New stadiums, the Ottawa RedBlacks expansion franchise, a possible June start to the regular season and player safety were among the talking points as CFL commissioner Mark Cohon did his annual state of the league address at the Grey Cup in Regina on Friday.
Cohon said that while the CFL spent much time celebrating the past during the lead up to Toronto’s 100 Grey Cup in 2012, now they are focused on moving ahead with modern initiatives. He cited a new TV deal for 2014 with TSN and RDS, new technologies, attracting younger fans, and creating better game-day experiences inside the stadiums, including the new buildings for next season in Hamilton and Ottawa, where the expansion RedBlacks will debut. Another new stadium is expected to be ready by 2017 in Regina.
“Clearly our future is bright and I’m confident about it,” Cohon said. “We can continue to grow and build that modern and innovative CFL but only if we resist that temptation of going back to the old, reckless financial ways of the CFL.”
In light of the NFL’s recent legal settlement with former-players who have suffered brain injuries, the commissioner was pressed on what the CFL is doing to be proactive about concussions.
“The recorded number of concussions was essentially flat over last year, but we believe we’re doing a better job of addressing it and treating our players,” said Cohon, who cited education, rule changes and disciplinary action. “The players all saw a league-produced video of hits that were deemed dangerous and would be subject to discipline.”
“We were 42 (concussions) this year, 43 last year. Per capita, we’re similar comparatively to the NFL. The number of game-day losses was up slightly, but that may be due to stricter return-to-play protocols.”
He said league-wide attendance was up about 1.5 per cent over last year, not considering the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ home games, which were played this season at The University of Guelph’s 13,000-seat stadium.
Television ratings on TSN were up 4.3 per cent over 2012, while ratings on TSN and RDS combined were up 3.6 per cent. He said an average of 758,000 Canadians watched on TSN and RDS combined - the second highest ratings in the history of the CFL.
To address issues of filling stadiums in cold November temperatures, the commissioner said the league could explore the possibilities of starting the season in June rather than July.
“Our biggest revenue from the teams comes from fans in the stands, so we’re open to exploring that,” said Cohon. “If we move it up a few weeks in June, what would that mean for TV ratings? We would go head-to-head with the Stanley Cup playoffs, but would it have a better effect on the back end, especially in the open-air stadiums in the west? We’re open to exploring it if it makes sense on the business front.”
“If we think we can fill the stadiums in June and more on the back end of the season, we’ll contemplate it.”
He also said the CFL’s board of governors will discuss which new stadiums will be ready to host Grey Cups and start to determine a timeline in early 2014.
Cohon is also preparing to negotiate a new CBA with the CFL Players’ Association, which will want the league’s $4.4-million salary cap to increase significantly. Past negotiations have traditionally been amicable but could heat up when it comes to dividing up the financial pie this time around.
“We have a great amount of respect between our two organizations,” Cohon said. “We have a good working relationship, we’re very transparent in terms of them understanding our businesses, our challenges, the opportunities.
“We’ll negotiate a fair and reasonable deal that is in the best interests of our teams, players and fans . . . We must remain prudent and smart about our business.”
With a report from The Canadian Press