Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Competitive Advantage

After many, many years of making fun of Manitoba and generally advising against voluntarily travelling there, I am now coming to you live from like the worst place in Canada to be right now. They are actually advising people against coming here. Oh the cruel irony. Its almost as if having the least stringent Covid restrictions in the country was a bad idea…. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Let’s talk football.

As much as I’d like to talk Rider football and continue gearing up for the 2021 season, the talk of the sporting world continues to be the CFL/XFL discussions and what will come of it. There is a ton of articles and chatter out there on this ranging from reasonably well informed and thought out to outright ridiculous. I have no insider information or anything to tangibly add to the news cycle, so I instead thought I would spend today talking about a question that’s been bugging me for a while: What is the business angle of the CXFL?

Dolla Dolla bills yall is the name of the game and RedBird Capital would not be involved in talks with the CFL if it didn’t think it would make them money. People seem to have this misguided view that this is a one-sided transaction. i.e. The CFL needs money and this is all about how much they need to sacrifice to get it. But that view is wrong. The XFL is not exactly a money making venture at this point… or any point in its history. And history is littered with so many failed American football leagues its almost comical that anyone still thinks it’s a viable business venture. So the bottom line is that this is a two-way discussion, RedBird needs something from the CFL in order turn the XFL into anything more than a licence to lose money, just as much as the CFL needs financial stability.

This gets me to the concept of competitive advantage, basically what strengths a company has that would allow it to be successful. The XFL has just one solitary competitive advantage. It operates at a time in the calendar where other football is not being played. That’s it. It’s been repeatedly proven that then potential market for non NFL/NCAA football is tiny at best. So basically the XFL chances at success hinge on people being desperate for football and the XFL being the only game in town. People will try and point to their “unique” rules as another potential advantage but that is purely false. It’s a clever marketing tactic but the point remains if the XFL isn’t the only option for American football all its creative rules don’t matter. Its suicide to compete directly with the NFL and NCAA and any attempt by the CXFL to do so would fail just as quickly as every other attempt at an alternative American football league.

This brings me to the CFL. Unlike the XFL they do have some competitive advantages. It has a niche market of fans and despite half its season going head to head with the NFL it is not a direct competitor given that niche market. It is also a different game. I know I just said above that the XFL rules were not an advantage but Canadian football as a brand is at the core of what drives the CFL. Three downs, bigger field, 12th man (I’ll save the non-Riders fans the time and make the obligatory 13th man joke here) and pre snap motion make it a different game and its rooted in 100+ years of history. On its own, the Grey Cup game has value in that it is one of the most watched programs in the country year after year. So the CFL has lasted this long, not by trying to compete with the NFL but by targeting a specific section of football fans, with a specific type of game (Canadian rules football). The size of the Canadian market certainly limits the upside potential of this strategy (hence the interest in the XFL and globals) but as compared the XFL, AAFL and all the other failed American leagues over the years, it has at least been a quasi-viable strategy. Hell at least the CFL manages to get paid for their TV contract (something the XFL did not).

The ratio is another aspect. I think people underestimate the value of this. I am not a “Canadians” at all costs guy. I want the best players to play for a high quality on field product (Americans have and will continue to be a key part of our league). But I do think a core set of Canadian players is necessary. Would increasing the ratio add more fans to the CFL? No. Would dropping it to 5 drastically impact fans? Not likely. Would dropping it to 0? Yes.  People are talking lots about the failure of the league to attract younger fans. Killing the ratio would have a trickle down effect on U-sports, high school ball and minor football. This is how you grow the next generation of football fans. Its important to the ongoing success of the CFL.

Here’s where the rubber hits the road for me. Any departure from the Canadian game would jeopardize the existing core of customer to chase the “people looking for football after NFL ends” market in the US. Anyone who can’t see that adding a 4th down and playing on smaller fields fundamentally changes the CFL game is fooling themselves. The extra down radically changes play calling. Will you lose all customers? No. I might be pissed if the Canadian game changes but as long as there is a Rider team, I’ll probably be in the stands (and I think more of you fall in that category than you’d like to admit). But there will be a loss of fans. So the CFL needs to gain more American fans than they will lose in order for a merger to be profitable. Are Americans going to flock to the Canadian game? History would tell us no. Will Canadians flock to a non-NFL American league? Again history tells us no. So back to my original question, what’s the business angle?

