The CFL wants to expand to Moncton, Halifax or Quebec City but the league’s immediate challenge is to shore up the still-ailing business in Hamilton and Toronto – and cash in with a richer television deal.
Commissioner Mark Cohon, speaking with reporters on Friday morning in his annual state-of-the-league address, said six out of the league’s eight teams break even or make money – and while he didn’t name names, it is Toronto and Hamilton that are struggling.
“We know we have work here in southern Ontario,” Cohon said.
The hometown Argonauts were the centre of the discussion. Cohon spoke about a long-term goal to house the Argos in a more intimate venue than the cavernous Rogers Centre, pointing to Hamilton and Ottawa whose new stadiums are a good fit for the CFL with capacity of about 24,000.
“The fact is that [the Argos] don’t control their venue,” Cohon said. “They don’t have a sense of home.”
But the idea is very much in the concept stage. More immediate is a new practice facility, one that could be a hub for “football excellence” in the region, used by different levels of football teams beyond the Argos.
The Argos have felt a boost from the 100th Grey Cup as they have sold “hundreds” of new season tickets in the past week, buoyed by the hype and excitement around the game.
The Argos, asserted Cohon, “have the opportunity to become a strong fixture on the sports landscape here in Toronto.”
A new, richer television deal will be key in the next year. Cohon exuded confidence that he would be able to book a big win for the league. In the current deal with TSN, the CFL’s eight teams divvy up about $16-million. Doubling that figure would be a victory for the CFL.
Cohon cited an Argos game in late October, when Toronto won on the road in Saskatchewan. The game drew about a million viewers, which was 200,000 more than the World Series, said Cohon, and 300,000 more than the NFL on the same weekend.
“Pretty remarkable,” said Cohon, “if you think of where we are as a television property.”
Expansion was mentioned several times. As the league prepares to welcome back a team in Ottawa, Cohon’s eyes drift eastward. In the first reference, he called a team in Atlantic Canada “part of the future analysis” league officials will conduct. Later, speaking of a “10th franchise,” Cohon mentioned both Quebec City and Atlantic Canada. Finally, asked whether he foresaw two teams, Cohon said it was likely “one or the other” between Quebec City and Atlantic Canada.
“No plans are in place,” he cautioned, and added: “All of them are major stadium projects.”