The Canadian Football League canceled its 2020 season yesterday, announcing it was abandoning plans to play games in a “bubble” in Winnipeg and instead will plan on resuming play in 2021. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie explained:
“Even with additional support,” Ambrosie said in a statement, “our owners and community-held teams would have had to endure significant financial losses to play in 2020. 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.”
That “additional support” Ambrosie mentioned was government money, something that goes back to April when the commissioner asked for $150 million in federal funds (all CFL numbers in Canadian dollars from here on out) and then said teams could repay it by showing government PSAs on game broadcasts. That went over really poorly with members of parliament, and Ambrosie eventually switched to asking for a $44 million interest-free loan, then a $30 million interest-free loan, but came up empty.
Government loans and grants to bail out businesses that suffered unexpected losses due to the Covid pandemic are commonplace, of course — American, United, Delta, and Southwest Airlines combined have gotten $19.5 billion, and the U.S. Paycheck Protection Program alone has handed out $380 billion in forgiveable loans, of which only some has been used to buy yachts. But the CFL cash request was weird, in that it was intended less to keep people employed than to compensate league owners (or “philanthropists,” as Ambrosie called them) for losses from this season, which will supposedly amount to between $60 million and $80 million).
The real reason that the CFL is shutting down when other leagues are pushing ahead with season plans, as we’ve covered here before, is more about the league’s contract with its players’ union saying it doesn’t have to pay salaries if there are no games, so the league’s nine teams will save about $50 million collectively on payroll by not playing. U.S. sports leagues haven’t wanted to give up the vats of TV money they can earn even for playing games in empty stadiums and arenas; the CFL gets about that much from its new national TV deal, but I guess you also have to pay for turning the lights on and buying equipment and all that other stuff, so the league’s owners figured, meh, let’s just skip a year and come back when the grass is greener.
What just happened, then, is that the CFL decided it was only worth it to play games in 2020 if the Canadian government paid it to do so, and when that didn’t happen, it took its ball and went home. Which is its right to do, but it’s also Ottawa’s right to say, Hey, it’s not our job to underwrite your profits. I mean, who do the CFL owners think they are, American Airlines?