Sure a merger likely creates some operating efficiencies by consolidating central office staff from both leagues. Though I will tell you that the actual gains in efficiency from mergers of this sort tend to fall drastically below what people predict in their business plans. Would a league with more teams/content be better positioned to negotiate things like TV contracts and gambling rights? In theory yes, but the CFL has already been working with ESPN to broadcast CFL games down south so its not like there is this massive untapped market that the CXFL could suddenly capitalize on. Plus, as previously mentioned, the XFL couldn’t even get paid for their own games. Why do we suddenly assume that with the CFL in tow they could find hundreds of millions of dollars? Not to mention the logistical issues that come with an XFL season that operates from February to April when it would be stupid to play in Canada (and don’t forget my point about the only advantage XFL has is being the only football on TV so they can’t deviate from this) and a CFL season that for all but 3 months competes directly with the NFL.

So while I do think there is serious talks about a merger going on, I honestly can’t see how anything beyond one central league office with the CFL and XFL continuing to operate as separate entities and maybe a few interleague games would be a smart business plan. I realize that I am biased as a Canadian fan and would fight any attempt to americanize our game but even objectively speaking I don’t see how you would make money even if you did that.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: CXFL?

Its kind of amazing that a league that hasn’t played in 16 months and one that folded for the second time a year ago are the talk of the sporting landscape. But such is life after the bomb dropped that the CFL and XFL were engaging in talks.

I’ll admit that I was initially among the most dismissive of folks regarding the news. I saw it as somewhere between a publicity stunt or an agreement on how to cohabitate at worst. I didn’t think the term “merger” would play out. But I may have changed my tune…

Look there is a lot of hysteria out there on the matter and in this internet age this leads to a whole bunch of misinformation. Hell last week when I jokingly tweeted out that the CFL measures stats in meters not yards, I had someone dead serious correct me and tell me that no, the CFL does in fact measure in yards. This is the hysteria I’m talking about. People take a joke tweet from a dude who dresses in a beard and robe seriously.

But even if you drown out the hysterical noise, enough reputable reporters are talking… and the message is pretty consistent. A merger is definitely what the leagues are discussing. Will it come to that? Remains to be seen. But there is a lot more going on here than just casual chats on coordinating schedules and player movement.

If that scares you as a Canadian fan, it should. There’s no way any kind of merger doesn’t result in some kind of changes to our beloved game. And before you downplay the odds of this, just take a second to think of the financial state of the league. Outside of the 4 prairie teams, 3 of the remaining 5 teams are doing quite poorly financially (before the pandemic) and sadly those 3 represent the 3 biggest markets in Canada. I mean you would be better to invest your money in scratch and win tickets rather than a CFL franchise in terms of rate of return. So add a pandemic on a league that is already not making big coin and survival becomes a very serious question.  

Now the XFL itself is not going to save the CFL (their rate of folding makes Ottawa look like a historically stable football town by comparison) but they have 2 things that might. #1) $$$$$ The Rock is not exactly poor (mostly because I don’t think he has ever turned down a script in his life and just spends him time going from movie to movie collecting big cheques) but more importantly RedBird Capital (the equity firm that was part of the XFL purchase) has massive money. They were just part of deal involving LeBron buying part of the Red Sox. #2) Is the Rock’s star power. I guarantee that any clip on social media of the Rock even uttering the term CFL has more view that any CFL game. You want to grow the league then a glorified hype man like the Rock brings instant attention. So its pretty clear that the CFL sees this partnership as a path to (finally) financial stability and growing the game exponentially more than a Humpty’s commercial featuring Weston Dressler ever could.

What remains to be seen is exactly what the CFL would have to give up to get it. Despite its wealthy and famous owners the XFL is lacking a few things that the CFL has… mainly teams, coaches, staff, refs  and general existence. My guess is that they see the CFL’s existing football operations infrastructure as a quicker path to being a thing again than starting from scratch for a 3rd time.

