How the CFL could embrace legal single-event sports betting

By John Hodge

The CFL is a gate-driven league.

That may change over time as the league looks to diversify its revenue streams, but getting more fans to buy tickets to games is a great way to bolster short-term income.

A new bill led by MP Kevin Waugh could soon legalize single-event sports betting in Canada, which could revolutionize how people consume the CFL. MP Michael Kram even believes it has the opportunity to save the league.

A great way to entice more young fans to buy tickets is by offering exclusive in-stadium betting opportunities. By providing the chance to gamble on exclusive lines, prop bets or prizes, young bettors would be more likely to purchase a ticket instead of watching the game on television.

Millennials spend a lot of time at live sporting events on their phones. Why not take advantage of that by providing fun, interactive gambling opportunities for a unique in-stadium experience?

Imagine having the opportunity to pick a spread and compete exclusively against people in your row or your section of the stadium? A winner could be announced at the end of the game, along with a handsome cash prize. It would be like a fifty-fifty draw, but more fun, more interactive, and with an element of skill involved.

The in-person element of gambling also opens the door for a variety of different prizes. What if you could bet and win a new jersey or an autographed football? Or what if winning a bet meant getting a free beer for every person sitting in your row? Successful bettors would be lauded as heroes!

Teams could even have a corporate partner agree to match deposits for bettors who purchase tickets to games. Many companies already match deposits for newcomers, but this could be increased or enhanced for bettors who have purchased a ticket to attend a live game.

This is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone — the league could increase gambling revenue and attract younger fans to purchase tickets to games at the same time. That’s a big win-win.

This shift won’t come without some changes from the CFL’s football operations practices.

The NFL — a sports betting juggernaut — provides daily league-wide updates regarding the nature of player injuries, the extent to which each individual participated in practice, and the likelihood of those players dressing for an upcoming game.

The current Personnel (Injury) Report Policy was adopted in 2017 and threatens “a fine on the involved club, fines or suspensions of involved individuals, as well as the possible forfeiture of draft choices by the involved club” if the requirements are not met. The NFL states that providing accurate injury reports is of “paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of the game.”

In the CFL, no such policy exists. Coaches are free to disclose as much or as little information regarding player injuries as they desire, while teams have been known to fudge depth charts in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.

If single-event sports betting is to become a major source of revenue for the CFL, this has to stop. The NFL knows that betting and fantasy sports are a huge vehicle for fan interest. Without knowing the status of player injuries or having access to accurate team depth charts, bettors will be far less likely to wager on CFL games.

If the league can successfully implement a personnel policy while embracing legalized single-event sports gambling in a creative, engaging way, then the sky is the limit for the Canadian Football League once it returns to the field.

3DownNation is a website dedicated to covering the CFL and Canadian football. Founded in 2015 by veteran CFL writer Drew Edwards while reporting for the Hamilton Spectator and initially the property of the Torstar corporation, ownership of the site was transferred to its contributors in January of 2019.