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.
I don't think your question at the end of the piece captures the whole story. If the CFL is unable to look after itself, we're looking at the end of the CFL one way or the other. Aside from its over 100 years of history and all that entails, the CFL's advantage against competitor leagues is the rule set that makes it different. With all the discussion that the CFL/XFL discussions have generated, it's become patently obvious that the rules that make up the CFL can't remain intact. The problem is that we've already seen the reality of non-NFL leagues in the US played out time and time again. They don't draw enough attention to survive. If the CFL can't survive without the XFL, it dies either way. Either quickly on its own, or it gets absorbed into something that's explicitly not the CFL and doomed to die anyhow. I'd sooner it die with some dignity on its own so that I can at least enjoy the memories of it all without some slow slide into unrecognizable ignominy as part of the latest effort to make non-NFL football catch on in the US.
It's not that I don't think all efforts should be made to preserve it, it's that this appears to be an effort not to preserve it, but to alter it into something entirely different and then watch that follow the exact same path as ever other league that's gone under.
I hope I'm wrong about it, but all the chatter seems to indicate that we're headed for some hideous football chimera that I don't believe has the ability to catch and hold eyeballs. Heck, even the novelty isn't there anymore as the XFL in this iteration is already a preserved corpse waiting to resurrect it. If the CFL hasn't been able to do it on its own, there isn't any reason to conclude that it can do it with the help of an entity that won't protect its identity while trying to sell it in markets that seem not to care at the expense of the markets that do.
So if, as you say, it's truly a question of merger or no CFL, then really it's just a matter of no CFL. The merged entity won't be the CFL anyhow, and there's no reason to assume whatever it will be will last. If I have to let go, I'd rather just let go now as opposed to watching the league management try to preserve the emaciated corpse of the league through the aid of a faulty XFL life support system.
There's a number of problems. First the schedule. The XFL plays in a small window to avoid conflicts with the major leagues & a shortened schedule of say, 10-12 games. Last version of the XFL was scheduled to play February through March. An eXCFL/XFL would have to start in early spring & an 18 game type season is off the board. Why would ESPN be interested in this league which butts heads with their MLB & NBA properties plus they just pumped billions to get back in the NHL game. You've got college basketball, & NHL games deep into playoff runs in March. TSN has been a boon for the CFL but has pushed back on prior attempts to start the season earlier. With an early start in 2022, you can't play a season in 2021 into November & expect players to be in camp next February. I am paraphrasing above an article by Scott Stinson this past weekend.
Secondly, to continue with Mr Stinson's comments, the XFL's last TV deals didn't include upfront money. They agreed to cover production costs to air games & kept ad revenue they generated. The league's revenue came from game sponsorships, field ads, signage & such. The idea was that television exposure would drive revenue until the viewership caught fire.
Thirdly, we've seen the McMahon experiment & he runs a sports empire with income of $1B yearly. A quick check on Google & Dwayne Johnson apparently is worth around $300MM & has 200MM Instagram followers. That's great if the Rock dons the cleats, runs roughshod over opponents & leads his team to a championship. That's what his followers come to see. Whether they wil "follow" the new league to get occasional glimpses of the Rock in the owner's suite is another matter. Let me pose this silly scenario to you. If, say, Kim Kardashian were to purchase the rights to a movie script, twice failed on the big screen, for $15 MM, would broadcasters line up with wads of cash? She is reportedly worth $900MM & has as many followers on Instagram & squillions on twitter. Dwayne Johnson reportedly lost 48MM when he came out in support of Biden. Tsk tsk -fickle followers. I don't care how many rich owners you have on board, they're gone without big TV money IMO.
Lastly the idea that Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver will tune in to NFL Lite at all, never mind throughout the NHL playoff run vs the Leafs, Habs & Canucks boggles the mind - can't see it, nor with the other 4 teams in NHL hubs. And, most importantly to Rider fans, I don't see much of a future for Regina. We may be big news in a gate driven league but if big US TV money pays all the bills, let's face it - we're small potatoes, color them extinct in short order. I won't even get into what all this means for USports & junior players' prospects of playing professional football.
This has failed twice with big money. Spring football doesn't play in the USA. Ask the IFL, IPFL, PSFL, UFL, AFL, USFL. How quickly does MLSE quietly pursue their dream of an NFL franchise now that there is no CF?. If it fails, I can't see a restart without Toronto who have bigger fish in the water at that point. And without them, BC & Edmonton can fill the 8 dates with other attractions easily enough, Montreal rents the USports facility & Calgary's stadium needs to be torn down anyway. Why would they be interested in a league with no prospects of big TV money? Be careful what you wish for. A failed merger IMO kills the CFL.
Owners With Money = Big TV Contract. Unfortunately, this equation has been proven false numerous times.
Sorry. Busy week and just catching up on comments now
Brent and Anon – I agree that there is huge risk in adopting American rules since its been proven over and over again that outside of the NFL and NCAA there just isn’t a big market for another American league. Canadian ball is different and the less it is different the less a chance it has to survive long term… even if it gets some short term $$$
Ethan – That’s just it. XFL isn’t necessarily the saviour in this scenario. If things were rosy for them they would not be talking to the CFL.
On another topic - the 20% pay cut to players. The problem for players, soon as I saw this, is if you refuse the owners can go to, say, a 14 game schedule so on a pro-rated basis you lose 20% anyway. In that sense this is good news if it guarantees you a full season. It depends on what qualifies as no butts in the stands & at what point the full salary kicks in. I've been watching this for more news & all of a sudden Bryant Mitchell retires, Breaux already packed it in. There may be a few more players, especially Americans, with that low exchange rate & taxes, that pack it in.
Was gonna talk about this on Monday but while it may be a harsh move to the players, it is a brilliant management strategy. 20% paycut sucks (when most have already taken cuts) but 18 game cheques at 80% sounds a lot better than 100% of who knows how many games. It could honestly be as low as 9-10 game aka 50% (probably a bit a less assuming the few signing bonuses that happened won't be prorated).
As you say, the details on how to get from 80% to 100% is key. I highly doubt we get to 100% capacity at any point this season. SO is 20 enough? Is it 50? more? That's the detail i'd want if I'm a player. 18 guaranteed cheques and a reasonable chance at getting to full salary at some point would be intriguing. But if its next to impossible to ever get back to 100% then I'm less interested.
They may not have a choice though honestly. You want to play, then you accept whatever they offer you to play. Doesn't make it nice or fair... just reality.
Well, not everyone is in the same boat. Doesn't Mike Reilly end up with $625K in his account before he steps on the field in his new contract? Who cooked that up? I think the QB salaries have to come back in line a bit. Let's face it pretty much all the starters in the league have no place to go. Yes, that includes Fajardo who turned 29 today.
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