So what we know is that the regular old CFL is targeting to play some kind of season in 2021. 2022 is a bit of a question mark but possibly another CFL season. But come 2023 I do now think there is a very real possibility of some kind of combined XCFL league happening. But who knows what that would look like.

I’m not saying I like this. The thought on my beloved Canadian game changing in any significant way is about as appealing as the Bombers winning on Labour Day. But here’s the question that I hear lots of reputable people asking: If the choice is a merger or no CFL, would you still be opposed to any kind of change? It’s a scary question but it’s the one that is driving the CFL to talk to the XFL. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: QBs and RBs

As the internet laments the death of Canadian football and XFL takeover that is such a sure thing that we might as well pre-emptively spray paint an X on the Grey Cup, I’m going to actually talk about Canadian football. Something may come of the XFL talks but let’s maybe hold off on the full on freak outs until we know more about what that something is.

So to restore some sanity to the world, let’s take a look at the Riders’ QB and RBs

Projected Starters:

QB: Cody Fajardo

RB: William Powell

In the mix:

QB: James Franklin, Isaac Harker.

RB: Kienan LaFrance, Albert Awachie (FB)

The Rest:

QB: Mason Fine, Luke Falk, Tony Flacco.

RB: Jeremy Langford, Jamal Morrow, David Savard, Xavier Turner, Ralph Webb, Jonathan Femi-Cole

This might be the 2 most boring positions to preview as I expect no surprises. At QB Fajardo will start backed up by Franklin and Harker. The only real competition is for the 3rd QB spot but by virtue of having actual real game experience and a year of development Harker is so far ahead of the other 3 that they would have to show something phenomenal to get anything but a practice roster spot at this point (also I like Harker and want to see him continue to develop).

At RB, Powell will be the guy. LaFrance and Awachie will make the roster to block, play on teams and touch the ball once every 5 games. The only real thing to watch is that the departure of Marcus Thigpen leaves us will an opening at back-up RB/returner. Now we have enough returners at DB and WR that retuning might not be a requirement but it would certainly help the chances of making the team. Langford bring an NFL resume. Turner is the biggest back. Savard and Femi-Cole are likely only auditioning for a role behind LaFrance or Awachie since we type-cast Canadian RBs.

Prophet’s Players to Watch: At QB I guess Luke Falk would be the guy I’m watching of the newcomers... though if I’m being honest that’s at least 50% due to the potential of saying “What the Falk?!” and “Get the Falk out” if he makes the team. At RB my eyes on Jamal Morrow. We invested a year in developing him and are bringing him back, which tells me we see something in him.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): There is nothing this province loves more than QB controversy (and creating it where it doesn’t exist) so it would be easy to sell you on some notion that a QB shake-up is possible… but its not. We will all have raging Fajardons as Cody is the guy and Franklin was brought in specifically as insurance in case Fajardo gets hurt. End of story.

Also, as interesting as it would be to speculate on old man Powell not winning the spot, dude scored 14 TDs last season and had a full year to rest his old man body. He’s not being unseated. Enjoy watching the completion for 3rd QB and 2nd RB because that’s as interesting as its going to get here.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Offensive Line

Starting today I’m going to break down each position on the Riders’ roster… beginning with the O-line. The Riders currently have 108 people on the roster and at their current pace of signings should qualify as Saskatchewan’s 3rd largest city by mid-May. So I thought it would be good to start reminding ourselves who makes up our roster and who may be worth monitoring if/when training camp occurs.

O-line has undergone some super unexpected but welcome changes over the past few weeks. Back in January we had 4 of our 5 starters (a great spot to be) and a few promising prospects to fill the last spot. Our depth was not the greatest but the 2nd overall pick would certainly help with that. Well an influx of local boys has suddenly made us very deep here and may have drastically changed our plans for that draft pick and O-line overall.

