The Canadian Football League was one of the few professional sports leagues to not play a 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing that cancellation last August. The CFL then announced a 2021 season in November with a planned start of June 10, but the league has now moved that start date back almost two months to August 5, and they’ve bumped the planned 2021 Grey Cup (the 108th Grey Cup) to December 12 (from Nov. 21) while keeping it in Hamilton, Ontario. Here’s more on Wednesday’s changes from a CFL.ca piece:
The Canadian Football League (CFL) Commissioner Randy Ambrosie issued the following statement on Wednesday announcing the League’s Return-to-Play plans for the 2021 season:
“We will play CFL football in 2021.
“Our revised target date to start our regular season is August 5. To facilitate a 14-game season, for our players, fans and partners, we are re-scheduling the Grey Cup to December 12 in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I say ‘target date’ because our plans are subject to the state of COVID-19 across the country. A so-called ‘third wave’ in some provinces is forcing us today to postpone the start of our regular season, which had been scheduled for June 10.
“So, what must be in place for us to kick off on August 5? Two things. 1. The approval of public health officials across the country of our plans for protecting the health of our players, coaches, and ultimately our fans, so a 2021 season is safe. 2. Permission from governments to host a significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that, so a 2021 season is financially tenable for our clubs.
Ambrosie’s statement there went on to say that the CFL “depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America,” and that “fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue.” So the discussions here about having fans in the stands (which ultimately will be up to local health jurisdictions) are quite important for any CFL season, and it’s worth noting that the idea of hosting “a significant number of fans in the stands, in a significant number of venues at the start of the season, and in the rest of our venues soon after that” for an Aug. 5 start is far from assured at this point given the current vaccination and outbreak challenges across Canada.
But it is certainly notable to see the league move their planned start back more than two months, and also to see them still going ahead with plans for a 2021 season (in contrast to claims from the United Football Players’ Association). We’ll see if they’re able to pull off this August to December season. And if they can, that will have big implications for Canadian CFL broadcaster TSN, and lesser implications for international broadcasters like ESPN. A 14-game season isn’t as strong as the planned 18-game season, but it’s certainly better than the no season at all the CFL delivered in 2020.