Former CFL commissioner believes league’s request for COVID-19 aid isn’t offside

A former commissioner of the Canadian Football League understands why the league is asking the federal government for financial assistance amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“If I was in Randy’s shoes I would go to the federal government and all levels of government to think about how you can help save an important institution like the CFL,” said Mark Cohon, who was CFL commissioner from 2007 to 2015.

On Tuesday, current commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league is asking for $30 million now to manage the impact the pandemic has had on league business. The league would also ask for up to $120 million if the 2020 season is canceled.

READ MORE: Canadian Football League asks government for $150M in assistance amid COVID-19

“The CFL has approached us about support. We know it’s important to them. We know it’s important to many Canadians. Those discussions are ongoing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he hasn’t received any requests from the Edmonton Eskimos or Calgary Stampeders.

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“The Canadian Football League is an important national institution. The Esks and Stamps are important Alberta institutions,” said Kenney. “We want the league to come out of this as a vibrant part of Canada’s sports life.”

Premier Kenney on fate of CFL and NHL sports in Alberta this summer
Premier Kenney on fate of CFL and NHL sports in Alberta this summer

Cohon said he’s not sure how the league came up with its worse-case scenario request of $150-million, but he said it’s important the CFL ensure its survival beyond 2020.

“If you take one of the publicly-owned teams like Edmonton or Saskatchewan, they’re all around $35-40 million in revenues and roughly that in expenses,” Cohon said. “You don’t want the league to completely go black and lose all your employees and all your people. What’s the structure in place that allows it to continue some form of operation a time where they might be no games?”

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: CFL tosses up a ‘Hail Mary’ that it hopes Prime Minister Trudeau will answer

In 2018, the Eskimos reported operating revenue of $25.1-million with a profit of $2.8-million.

TSN televises every CFL game. That deal brings the league $20 million per season, but if no games are played, that money is gone. So what about putting the games on TV but not having fans?

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says ‘discussions ongoing’ with CFL over possible financial support
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says ‘discussions ongoing’ with CFL over possible financial support

Cohon said that wouldn’t really help.

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“Only about 10 or 11 per cent of a team’s revenues come through the league office, which is the TV deal,” Cohon said.

“This league is so supported by ticket revenue and local sponsorship and things like that. It’s not like you can do like other leagues who are considering just broadcasting games. It really boils down to having fans in the seats. That’s the bigger challenge for the CFL compared to the NHL or the NBA.”

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READ MORE: Does the CFL need federal funding to survive the COVID-19 pandemic? Sports economist raises questions

The CFL has delayed its season until at least July.

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