CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg Thursday, May 24, 2018. The CFL has cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It marks the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg Thursday, May 24, 2018. The CFL has cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It marks the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

CFL cancels 2020 season during pandemic, ends 100-plus year run for Grey Cup

The CFL becomes one of the few major North American pro sports leagues to wipe out play in 2020

The CFL has cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It marks the first year the Grey Cup won’t be presented since 1919.

The nine-team league announced the move Monday, dashing hopes of a shortened season in the hub city of Winnipeg.

“Our league governors decided today it is in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement.

“We are absolutely committed to 2021, to the future of our league and the pursuit of our vision of a bigger, stronger, more global CFL.”

The move comes after the CFL couldn’t solve a number of issues in an effort to try to salvage a season.

The league was unable to secure financing from the federal government after presenting Ottawa with a $30-million, interest-free loan request Aug. 3 to stage an abbreviated 2020 campaign. News of the deal falling through broke Sunday night.

The league had maintained it required government funding to stage a shortened season, despite having a far more stable ownership situation than in previous years.

However, Ambrosie has said the league lost more than $20 million last season.

“Even with government funding and a new CBA, our owners and community-held teams would have had to endure significant financial losses to play in 2020,” Ambrosie said.

“Without it, the losses would be so large that they would really hamper our ability to bounce back strongly next year and beyond. The most important thing is the future of our league.”

The CFL said the federal government suggested the league pursue a commercial loan, which would be partially backed by Ottawa.

“That kind of arrangement would hamper our recovery more than bolster it. On two occasions, in June and again at the beginning of August, the government reached out to us with new indications they might step up and help in a more meaningful way. But at the end of the day, the help we needed to play this year never materialized,” Ambrosie said.

“This outcome after months of discussions with government officials is disappointing. But we’re focused now on the long-term future and we will continue to work with the federal and provincial governments in that context.”

Approval from the Public Health Agency of Canada also was needed.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said last Friday he was encouraged by the CFL’s plan, but couldn’t provide a timeline for a decision the league quickly needed to try to stage a season.

With the cancellation, the CFL becomes one of the few major North American pro sports leagues to wipe out play in 2020. Major League Baseball is running a shortened season, while the NHL, NBA and Major League Soccer have resumed play. The NFL says it’s planning to start its season on time next month.

Unlike other major leagues in North America, however, the CFL does not have the luxury of a billion-dollar television contract. While its deal with TSN has become more lucrative over the years, the CFL remains a gate-driven league — which is a major problem when fans aren’t allowed in the stands.

CFL officials announced in late July they had chosen Winnipeg as a hub city for a regular season with six games, followed by an eight-team playoffs. No fans were scheduled to be in attendance.

But it was contingent on the league securing financial assistance from the federal government, solidifying an extension of the collective bargaining agreement and approving health-and-safety protocols.

While the CFL said it could have staged the Grey Cup game after its traditional late November date, time was running thin to get about half the league’s players back to Canada, follow quarantine rules, stage training camps and hold a season and playoffs.

The CFL also couldn’t line up federal funding. In late April, Ambrosie told The Canadian Press the CFL was seeking up to $150 million in federal assistance in the event of a wiped-out season.

The league dropped its ask to about $44 million in the summer as it tried to find a way to grapple with next to no revenue. Later, it requested the loan of $30 million.

READ MORE: CFL’s $30-million federal loan request falls through

Meanwhile, the league also struggled to mend fences with the CFL Players’ Association. Politicians from all major parties criticized the CFL for not having its players involved in its initial financial assistance request.

While the players eventually supported the league’s second financial assistance proposal, the two sides could not come to terms on an extension of the CBA, though the CFL said it was close to a deal when it called off the season Monday.

When the pandemic first hit in March, the CFL had time on its side, with training camps not set to open until May.

But as the situation worsened around the world, the CFL had to start postponing camps and, eventually, the start of the regular season in June.

Later, the CFL pulled the plug on the Grey Cup game in November in Regina, saying the model would not work without fans. The league hoped at the time to play the Grey Cup in either the city with the best record or the hub city.

While the NHL, NBA and Major League Soccer adopted hub-city formats to get going and Major League Baseball went with a travel plan, the CFL was left watching all those other leagues begin or resume play this summer.

It marks the first time the CFL won’t crown a champion since it was founded in 1958.

Before that, amateur leagues and other circuits competed for the Grey Cup. It was last not awarded in 1919 — which also happened to be during a pandemic — because of a rules dispute in the west, lack of interest in the east and education concerns in the university ranks.

The first Grey Cup was held in 1909.

The cancelled season is a blow for Ambrosie, who took the job in 2017.

One of his biggest objectives has been expanding the CFL’s footprint internationally with his CFL 2.0 initiative, holding combines in countries around the world and creating roster spots for international players.

But the pandemic quashed plans for a second global draft this year. International players made minimal impact following the first draft last year.

Ambrosie appeared to solve one of the league’s biggest problems early this year when Toronto businessmen Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern were introduced as owners of the Montreal Alouettes, who were run by the league and financed by other teams last season after owner Robert Wetenhall stepped away.

Fresh off their first trip to the playoffs since 2014 under new coach Khari Jones last season and bolstered by new owners, the Alouettes never got a chance to build on that momentum.

The league has long-running attendance problems in its two other biggest markets, Toronto and Vancouver, which now will turn their sporting focus to other teams with active seasons.

The cancellation also puts the new-look Edmonton team on hold. The team announced it was dropping the name Eskimos this summer after facing pressure from sponsors, along with other teams with racist or stereotypical names.

Now, the Edmonton Football Team faces the challenge of creating a new name with extremely limited revenue.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CFL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The COVID-19 outbreak at the two Coastal GasLink workforce lodges has officially been declared over. (Lakes District News file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Coastal GasLink worksites declared over

In total, 56 cases were associated with the outbreak in the Burns Lake and Nechako LHAs

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

That’s Houston physician Dr. Stefanie Steel receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Jan. 19, 2021 from RN nurse manager Cindy Cockle. (Northern Health photo)
First Houston vaccinations take place

Long term care residents, health care workers on list

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

Most Read