Projected Starters: Takoby Cofield – Brendan LaBatte – Dan Clark – Evan Johnson – Terran Vaugh

In the mix: Brett Boyko, Braden Schram, Mattland Riley

The Rest: Logan Ferland, Josiah St John, Cameron Jefferson, Sentrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Chidi Oneke, Jesse Lawson, Andrew Lauderdale, Antonio Garcia, Rene Brassea

What I like first and foremost is the age of our starters. We had depth in 2019 but our starters (Blake, Coleman, Labatte, Clark) were old. Suddenly we have 3 projected starters under 30. Dan Clark went from being one of the “young” pups to one of the oldest at 32. (By the way, to be fair to Clark I do need to concede that despite my ongoing hatred of him, he actually did very well in 2019, fingers crossed that wasn’t just some fluke side effect of his car accident). LaBatte is the old guy at 34 but I think a full year off might do him a ton of good. He probably hasn’t been 100% in years (resting just enough to get back in the game despite mounting nagging injuries). Also a potentially shortened season certainly favours and old man like him

There’s an outside chance we could go 4 Canadian OL now that we have Boyko and Johnson but I think its more likely (and smarter) to keep with American tackles since we have 2 good ones (also given that we signed 6 import OL I have a feeling we plan of needing more than one throughout the year). I think Cofield has been under the radar good for a while now and Vaughn took some big steps forward in 2019. I had assumed that Schram and Riley would be our 6th and 7th OL but Boyko suddenly makes this a competition to watch (and a good problem to have).

I don’t see anyone unseating Cofield/Vaughn amongst the Americans but the sheer volume we have signed tells me we are interested in putting that theory to the test. We have brought in a ton of size… note one of them under 6’5. And some impressive resumes in there: Garcia was 3rd round pick in 2017, Henderson has 29 NFL starts over 4 years, Kouandjio was a 3 year starter at Alabama and a 2nd round pick in 2014. Not saying any of them will amount to anything but on paper O’Day seems to be bringing in some quality.

Prophet’s Player to Watch: Seantrel Henderson. This one is the most intriguing for me. He’s a mountain of a man at 6’7, 350 lbs, has significant starting time in the NFL and is only 29. Now the cynic in me would say that with those measurables there is likely a reason he’s not in the NFL anymore but on the off chance dude still has game I think he’s worth a look.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): Hear me out. In any given season, your high priced, older vets are always facing a bit of risk that someone younger and cheaper shows up in camp. At 34, LaBatte has a ton of hard miles on him. And while no one is making big coin in the Covid times, I would imagine he’s up there in terms of OL pay. The arrival of Johnson and Boyko suddenly create a scenario where we could go younger and cheaper at guard if we wanted. That would of course leave Dan Clark as the veteran leader of a very young group and that scares the hell out of me (despite him making me not hate him for once in 2019) but for the first time in a long time I don’t think LaBatte will be an unquestioned starter coming into the season.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Thoughts On The East

Last week I took a look at the teams in the West to give my initial thoughts. All part of my “try and remember what the hell is going on the CFL” journey. Today, we turn our attention to the teams in the East. In case you forgot the East is traditionally the Cooper Manning to the West’s Peyton. The No Name Brand Orange Beverage to the West’s Premium Tropicana. And so on and so forth.


Essentially the exception to the rule about the East being terrible. Though they did epically choke in the Grey Cup, forcing the rest of us to endure a world where the Bombers have won a Cup since 1990. The rest of the CFL still hasn’t forgiven them for that and no longer feels bad about them now having the longest drought in the CFL.

Strengths: No reason not to expect them to top the East again. The combo of Banks, Addison and Posey at receiver is almost not fair. They have Masoli and Evans at QB. If Erlington-Thomas is healthy they also have the bonus of a solid Canadian Starter. Their D-line is also scary. I would argue that Davis, Laurent, Wynn and Howsare are the best front 4 in the CFL. Rest of their defense has a ton of big names too: Lawrence, Santos-Knox, Breaux, Frankie Williams, Ciante Evans.

Weaknesses: For me, the only weakness I see at this point (other than now bearing the curse of the Bombers and doomed not to win a Cup for another decade yet) is their O-line. They have lost start tackle Rykar Matthews (which is a big deal) and starting C Landon Filer and other than top draft pick Coulter Woodmansey, have yet to replace them. Not in dire straits but something they will need to address if they want to return to the Cup.


