Premier Pallister announces $2.5 million towards hub city bid

There remains a ton of work to do with a deadline fast approaching, but the idea of Winnipeg serving as a hub city for Canadian Football League games in 2020 now has the financial backing of the provincial government.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced Monday a $2.5 million commitment to the proposal should Winnipeg be chosen as the hub city in a COVID-19-affected abridged CFL season, all as part of an $8 million ‘Restart Manitoba Event Attraction Strategy.’

Both Regina and Hamilton have also expressed interest in serving as the CFL’s hub city, with Saskatchewan pledging $3 million Monday. Manitoba has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases of those three locales with 354, including 29 active as of Monday, and the decision on the bids involves more than just the provincial financial commitments, but other factors including hotels, practice facilities and other amenities.

“We are safe for people who choose to come here, we’re safe for Manitobans and we want to be the recipients of some good quality CFL entertainment as well if we restart our economy and help us as Canadian football fans to get a bit of our lives back,” said Premier Pallister.

“I think that’s an incalculable benefit for the Canadian people.”

The hub city concept would see all nine CFL teams play a six-game regular season at IG Field plus a six-game playoff that would include the Grey Cup, for 30 total games over a 15-week period.

The next steps – absolutely critical in the concept coming to reality – would see the Federal government provide financial support and then the CFL Players’ Association sign off on the plan.

“Today’s announcement helps us in that it shows the province is committed to this,” said Blue Bombers President & CEO Wade Miller. “Obviously, we still need the Federal government to be supportive of this event and with our players to get back on the field in 2020.

“We’re working hard to make that happen each day. We continue to have great discussions with the CFLPA. We’re working together to try and get our players back on the field in a safe manner.”

Premier Pallister said the direct return to the province’s $2.5 million investment would be “almost double” and the “return will be in the $45 million in economic impact in estimated dollars of total business sales and 600 jobs.”

Other details about the CFL’s hub city plan that emerged Monday after press conferences by Premier Pallister and Manitoba Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin:

  • Players, coaches and support staff would be housed at Winnipeg hotels and be part of a CFL ‘bubble’, with limited movement beyond trips to and from the stadium and nearby practice fields.
    “Players would be in a bubble, for the protection of our players, the coaches and staff involved in the event, but also for the citizens of the city we go to,” said Miller. “There would be strict testing protocols as players arrive to get them into the bubble. We’ll do this in a safe manner under the direction of public health officials.”
  • Dr. Roussin said the province would be studying the detailed plans of any potential event as part of the restart, but if an event is in a bubble format “… then we’re looking at no risk to Manitobans, very low risk to Manitobans.”
    Dr. Roussin also added that should players in the bubble opt to go to a restaurant or other venue, that facility would have to maintain the bubble format and be shut down to the public.
    “Remember the importance of maintaining that bubble is important for Manitobans, but it’s important for any sports event because if you have cases introduced into what should be a COVID-free bubble, that compromises the entire season. So there’s a lot of motivation to keep that bubble very tight.”
  • Asked about American players coming to Winnipeg from COVID hotspots in the United States and not “create an outbreak”, Dr. Roussin said:
    “It’s the combination of the bubble format along with the quarantine period, along with the testing. These are not individuals that are travelling to Winnipeg that can interact with other Manitobans. They would be maintained within the league bubble.”
  • CFL players would not have to be tested before coming to Winnipeg, but would have to self-isolate and once they arrive with the length of that quarantine dependent on where the player is coming from prior to arrival.
    The league would not be doing asymptomatic testing but according to Dr. Roussin there could be “testing early on to secure that bubble. Once the bubble is secured, there’s not going to be regular testing. There’s going to be testing should anyone develop symptoms and then that would be a typical testing and contact investigation as we would do anywhere else.”
  • Dr. Roussin said if there is evidence of an inter-bubble spread, “it would be a challenge as to how we approach this.” Pressed further if there were up to 40 cases in the bubble he said there would be “a real challenge in continuing forward with the season.  The Public Health would have that authority to stop that (the season).”
  • The idea of having fans in the stands at proper social distancing is not something that was discussed by the league in an effort to maintain the bubble.

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