At the Grey Cup in Calgary last November, Randy Ambrosie described the Canadian Football League as the “biggest global football league in the world.”
There were a couple of adjectives doing a lot of work in that phrase, but the commissioner had never been shy about bold pronouncements in his few years on the job. And at the time, Ambrosie in full salesman mode had a lot to tout: his global expansion initiative had brought partnerships in 11 countries, even if they were a long way from increasing the league’s actual fan base; there was an ownership group planning for a new team in Halifax, even if stadium plans were unsettled; the orphaned Montreal Alouettes were close to getting a new owner. The CFL still had problems in its biggest cities, but it was at least out there and trying new things.
The pandemic, quite obviously, has devastated those plans. But more than that, and especially when compared to other professional sports leagues, the effect of the coronavirus has been to expose the precariousness of the Canadian Football League’s business. It has gone from an ambitious agenda for growth — biggest global league and all that — to survival mode. It remains unclear if the CFL will manage even that.