One of the elements frequently cited in favo(u)r of the Canadian Football League relative to other North American non-NFL leagues is its history and (relative) stability. While the CFL has had plenty of wacky crises over the years, especially during the 1993-95 U.S. expansion era, it’s been quite generally stable for a decade-plus now. And that continuity and history (the league in name dates back to 1958, its general format dates back to the Western Interprovincial Football Union- Interprovincial Rugby Football Union partnership in 1954, and individual teams date back as far as the Toronto Argonauts’ 1873 founding) means you don’t expect it to have a lot of year-over-year issues. But one huge one has shown up this year, with the league’s statistics efforts still demonstrating a multitude of issues through four weeks of play so far.
The CFL agreed to a data deal with Genius Sports back in December 2021. At that time, the partnership was described as Genius gaining “exclusive worldwide official data rights and international video rights to commercialize CFL content with sportsbooks,” but without a lot of specifics. And it didn’t lead to a lot of immediate impacts in the 2022 season. But ahead of the 2023 season, that led to the league completely redoing their stats tracking with Genius. And that’s led to a number of challenges so far, with (as of Sunday, Week 4) league leader stats only available as PDFs and only when weeks are complete, with issues getting in-game stats on the CFL’s own website (although those have improved lately), and with CFL information being slow to show up on media outlet sites that had previously had good live coverage (including TSN and The Score), reportedly due to an API change. Fans and media have been complaining about the issues for much of the season so far, and that led to quite the comments from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie on June 20. Here are some of those:
“This is not a failure. This is what happens when you do a full technology reset. For all the fans, we certainly don’t want to disrespect their concerns, but my message is that we believe this is the right thing,” Ambrosie said.
…“When we started the conversation with Genius [Sports], the overall relationship that we started with them, one of the key tenets of that would be we would go through a significant technological upgrade across all things. One of the systems that they identified early on was our stats system, which was an old closed architecture, almost an analog type of system. We can’t do what we want to do with that platform — we couldn’t upgrade that platform,” Ambrosie said.
“Their recommendation and this goes back all the way to January 2022, was we basically needed to shut that system down and implement a whole new platform. This is what anyone in the technology world would say is a complete transformation. We’re doing it because what comes out the other side of this is going to be capabilities that frankly we couldn’t have dreamt of in the past. It’s going to allow us enhanced stats.”
Those “enhanced stats” will certainly be judged on their own quality in the end. And perhaps they will be the dramatic improvement Ambrosie is citing. But, for the moment, the CFL’s stats system has been notably lacking, and has been well behind not only its old system, but also the offerings from more recent alternative leagues like the XFL and USFL. However, that didn’t stop the CFL from announcing a partnership with FanDuel this week, which will see that book become “the league’s first authorized gaming operator and an Official Sportsbook Partner.” Here’s more from that release:
The Canadian Football League (CFL) is proud to welcome FanDuel as the league’s first authorized gaming operator and an Official Sportsbook Partner. Through FanDuel, fans and sports enthusiasts 19 years of age and over in Ontario will be able to place wagers on the CFL through in-game player propositions and futures bets.
“Responsible sports wagering is another way for our league to further its connection with our fans,” said Tyler Mazereeuw, Chief Commercial Officer of the CFL. “In addition to taking in our fun, fast and entertaining brand of football, some fans may wish to engage with the game on a more personal level.
“We’re excited to work with FanDuel to deliver an exciting and innovative betting experience. While opening this new avenue of fandom is important to our league, wagering should only be done responsibly by adult fans who are 19 years of age and over with the means to do so.”
…“We are very proud to kick off our partnership with the CFL, a league with some of Canada’s most passionate fans,” said Dale Hooper, GM of FanDuel Canada. “The CFL is a Canadian institution, and we are excited to provide sports bettors with an industry-leading experience.
“We look forward to working with the CFL and TSN to continue to drive interest in this great league and the next generation of stars by contributing insights that add another element to the great storytelling that is taking place.”
It’s of course possible to bet on the CFL at other books and in other jurisdictions, and long has been. This is just more of an official partnership. But it’s an interesting look to announce that at a time when the stats issues still have not been fully fixed, especially with so much talk of Genius’ contributions helping the CFL “commercialize content with sportsbooks.” Accurate and quick stats are key to making any sort of betting work smoothly, perhaps especially so for in-game player propositions. So it will be interesting to see if and when Genius is able to get the CFL’s stats turned around to the level that’s been promised, and how well things go with this gambling deal before and after that.