It will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the Canadian Football League’s long and storied history.
The CFL’s plans for a shortened 2020 season evaporated over the weekend with the federal government’s decision to back away from a proposed $30 million loan that would have provided the financial backing for players’ salaries and the plans for a hub city campaign to be played at IG Field here in Winnipeg.
Without that support, the league’s board of governors met Monday morning and voted not to play a shortened season.
The news is devastating for a number of obvious reasons, including the fact no Grey Cup will be awarded for the first time since 1919. But it also pulls the plug on the exhaustive effort on the hub city idea led by Bombers President & CEO Wade Miller.
Miller spoke to bluebombers.com Monday afternoon after the news became official.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: There seemed to be progress in the hub city discussions, even a level of quiet optimism before news broke that the federal government would not be providing financial support to the concept. So, where did this deal go sideways?
MILLER: We knew we needed federal government support. We were going back and forth over four months and were asked two different times to go back to them with different ways of doing it. It never worked out. By the end we were close to having an alignment with our players and everyone else… it’s just disappointing for our players and our fans.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: From what we understand, the commissioner was flabbergasted when the federal government informed him of their decision. What was your reaction?
MILLER: Disappointed. I can’t understand how you don’t support an event like this in Western Canada where the provincial government has shown great leadership and initiative, along with the city, where it is approved by the public health authorities and after the positive comments from Dr. Njoo (Canada’s deputy chief public health officer) from last Thursday-Friday.
And then the support is zero and now this will be the first time the Grey Cup isn’t presented in 101 years.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: How close was an abridged season in the Winnipeg bubble, then, to actually happening?
MILLER: It was very close. Everyone was aligned and we just needed the assistance to get over the finish line.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: There was some chatter that not all CFL teams were on board with the hub city idea. Is that accurate and, if so, did that have any impact on what has unfolded here?
MILLER: No. As a league we were all aligned in figuring out a way to have a 2020 season.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: What happens now to the players, specifically, their 2020 contracts and how they might get financial support?
MILLER: The CFL and the players’ association are working through that right now. These are different times, obviously. We’re working through those issues now. I won’t say anything more on that.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: Was the major push to play an abridged season based on the concern that if the league went dark it would be out of sight, out of mind and that could have a long-term impact on its profile, both with fans and sponsors?
MILLER: There are three basic reasons I wanted us to play. One, I know what it’s like as a player to work so hard and train. And then to not have the ability to play is something I just couldn’t imagine. It’s something out of their control. It was important for me to try and help give the players the chance to play in 2020 because you have a short span in your career to play.
Two, our fans love the CFL. Canada loves the CFL. And if that meant we were playing just for television crowds then we wanted to do it. And, three, it was good for our league and for our teams to try and find a way to play.
Now we’ll focus on 2021. We’ll get through this. We’ll move forward and come out stronger on the other side.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: The commissioner said today part of the appeal of playing was there was a window in November-December when the NHL and NBA would be done their bubble seasons and regrouping for a 2021 season during which the CFL might have been able to attract a lot of eyeballs. Do you think this was a lost opportunity?
MILLER: It was definitely a lost opportunity, for sure. We could have had our game in front of a lot of Canadians in October-November, absolutely.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: The focus now is on 2021. What is the main priority for the league and the Bombers in that respect?
MILLER: We’ll work on our business and make it as strong as we can coming out of this, as I said, stronger on the other side. That’s working together as the nine teams and as a league to find a way to generate additional revenue and increase the awareness of football in Canada and grow the game.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: Does this mean the club’s rainy day fund is drained?
MILLER: We’re still working through funding this and building a recovery plan. All of that is already in process. We’ll just continue to work through it.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: There have been many, many references to the CFL’s business model being ‘flawed?’ What is your response to those criticisms?
MILLER: Well, I guess that means the airlines are flawed. The hospitality and tourism industry is flawed. I mean, this is a pandemic we’re living in. Can your business model be better? Sure. But at the same time nobody thought we’d be in a pandemic.
I’m not sure many industries were prepared to go through what we’re all going through right now.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: A number of theories have been floated during the spring and summer here about how the CFL might ‘recreate’ itself, from a partnership with the NFL – NFL2, if you will – to a model where the league controls all salaries, to some sort of revenue sharing with all teams. Is anything and everything on the table here for the league going forward?
MILLER: Those are all interesting thoughts. And now we’ve got a lot of time this offseason to think about them all.
BLUEBOMBERS.COM: Finally, fans and sponsors across this league have been very supportive through all this. I know you have released a statement, but anything you want to add here?
MILLER: I’d just like to say we appreciate the ongoing support that our fans and partners have given us. We’ll have an exciting opportunity coming up for fans to be a part of our history and we’ll look forward to seeing them in 2021. Thanks for sticking with us.
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