(Reuters) - The commissioner of the Canadian Football League (CFL) said on Thursday the league’s future is “very much in jeopardy” because of the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely result in the cancellation of the 2020 season.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie delivered the gloomy outlook while speaking by video conference to a House of Commons standing committee on finance a week after news broke that the league asked the federal government for financial support.
“The CFL is a valuable and integral part of Canadian life and its future is very much in jeopardy,” said Ambrosie. “And it would be terribly sad if this pandemic were allowed to take it away.”
The CFL’s championship game is one of Canada’s signature sporting events, a coast-to-coast party that is viewed as a unifying force in a country often divided by language and culture.
Unlike large U.S.-based leagues like the National Football League, Ambrosie said the CFL’s biggest source of revenue comes from ticket sales rather than TV deals.
Ambrosie said the pandemic that has brought much of the global sporting world to a halt given the ban of large crowds, makes the CFL particularly vulnerable.
“Governments coping with COVID-19 for reasons of public health that we totally support have made it impossible for us to do what we do,” said Ambrosie. “Our best case scenario for this year is a drastically truncated season and our most likely scenario is no season at all.”
Ambrosie said the CFL asked the government for C$30 million ($21.45 million) and could need another C$120 million over the next two years if the most negative scenarios come true.
CFL training camps were scheduled to open in mid-May and the regular season was supposed to kick off on June 11 but has since been pushed back to sometime in July at the earliest.
Ambrosie said the CFL may be a big brand in Canada but it is not a wealthy business and that its nine teams collectively lose between C$10 million and C$20 million a season and that it survives because of the passion of fans across the country.
“We are currently operating on the money our fans and to a lesser extent broadcasters and sponsors pay us in advance for games,” said Ambrosie.
“The day is fast approaching when we will have to cancel several games and perhaps the season and then our fans and our partners will every right to demand their money back.
“At that moment our financial crisis will become very real and very big.”
($1 = 1.3984 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar