Positive Cohon sees bright CFL future

Upbeat CFL commissioner Mark Cohon delivered a generally positive outlook on the state of the league at his annual Grey Cup address Friday.

Commissioner cites strong TV ratings, stadium projects at Grey Cup address

Mark Cohon had nothing but good news at the Grey Cup on Friday.

An upbeat Cohon delivered a generally positive outlook in his annual state of the league address. That was in stark contrast to last year when the CFL commissioner came under fire amid reports the league wanted to reduce Canadian content heading into contract talks with its players' union.

For a change, the league isn't in crisis mode.

"In a nutshell, we really weathered the recession last year and came out strong in 2010," Cohon said. "We know we have a lot more work to do to nurture this great league of ours and this Cup which is so important to this country.

"But we're proud from where we've come and the foundation we've collectively built together with the board of governors and we're proud about the future because I think that future looks bright."

Cohon did say overall attendance dipped 4.6 per cent this year, citing the B.C. Lions' move to a smaller venue while renovations were being made to B.C. Place as a contributing factor.

However, Cohon said that was easily countered by continued solid television ratings on TSN, having CFL games carried live on the NFL Network, half of CFL contests being decided by seven points or less and the outcome in almost half coming down to the final three minutes.

If you're the commissioner of any professional sports league those are kind of statistics you like to hear," Cohon said. "It means it keeps your fans engaged and coming back to stadiums and watching games on television."

The Montreal Alouettes continued to sell out Molson Stadium even after adding 5,000 more seats while the Touchdown Atlantic game this year in Moncton between Edmonton and Toronto sold out in 32 hours.

Quick sellout

Sunday's Grey Cup between Montreal and Saskatchewan reached a sellout of 62,000 more than five months ahead of schedule, and last weekend, more than 58,000 fans attended the East Division final at Olympic Stadium while Calgary's McMahon Stadium was sold out for the West final.

Those factors, combined with labour harmony and the potential for a lucrative new television agreement — the current deal has at least two years remaining but there are suggestions it could be re-opened early — create a bright future for the league, Cohon said.

Cohon also pointed to Canadian quarterback Danny Brannagan, who did see some playing time in Toronto, as a sign the league is making progress on allowing more Canadians line up under centre.

"The reason why Danny is in the league is we brought him out to [the CFL evaluation] camp," Cohon said. "[Argos coach] Jim Barker saw him and said he'd give him a chance.

"We're making those steps and I think in the off-season in the coming years we're going to continue to focus those discussions with our GMs and owners."

But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

Cohon was on the hot seat over suggestions from the  Alouettes that Saskatchewan had received special treatment in Edmonton this week. The Als contend the Roughriders are staying at a nicer hotel, and they're miffed that Saskatchewan is using the Eskimos' luxurious locker room at Commonwealth Stadium while they are in the no-frills visiting room.

Cohon pointed out that as West Division champions, the Riders are considered the home team and are therefore entitled to the Eskimos locker room.

Cohon was also asked about why he gave the commissioner's award to Riders Nation, the name given to Saskatchewan's rabid fans who travel throughout Canada purchasing a CFL merchandise to support their team.

Great fans

"In no way are we saying they're better than other fans," Cohon said. "Our fans are great and I love walking out there and spending time with Lions fans or Als fans.

"It's [the award] recognizing people who have had a profound impact on our game and celebrating that."

About the only issue facing the CFL is a familiar one —officiating. Cohon praised the job officials are doing, adding the implementation of a command centre during league games this year has helped the league make sure it gets calls right.

Cohon also said the CFL remains committed to investing in programs that provide its officials with the tools to do their jobs better.

"Every league always has questions about officiating," Cohon said. "Are there always was to improve? Absolutely.

"I think the command centre was an investment by the league and shows we're making improvements and getting it right. I think there's an opportunity as the league gets better to invest and that's a conversation we will always have with the board of governors."

With Cohon's contract set to expire in the spring of 2012, his future will soon become a hot topic. Although he didn't come out and say so, Cohon hinted strongly he'd like to continue beyond 2012.

"When you think about the things we have," Cohon said. "The 100th Grey Cup coming up in two years, the potential for a new TV deal that will transform this league, the potential of getting back into Ottawa by 2013 and the real potential in Atlantic Canada.

"All of those things are a lot of work looking ahead but they're part of what I'd like to do and what the entire board would like to be part of."