The Canadian Football League, scrambling for revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has asked the federal government for financial aid.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Tuesday the league has asked the Canadian government for as much as $150 million, starting with an initial instalment of $30 million to offset a dearth of cash flow that would normally be coming into team offices in the form of season-ticket purchases and corporate sponsorship. He was adamant that the league would pay back whatever funding it receives.
“Our revenues have effectively gone to zero and there are lots of expenses that relate to our operations that go beyond the scope of just staff salaries. Those things are taken into account in the initial $30-million ask,” Ambrosie said.
CFL head office staff took pay cuts and many team personnel have done the same in an effort to cut costs, but the pandemic has already had a major financial impact on the league and it promises to intensify.
“We started talking to government because it’s obvious now — training camps have been postponed, the start of the season is delayed — that a kind of best case scenario is that we lose some games and have a shortened season,” Ambrosie continued. “We have to be pragmatic and look at all scenarios, with this continued uncertainty as to whether or when we’ll be able to see crowds back in stadiums. This season is at risk.
“So we embarked on a conversation with the federal government to explain how perilous this is for us.”
Training camps that were due to begin in mid-May were postponed. Then Ambrosie announced in early April that the league’s 81-game regular season schedule would not start on June 11 as planned. Rather, it would not begin before July 1 — and even that date appears in jeopardy as restrictions on public gatherings and a closed Canada-U.S. border would prevent teams from holding training camps necessary before the start of play.
“We have said our ask is that $30-million kind of protects us, given the short-term disruption we have faced. And Phase 2 would be based on losses that we would incur as we deal with the possibility of a truncated season, all the way up to a Phase 3 ask, which is basically we lose the entire season and then are faced with the task of having to get back up and running in 2021. What we’ve said is we’re prepared to walk them through this and deal with this one step at a time to make sure we are in fact being responsible and accountable for what we need to get through the crisis.”
Ambrosie stressed that the CFL would pay it all back over time.
“We want to be accountable to the government, we want to be accountable to taxpayers. Whatever support the government can provide, we want to earn the funding. We will pay taxpayers back over time, through initiatives, community programs across the country, tourism, promotion, Grey Cup advertising. We basically have said we will pull out all the stops to provide Canadians and the federal government with an assurance that we’ll make good on the support we’re asking for. We’re not looking for a handout. This is just making sure this storied league can survive this crisis.”
He said the maximum ask of $150 million would cover league losses in the event the season is wiped out entirely and would put enough money in the coffers to start up play in 2021, assuming that is possible. There are also asks in place for shortened schedules.
“We are telling them that we will certainly open the books to the government to show them exactly what our losses will be, given certain scenarios. That’s why we wanted to do it in phases. We don’t want to ask for money we don’t need. But we said as our situation worsens, we would ask to draw down more, up to what we think would be a maximum of $150 million.”
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