Randy Ambrosie is still getting the rock star treatment from CFL fans. His early season overhaul of the replay challenge system, launching “Diversity is Strength” corporate slogan and big gains in playoff TV ratings are among his many early accomplishments. But even his coziness with the old boys club of league governors might not save him from his next big idea.
October Grey Cup a Bad Idea
If Randy gets his way, there will be no November football in 2019. It’s his grand vision to avoid chilly weather in the playoffs and secure a better TV deal from the Americans. Playing our three-down season earlier, the commish reasons, will reduce overlap with the NFL and make our game more watchable for football nerds south of the border. And it’s a big mistake.
In case our beloved commissioner has forgotten, the paying customers and sponsors don’t live in the United States. They live in Canada. Making historic changes to pander to a U.S. audience amounts to nothing more than selling out the league’s identity for the sake of pleasing a few NFL network executives in New York.
Pandering to Americans Not the Answer
Mark Cohon—two commissioners before Ambrosie—tried this kind of stuff too. He moved the 2008 playoff games (not including the Grey Cup) from Sundays to Saturdays to avoid competing with NFL Sundays. It was a ratings disaster and the experiment failed. Just like this one will too.
Moving the season earlier to avoid competing with the National Football League to then have your playoff season go head to head with Major League Baseball and the World Series is a brilliant idea if you’re trying to become completely irrelevant in the major markets of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver where the league is already struggling to find attention.
The upside to this is just about non-existent. It’s nuts.
For decades, November football has given Canadians something to get excited about and take their minds away from the onset of winter. A perfectly placed distraction between the cool autumn air and Christmas season. Winters are long enough in Canada with November football. Could you imagine how long they would be without it?
To deny true football fans north of the border something they’ve always looked forward to would be to deny them one of the few privileges they enjoy that most Americans don’t: Football in the snow.
Montrealers still rave about their finest hour in the ice bowl of Grey Cup ’77 at Olympic Stadium when Alouette legend Tony Proudfoot and others found the staple gun and filled their cleats to walk all over the Edmonton Eskimos.
Argo fans to this day relish the memories from Grey Cup ’96 in Hamilton when Doug Flutie and Danny McManus put on a classic in the snow. Grey Cup 2017 in Ottawa will evoke those same memories in the decades ahead.
Core Fans Still Matter
One of the biggest mistakes a business or politician could ever make is to go after a mainstream audience at the expense of his or her core supporter. Hockey Night in Canada learned that the hard way by demoting Ron MacLean and replacing him with George Stroumboulopoulos. It took just two years of the diehards feeling ignored and the hipsters who like George still not watching hockey to bring Rogers back to it’s senses and reverse the decision.
Lesson learned: If you needed George to host Hockey Night in order to watch, than you probably weren’t all that interested anyway. It was greedy on the part of the Rogers decision-makers and this is a greedy move by a commissioner who sounds like someone starting to allow his early success creep into full-blown arrogance.
Screws Up the Draft
And if the fans don’t matter, the front offices of the nine franchises still do. They already have to wait until the second week in May to conduct the Canadian college draft after the NFL draft in order to properly assess the talent still available. Starting everything a month sooner than normal would mean starting training camp ten days before the draft. Good luck signing and integrating draft picks in time for the first preseason games in less than a week after drafting them in the first place.
Leave CFL Schedule Alone
Too much change too fast is never a good idea for any sports league. Randy Ambrosie and the rest of the CFL should focus on adding a tenth franchise, introducing a video game to engage its younger fan base and a strategy to handle the concussion crisis threatening to bring the entire sport to its knees.
These are important issues and all need to be big priorities.
Fixing a season schedule which isn’t broken, should not.
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