Scott Stinson: The CFL has a plan to fight the upstart Alliance of American Soccer

EDMONTON • CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie will give his annual State of the League deal with on Friday morning. Spoiler alert: he’ll say the state of it’s fairly good.

Ambrosie received’t be missing for ammunition on this regard. Tv rankings on TSN proceed to be sturdy for the CFL, up modestly this season, which is a feat when most conventional programming is struggling notable declines. The demographics have turn out to be youthful, too, which is the type of progress the league has been determined to see.

However there’s additionally this: when Ambrosie took the job two years in the past to exchange the out of the blue departed Jeffrey Orridge, the looming downside for the CFL was waning curiosity in its most populous markets. That downside has solely gotten worse. There are additionally new challenges, together with an upstart Alliance of American Soccer, a spring league that begins subsequent February and has already began to siphon away potential gamers. Ambrosie has in current months began touting a “reinvention” of the CFL as a option to fight a few of these points, making the league a world attraction, which might imply usurping the mighty NFL in markets the place it has already made inroads. It’s a curious plan.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses members of the Canadian Forces at CFB Edmonton, Alta. Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

With the Gray Cup touching down within the heat embrace of Alberta this week, it’s the good time for Ambrosie to level to his environment and their evident ardour for the CFL as an indication that the league is booming. He’ll discuss going to new markets, each house and overseas.

It sounds, at instances, like placing a dear enlargement on a home whereas a few the rooms nonetheless want critical repairs.

Whereas nobody doubts the energy of the CFL model within the Prairies, enterprise has not been transferring in the proper route in all places. The B.C. Lions this 12 months arrested a seven-season slide in attendance, however even the modest bump to a median attendance of just below 20,000 is nicely off the place the franchise was by way of fan help as not too long ago as 2011, when attendance averaged higher than 36,000. There may be, once more, speak of proprietor David Braley promoting the crew and a hope that native buyers would flip issues round in that market, however no assure that potential consumers will conform to Braley’s asking value.

In Montreal, attendance at Percival Molson Stadium dipped once more this season to fewer than 18,000 followers per sport, the fourth straight season that posted a decline. The Allouetes’ mid-season commerce for quarterback Johnny Manziel didn’t spark the crew on the sector; nor did his star energy result in a noticeable response from the ticket-buying public.

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel in Toronto on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

After which, Toronto. Even after a Gray Cup victory final 12 months and with the crew this season absolutely owned by Maple Leaf Sports activities and Leisure quite than simply two of its three companions, the Argonauts have been once more on the backside of league attendance regardless of being in its greatest market by far. In three seasons at BMO Discipline, the waterfront stadium that was thought by many to be the answer to the Argos’ years-long wrestle to place bums in seats, the crew’s common attendance has really been decrease than it was in 2014, the final time the crew performed a full season on the cavernous Rogers Centre. As an alternative of taking part in at a half-empty dome, the crew now performs at a half-empty outside subject.

Ambrosie has stated he believes MLSE’s plan to steadily rebuild the model whereas ending the long-term follow of steep reductions and giveaways will flip issues round. “I believe they’ve actually obtained a long-term plan and a imaginative and prescient for the place they need to take this,” he advised me in August, as Argos attendance was cratering once more. “We’ve obtained nice followers there, we simply want extra of them.”

One of many methods through which the commissioner thinks the CFL can appeal to new followers is by rising exterior Canada’s borders. Simply this week, he stated in an interview on TVO that “the Canadian Soccer League we have to turn out to be is a giant worldwide sport. We needs to be second-fiddle to nobody.” He stated “we should always get your hands on the perfect gamers on this planet and have them play right here.”

Fairly why a soccer participant in Mexico or Britain or India would pursue the CFL over the NFL, the place salaries are many instances increased, is unclear. Even the AAF, with out but internet hosting a sport, plans to supply US$250,000, three-year contracts to gamers — considerably greater than the CFL minimal of $54,000 yearly. As for followers, the CFL has for years between making an attempt to construct inroads into sure markets — younger, city, culturally various — and has discovered that to be robust sledding. Given the challenges it has confronted changing sure precise Canadians into loving Canadian soccer, why would the CFL suppose it will be simpler to do the identical abroad? It’s not like sports activities followers in Europe and Asia are hurting for choices.

The issue isn’t that the CFL must develop exterior of Canada, it’s that the challenges are a lot nearer to house. And whereas Ambrosie has been a terrific salesman for the league to date, there stays a lot work to be achieved.

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