend to age more quickly than male babies who aren't born prematurely. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-John Guise, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boys born prematurely and very small age faster as men, study suggests

Canadian researchers who tracked a group of men who were born prematurely… Continue reading

In this Oct. 21, 2014 file photo, people pass an AT&T store in New York's Times Square. AT&T will combine its media operations that include CNN HBO, TNT and TBS in a $43 billion deal with Discovery, the owner of lifestyle networks including the Food Network and HGTV. The deal announced Monday, May 17, 2021, would create a separate media company as households increasingly abandon cable and satellite TV, looking instead at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
AT&T, Discovery join media brands as cord-cutting encroaches

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T will combine its massive media operations that… Continue reading

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Most Read