Selling The CFL #1: Background: The CFL Cannot Afford Arrogance

Now that the CFL playoffs are over, what to write about the league now?  A few years ago on another blog I wrote a series of articles about ideas that might help the CFL get people more interested in it so that the league could expand.

I believe that the CFL should be bigger than its present size and that an expanded league with a better playoff format would be more interesting for its present fans and also attract lots of new ones.  If circumstances were right (and they are not), I believe that the CFL could be a 12 team league right now.

Quebec City, Kitchener, and London are all now big enough to support a CFL team, especially when it is remembered that cities like Hamilton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa were all much smaller (they were all between 500,000 and 700,000 in 1980) and were supporting teams at least since the 1950s and that small Regina (200,000) is perhaps the best supported team in the league.

And in the long run, Halifax, Victoria, Saskatoon, Oshawa, Windsor, and even small Moncton are waiting down the road.

So I am going write a series of articles when the ideas and inspiration occur to me about various aspects on the problems that the CFL has in selling itself in Canada so that it can grow and eventually get support to expand from the present nine teams that it has been identified with for over half a century.  Here is the first article.

Selling The CFL #1: Background: The CFL Cannot Afford Arrogance

The first thing to remember about the CFL is that it is a North American professional sports league like the “big four” sports leagues that dominate the continent and has similar pretensions like them. But there is one big difference; the CFL (unless it changes its mind) is played exclusively in Canada and therefore has particular problems that the other four leagues do not have. What fans should remember is that Canada is not the United States and sports have to be marketed differently there.

Take the NFL for example.  The population of the United States is over 300,000,000 and the NFL plays in 31 (New York has two teams) metropolitan cities that have more than one million people.  Furthermore it can still expand to Los Angles and several other American cities that have populations greater than one million.

The population of Canada is the same as the population of the United States – at the time of the American Civil War.  Moreover its cities and the bulk of its population are not all over the country like they are in the United States but strung out in a long line close to the American border. There are only six cities with a population greater than one million though as noted above, there are several up-and coming cities that could host a CFL franchise now and in the near and long distance future.

So the market is very different and very limited compared with the United States.  Yet the CFL tries to ape many of the ways of the “big four” leagues.  Can they afford to do this?

One thing that all the “big four” leagues possess is a certain amount of arrogance, particularly the NFL.  They and their employees live in a different world compared to the “common fan”. Most owners, league officials, and players are wealthy people who enjoy immense fame and get social and material privileges as well.  To be brief, in many cases they have been conditioned to others to cater and come to them.

The NFL in particular expects almost mindless worship.  They still haven’t come to terms that Los Angeles left them in 1995 and has made little effort to come back.

When they placed Buffalo Bills games in Toronto, they expected unquestioning mindless worship, but to their surprise people resented the high cost of tickets which had to be revised, did not sell-out the games like starved football fans, and in most cases cheered for the Bills opponents. These results imply several conclusions:

  • People in Canada have more limited resources than the United States.
  • Professional sports (with maybe the exception of hockey) have to be sold to the Canadian public.
  • Canadians like most other people may like a product but they are going to be turned off by obvious arrogance, even for the best of things.

Bearing in mind that the CFL has limited resources, what can be said of them? In my opinion, the CFL does a poor job.  They seldom take the initiative and expect others to come to them.  For example they have done little to correct the horrible image they have in Toronto. True, a lot of it is not their fault but the work of snobs who want the “top” league, the NFL, but greater Toronto is now more than six million people and not everybody is a snob.

What has the CFL done to find new fans? Catered to Toronto’s various ethnic populations?  (NHL hockey is broadcast in Punjabi for example.) Tried to find out what was wrong, what people liked, how to get people into the seats of the Rogers Center? And how much of that attitude carries over across Canada and prevents the league from expanding?

This writer has already dealt with the problem of lack of Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL and how that hurts CFL growth and expansion in previous articles so it will only be mentioned briefly and when necessary in this series of articles.

But what is important and damning to note now is that this problem has been around since the 1960s and the CFL has made few attempts to correct it for over half a century.  They are content to sit back and wait like the “big four” leagues instead of addressing the issue.

And that is one of the main problems with the CFL.  They seldom go out and sell their product.  They hope that people come to them.


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