Ambrosie sees CFL’s first international regular-season game being played in 2021

Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie can see the CFL going global in 2021.

Ambrosie said Tuesday during the league’s winter meetings he anticipates the CFL playing its first international regular-season game next year. The league’s 2020 schedule includes a neutral-site game July 25 between the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders, a contest many speculated would be staged in Mexico City.

But Ambrosie said that game, with the Argos as the home team, will likely be played in either Moncton, N.B., or Halifax. Last year, the Montreal Alouettes defeated Toronto 28-22 at Stade Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium in Moncton. The CFL is hoping to add the Atlantic Schooners as its 10th franchise within a few years.

“If I was being completely transparent, I’d say I really believe we should have a global regular-season game in 2021,” Ambrosie said. “When we do that, I believe it will re-define us. But I think that game this year will be a domestic game. We’d like to play it out East because we want Atlantic Canadians to feel they’re part of our family . . . and we’d like to bring a football game to Atlantic Canada so that’s what we’re going to attempt to do this year.”

That’s not to say Ambrosie is slowing down CFL 2.0, his initiative to grow football globally. After solidifying partnerships with 11 international football associations, Ambrosie is speaking with organizations in Spain, Brazil, and Australia. Mexico was the first country to come on board.

This year, the CFL will be holding global combines in Europe, Mexico, and Japan.

“My vision is we’re the biggest global football league in the world,” said. “And from here to infinity is the opportunity that’s in front of us. We’re open for business and we want the entire world to feel welcome in the CFL much as Canadians make people from across the world welcome day in and day out. Our goal is to keep having these conversations and keep adding these federations and countries as we can.”

Another 2020 priority for Ambrosie is providing Schooners Sports and Entertainment, the group looking to bring a CFL expansion franchise to Halifax, with a helping hand. Last month, Halifax regional council voted in favour of $20-million contribution towards construction of a stadium in the Maritime city.

“We’re going to put together a steering committee to really help Schooners Sports and Entertainment build a business plan and strategy so that everyone is working on the same plan,” Ambrosie said.

The CFL no longer has to concern itself about the future of the Montreal Alouettes. After operating the franchise through the 2019 season, the league sold the club to Toronto businessmen Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern on Monday.

Meanwhile, Ambrosie said B.C. Lions owner David Braley continues to talk to perspective groups about the sale of his franchise.

“David doesn’t need to do it fast, he wants to do it right and I’m happy to be part of that process,” Ambrosie said. “He wants to put the B.C. Lions into a great set of hands much as we put the Montreal Alouettes into a great set of hands.

“My natural instinct is really more to the point to how happy I feel (about Alouettes sale) as opposed to how relieved I feel. There is no doubt it was a worry and it was a long process. Sometimes it was difficult and there were disappointments along the way. But on Monday, I was literally joy in a sport jacket. I just felt nothing but happy for the governors because they stepped in (to contribute financially to keeping Montreal afloat).”

With the league’s football operations staffs all converging here this week, Ambrosie has a definite message he wants to deliver to them.

“I want to sit with the coaches, football operations, the players and alumni and see if we can’t find a way to really bring everyone together now,” he said. “I like this idea of how do we share on the upside? How do we all help drive this league to new heights of success and how do we all benefit?

“I want players to feel respected, I wanted coaches to feel respected and looked after. I want their families to know we care about them and the way I think we do that is bring them all together and say, ‘From here to the next level of success there’s lots of things to share and let’s find a way to share that together.’ I’ve got great support from the governors for that idea.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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