The CFL choosing to delay the start of the season so they can operate with fans in the stands was their best play.
It’s fans or nothing for the CFL in 2021.
An expected delay to the 2021 CFL season was officially announced on Wednesday and it was attached with a very specific condition: there must be butts in the seats if the season is to go forward with some success.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie made the announcement that the new target date for the 2021 season will be August 5, with a 14-game season still finishing with the Grey Cup in Hamilton, which will take place on December 12.
“Obviously the public health authorities are dealing with this third wave and all of the stresses and pressures that go with it, but we got some well-informed signals that early June is a reasonable timeframe to get a much better feel for where we’ll be,” Ambrosie said in an interview with CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “A lot more Canadians will have been vaccinated by that time.”
Having at least some fans in the stands is key for the CFL, who can’t rely on big TV contracts to help fund their season, like other North American professional sports leagues, as gate revenue accounts for more than half of the league’s income. Ambrosie also took the time to shoot down any rumours of the XFL and RedBird Capital helping out, saying that those discussions have never taken place.
Last year, the league lost between $60-$80 million due to the cancelled 2020 season and stand to lose more money in 2021, but having fans will help to cushion some of that blow.
A schedule was released back in November that targeted June 10 as the start of the season, with a lot of optimism that they could fit in a full, 18-game campaign. But as COVID cases continued to rise, especially in Quebec and Ontario, it was quite clear that there would be a delay of some capacity, especially if health officials don’t allow fans to attend.
The league and players union have submitted return-to-play protocol to the various levels of government, with their word ultimately being final. “I think the conversations with the government have been very positive. They’ve acknowledged that our plan is very well done. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do and a lot of that work just relates to adjusting to the circumstances that are always changing but we appear to be in good shape,” said Ambrosie.
For now, we still just have to wait and see because nothing is guaranteed in this situation. Circumstances are indeed always changing and hopefully a quicker vaccine rollout in the summer means that football gets to be played in the fall.