Commissioner: CFL forming committee to look at market penetration in Metro Vancouver

The Canadian Football League is currently forming committees to look at how to penetrate deeper into large urban markets like Metro Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal - traditionally the weakest spots in the nine-team professional sports league - said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

The CFL is one of the few major North American sports leagues to have to cancel its 2020 season entirely after failing to garner specific aid packages from Ottawa earlier this summer. While disappointed, Ambrosie said the CFL head office is not wasting anytime to conduct a deep dive into the league's financial structure to see how it can reduce its reliance on gate receipt by finding new revenue streams while reducing costs.

On the revenue side, getting stronger community responses to the BC Lions, Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes is among the top items on the CFL's to-do list prior to 2021, Ambrosie said.

"We are using this time to look at where the opportunities are for us to grow our revenue," he said. "How can we do it? Who do we talk to in the process? How do we tap into the very diverse communities in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal? How do we welcome new people into our league?

"That's why we have working groups and committees that will be studying specifically market penetration strategies for cities like Vancouver, because we know that's our future. If we are to have the success that we can have, it's going to be built on having a bigger fan base."

A big part of that equation is the CFL 2.0 initiative Ambrosie initiated upon taking office in 2018. The plan is to working with other football associations around the world to bring the best international talent to play in the CFL - the world's second-largest gridiron football sports league by attendance and revenue.

The plan is ostensibly to bring fan interest to the CFL from places like Germany, Mexico and Japan, thereby creating the opportunity to secure new broadcast deals in those markets. But Ambrosie added more important aspect - often overlooked - is the impact of a diverse player base on local fan interest in Canada from the sizeable cultural communities in metro areas like Vancouver.

"We are a diverse community here in Canada, and having a diverse league will allow us to reach into our communities in ways we haven't done before," he said. "You only have to look at the National Basketball Association (NBA) to see the impact of their global outreach programs. The biggest impacts there have been on the NBA's domestic business; the league went from being small to being big, and it did it because it thought big in having a global NBA... that redefined what the league is. This is what this exercise is. How do we escape the shackles of being a small league and being a bigger one?"

Ambrosie also noted the CFL is interested in opportunities in sports betting, but that issue requires changes to federal regulations in order to gain steam. Meanwhile, the league is now going over its books in detail with each team to see if there are costs that can be shared and consolidated to improve efficiency in operations.

"We are not presuming anything," Ambrosie said. "Our stance is, let's look at all of the business functions that we have. Is there a way to do them more efficiently? Is there a better way?

"The lesson that playing football teaches you is that you will be knocked down. You have to learn to get back up... Yes, the pandemic is definitely a setback, but we have every reason to believe the CFL will come back stronger than ever."