Evaluating the Grey Cup Win-Host Model

The Grey Cup

A few days ago, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie hosted a virtual Town Hall. In it, he made a few key announcements regarding the 2020 season. Ambrosie discussed both a shortened season and the cancellation of Touchdown Atlantic; however, the most impactful point made concerned the change to the Grey Cup hosting format.

Previously, teams bid several years in advance to host the CFL championships. This year, the team with the best regular-season record will be the Grey Cup host. Is this a new-and-improved format for the championships, or just an emergency measure? However it turns out, the Grey Cup win-host model will undoubtedly make for a memorable season.

Potential Home Crowd Excitement

We often write about the oft-understated importance of home crowd advantage. Playing in front of the home crowd will push even the worst teams to victory. This showcased itself last season, where all but one team won the majority of their games at home.

The impact of a home crowd on the Grey Cup has made itself known over the last decade — over the previous three occasions that the host has played in the CFL’s championship, they’ve won. The Grey Cup win-host model would significantly increase the chances of this happening. After all, if the host is also the best team in the league, the chances of a home team’s victory at their own stadium are high.

If fans are permitted to the game, this would likely convert into higher attendance, as more fans will attend a game where their team is likely to win. Additionally, neutral site Grey Cups offer fewer incentives for fans to attend. After all, only the most diehard fans will travel the entire length of the country to attend a Grey Cup in person.

As Ambrosie himself said, following the league’s request for a government bailout, “unlike large US-based leagues, our biggest source of revenue is not TV — it’s ticket sales.” These would receive a massive boost from a rise in home-team championships, which the Grey Cup win-host model will guarantee every year.

Questionable Financial Feasibility

One of the greatest reasons for hosting the Grey Cup is the economic benefits it brings. A 2018 study of the 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton brought in a profit of approximately $81 million. This came from roughly 430,000 people who attended the week-long Grey Cup festival which included spending on dining and accommodation by the 30,000 out-of-town viewers.

The Grey Cup has proven time and time again to be an economic boom for the host city; however, with the win-host model, a lot of this money will evaporate.

The league’s financial troubles are no secret. Ambrosie himself has admitted that “ours [league] is a big brand but not a wealthy business.” This confession followed the league’s request of up to $150 million in government bailouts to avoid folding.

The publicly-owned Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos (who must disclose their finances) reported a profit of between $1.4 and $2.6 million in 2018, according to the Toronto Sun. In a league where profit margins are slim, money from the Grey Cup matters more than ever.

All this will be lost with the Grey Cup win-host model. The Grey Cup and festival is in planning for months before the event. In preparation for 2020, the Roughriders have received a $3 million grant in March from the provincial government to run the festival.

Events that generate millions of dollars for cities and provinces cannot be organized a few weeks in advance; however, this is the kind of timeframe that host teams would have under the win-host model.

Grey Cup Win-Host Economic benefits outweigh hype

A Grey Cup under the revised format would mean that host teams wouldn’t be able to bring in anywhere close to regular profits from the event, which in the cash-strapped CFL counts for a lot more than increased excitement.

If it worked both ways, the Grey Cup win-host model could be a much-improved format for the league; however, right now Canadian football teams need money.

While the increased support and engagement that a guaranteed Grey Cup at home would bring are tantalizing, what’s required is financial stability that this emergency model just doesn’t offer. The win-host model will get the CFL through a potential 2020 season, but don’t expect it to become the new normal anytime soon.

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