Revisiting: Could 2018 be the Biggest CFL Season Yet?

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REGINA, SK - OCTOBER 27: Head coach Wally Buono of the BC Lions talks with Roughrider fans before the game between the BC Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on October 27, 2018 in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images)

The CFL season has concluded and I decided to revisit my article from May that asked: “Could 2018 be the Biggest CFL Season Yet?” While there were many successful high points for the CFL, the early answer is no. Below are each of the reasons why I thought 2018 would be the biggest CFL season yet. I recommend reading the first article here before I break down what actually happened below.

Johnny Football

Whoops. While I wasn’t necessarily wrong on how much exposure Manziel would receive (just ask Rod Black). He didn’t have as big of an impact on the simple fact that he wasn’t ready yet. Hamilton was following a solid plan of allowing him to learn and absorb the game behind Jeremiah Masoli. But they did what any team would’ve done in their position and took advantage of a desperate team. Montreal needed a reason, any reason to ignite their franchise who was 1-4 at the time with a point differential of -79.

Manziel’s first start was an extremely rocky one to put it lightly as he would go 11/20, 104 yards passing and four interceptions. However, Manziel’s first start brought the highest ratings for the CFL on ESPN2 ever with 406,000 viewers. For context, the 2017 Grey Cup drew 237,000 viewers on ESPN2. Manziel would go on to finish the season with five touchdowns, seven interceptions and 1,290 yards. The onus is now on the Montreal Alouettes and the CFL to market Johnny Football right going into 2019 to keep intrigue up, especially in the American market.

NFL Protests

This was a much bigger topic of discussion at the time of the original article. While some NFL players continue to kneel or stay in the locker room during the anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the United States, it hasn’t been a major talking point during the 2018 season.

Wally’s Last Hurrah

From a simple eye/ear test, it seems as though Wally Buono’s last season wasn’t a major storyline until the last number of games in the season. It certainly didn’t move the needle attendance-wise as the Lions home attendance went up from 19,585 average in 2017 to 19,975. It’s fair to say, Buono got his due respect from his peers and the media alike. His last home game at B.C. Place drew a season-high 24,114 fans to see him off in a 26-9 loss to the eventual Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders. It had the potential to be much more, but not every story has cinderella ending as Buono’s Lions were humiliated in the East Semi-Final to Hamilton by a score of 48-8. Regardless, Wally Buono is a CFL legend and how he went out is not an indictment on his legacy.

Contending Roughriders

My last and what I thought would be my strongest point contributing to what I thought might be the CFL’s biggest season yet was a competitive Saskatchewan Roughriders. After a dismal 2015 (3-15), 2016 (5-13), the Riders found themselves in the East-Final in 2017. The next logical step appeared to be a Grey Cup contending squad, the Riders rolled the dice trading for Zach Collaros in an attempt to solidify the quarterback room.

However, it would be the defence that would steal the show in 2018 scoring to end and terrorizing quarterbacks with the duo of Charleston Hughes and Willie Jefferson. Enroute to a 12-6 record for the first time since 2008 and a home playoff game. 3DownNation reported in late-September that the Riders were driving the TV numbers with an average of 717,958 viewers. So when the Riders lost the West-Semi Final at home it certainly didn’t help the CFL’s cause going into the Grey Cup.

The Last Word and a Look Ahead

This is where I admit I was wrong. The CFL saw a 10% increase in Grey Cup ratings from 2016 to 2017. However, from 2017 to 2018, Grey Cup ratings took a nosedive, falling 23% from the year prior. Blame it on the loss of Toronto’s TV market as the Argos failed to defend their title, Saskatchewan not making the big dance or just a matchup that never enticed many, this game didn’t have much hype going in. All in all these storylines, while intriguing, weren’t enough to create the “biggest CFL season yet”.

Going into 2019 there are many affairs to settle, mainly the CBA. Once that is agreed upon there is a plethora of free-agents to be signed. Perhaps 2019 could be the biggest CFL season yet? We’ll find out in due time.┬áStay tuned to the Last Word on Sports CFL for all the latest headlines coming in 2019. Find us on Facebook (@LWOScfl) or Twitter (@LastWordOnCFL).

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