CFL 2.0 could get early payoff with Mexican TV contract

By Tim Baines, Postmedia

The CFL 2.0 plan, a globalization of the Canadian Football League, could take another giant leap forward before the 2019 season.

Making the seventh stop on what’s become known as Randy’s Road Trip — a series of chats with football fans across Canada — CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told media members in Ottawa on Saturday morning that the league is in discussions for TV rights into Mexico.

“We went to Mexico for the scouting combine and the draft. We had 87 million impressions generated that weekend. We were 15 minutes back in Canada when we had the first of two Mexican broadcast companies call and ask about buying our TV rights for the 2019 season. We’re actually in negotiations right now on what could be our first real international broadcast partnership, and that came out of Mexico.”

After facing the media, Ambrosie met with  with select season-ticket holders at TD Place.

“We could see very obvious tangible benefits. It will start small. How does that phrase go? From the smallest acorn, the mighty oak tree grows. You have to start somewhere.”

Set to start discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association on Monday, Ambrosie spoke passionately Saturday about a grand international vision that grows the game to the benefit of the league and its players.

“Talk about things like the Premier League and how they’ve seen their entrance into the international world of soccer as opposed to what used to be a national league in England called the EFL, now we’ve seen some of the greatest rises in players’ compensation of any sport in the world,” said Ambrosie. “The Premier League wasn’t preordained to be the most important international soccer league in the world, they just decided to do something differently.

“I can’t imagine why we would think the CFL couldn’t sit in a similar spot where we decide to be the aggregator of all these nations that have football, create opportunities for Canadian kids to go play in these countries, bring the best of those players here, generate TV revenues around the world and ultimately to the benefit of all of our most important stakeholders — the players being one of those groups.

“I can’t really imagine I’d be doing my job if I wasn’t thinking about how to grow this game so the players could ultimately benefit.”

The commissioner wants the beauty of the CFL game to be part of lives far outside these borders.

“We can ultimately be the epicentre of the international football community; maybe not as the Canadian Football League, but as the CFL,” he said. “We’re sitting in TD Place. If you went to the U.S. today and asked what the TD stands for, they don’t know — it’s just TD. The CFL will stand for whatever people want it to stand for. It will be a big international brand. It will be a place where people watch players from all around the world playing this super fun and super fast game. When’s the last time you saw a CFL game that was 3-3 at halftime. There’s no reason, in my mind, that the world, when shown how cool this game is, won’t embrace it. But we’re never going to know unless we try.

“We may end up playing a game in Mexico as early as 2020. I see a day where we might end up playing a game or two in Europe or other parts of the world. I definitely see a day where we think about broadcast ratings not through the narrow lens about how many fans watch here or in the U.S., but how many fans are watching our games internationally.”

Will CFL 2.0 lead to international expansion? Maybe, but the league isn’t getting ahead of itself — it won’t happen anytime soon.

“We had a group from Mexico express interest in buying a CFL franchise. One day, we’re going to wake up and we may have more than one or two internationals who own a franchise in the CFL.

“In business, I think about risk and reward. The opportunity to be a big international league should be evaluated by the risk that it creates. We went to Mexico for that scouting combine — our friends in Mexico were our hosts — it cost us the plane tickets to get down there. If this TV contract works the way it will, we will have immediate return with almost no risk. That’s a good business model.

“(Bringing international players to the CFL Combine in two weeks is) very low cost to us. The potential we get two, three, five, seven kids out of that group that could become CFL stars could create a high opportunity. If one of these kids comes from France or two come from Germany or there’s one from Finland, do you think their fans might want to tune in and watch our great game? This answer is yes. This model has a very big potential return with a very low risk.

“When you start talking about putting franchises out in the world, that starts to change your risk profile. I’d just as soon right now stick in this quadrant. Let this play out, build some momentum in this quadrant for a while, then maybe one day we’ll say there’s an opportunity to do it differently.

“One of my favourite experiences so far (in his cross-country Randy’s Road Trip) was a gentleman in Calgary, he was very polite, he said his father had been a season-ticket holder with the Stamps for almost 50 years, his dad was 89 and he was mad at me.

“It’s not good to have a 50-year season-ticket holder mad at you, and I said, ‘Can I ask why?’ He said, ‘Well, my dad’s just mad you’re putting a team in Germany.’ I said, ‘OK, we can probably put that to rest, we’re not planning on having a team in Germany, at least not for the foreseeable future.’ ”