The other not terrible team in the East. Though if history has taught us anything its that Danny Maccioccia will be sure to change that before too long.

Strengths: Under Khari Jones’ leadership that offense took a big step forward and returns all the key players: Adams, Stanback, Cunningham, Lewis. They also added Roosevelt.  O-line depth is pretty decent.

Weaknesses: While Montreal has made attempts to improve their woeful defense with the additions of Usher, Sewell and Money Hunter. They are also losing Tommie Campbell, Ciante Evans, John Bowman and (at least at this point) Henoc Muamba. Given these loses I don’t see them suddenly becoming one of the top D. Their secondary will be alright but their front 7 is still mediocre and possibly worse unless they do end up retaining Muamba to secure the middle.


Except for that one game where Dominique Davis clearly sold his soul for one day as a top tier QB (I will remain bitter about that anomaly for a long time), the RedBlacks were abysmal in 2019. GM Marcel Desjardins decided it was clearly Rick Campbell’s fault (and not his inability to build a roster with sufficient talent) so he’s gone and replaced by LaPolice. Now LaPo is a great hire but let’s not pretend that the talent level in Ottawa has suddenly increased… given their “stand pat” offseason strategy.

Strengths: Pretty much anybody would be an improvement over Davis. And Matt Nichols just happens to be “pretty much anybody”. Not great but with LaPo’s help, should at least make the offense quasi-respectable. They still have pretty good Cdn content (OL, Coombs, Sinopoli, Pruneau) despite some departure.

Weaknesses: There still is not a ton of talent on that roster. They were the worst team in the CFL and have only added Nichols and Micah Awe essentially. That doesn’t scream sudden turnaround to me. Their D-line is pretty meh outside of Laing and while they have a lot of “decent” offensive weapons, they lack game changers and probably have the worst receiving core in the CFL.


We end with the talk of the CFL offseason. Toronto seems to have been on a mission to sign pretty much everyone. I can only assume my contract offer is in the mail as well. It has led to all kinds of wild allegations of conspiracies and salary cap circumventions. If we could pause the hysteria for a second, bear in mind that half the players they have signed will be cut before the regular season starts (including most, if not all, of those big name NFL players). Also, that given how much salaries have come down across the CFL and the fact that the Argos had very few good players to keep from their 2019 season, its very likely that all the these signings do indeed fit nicely within the cap. Honestly the only thing I don’t get about all of this and the one thing no one seems to be talking about is “How was Martavius Bryant able to sign in the CFL when he is currently suspended by the NFL?” Pretty sure there is a rule specifically against that. 

Strengths: On paper this is a talented team. Front 4 that features Hughes and Law with Willis as your rotation guy and Nevis Drake inside. Judge, Woods and Richardson are up there for top LB trio in the league. At receiver you have Daniels, Rogers, Brescacin and Sinkfield (and in the off chance Bryant or Kendall Wright do anything it’s a huge boost). Pretty good Canadian depth across the board too.

Weaknesses: Two big ones that I see. First is that this new super team all hinges on Nick Arbuckle. Now he could very well be good but its certainly no guarantee. Remember that Ottawa gave up the first overall pick to get him in 2020 only to release him without ever taking a snap. Now that might say more about the roster management of the Redblacks than anything but it makes you wonder. The second concern and the far bigger one is that this is a brand new team with a brand new coach who has never been anything more than a positional coach. Most teams have a veteran core to build upon which will be super important in a year where training camp/preseason are likely to be severely shortened. So Toronto’s success hinges on a rookie head coach (with a staff whose most experienced member is OC Jarious Jackson… who you might remember as the OC who couldn’t field a competent offense with Mike Reilly as his QB) managing to bring a brand new roster together and getting them to gel in a shortened preseason. So spare me the hype on all the signings that have occurred. I’m not ready to anoint the Argos anything more than just the next team to  “win free agency” and have it count for nothing when the games start being played for real.