Saskatchewan

CFL commissioner says expansion a 'priority' for league, but no timeline set

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie held his annual state of the league update on Friday. He told fans and media the league is committed to an elusive 10th franchise in Atlantic Canada, although he did not commit to a timeline.

CFL to move 4 playoff games to Saturday in 2023, Grey Cup will remain on Sunday

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie speaks to the media during state of the league media address in Regina. Ambrosie told fans on Friday morning the league wants to make a 10th team 'a reality.' (The Canadian Press)

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie held his annual state of the league update on Friday. He told fans and media the league is committed to an elusive 10th franchise in Atlantic Canada, although he did not commit to a timeline.

During his fan forum on Friday morning, Ambrosie was asked about the league's plans to expand.

Ambrosie said the league will "commit to a timeline for expansion, and with some dates we can achieve" after Grey Cup weekend.

The league has long hoped to have a franchise in the Maritimes to make the league truly coast-to-coast, but that has been difficult, primarily due to a lack of a suitable stadium.

"We want to make our 10th team a reality," Ambrosie said.

Ambrosie said this year's Touchdown Atlantic game in Wolfville, N.S., which welcomed 10,000 fans to see the Toronto Argonauts host the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was a "blockbuster success."

It was the first regular season game in the province and the first game held in the Maritimes since 2019.

He said CFL expansion is a "priority."

"We have now engaged in a whole new elevated conversation with Atlantic Canada and they are very excited about the future of a franchise in their region."

A CFL fan holds an Atlantic Schooners flag during the CFL Touchdown Atlantic game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., on July 16. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Ambrosie said he is heading to Halifax after the Grey Cup for a series of meetings.

He was asked if the league had considered having existing teams host an Atlantic expansion franchise, and having the ticket revenue given to the expansion team while it worked toward a new stadium.

"We are getting incredibly creative and thinking differently about the stadium issue," he said.

Ambrosie said the league will have discussions with Quebec City, southwestern Ontario, and cities in Western Canada without CFL football on the potential of hosting games there.

"We want to reach out and embrace all of Canada and get them to feel that love and energy for the Canadian Football League."

In 2018, there was a tentative plan to expand to 10 teams, with an ownership group behind a team called the Atlantic Schooners securing $20 million in government funding to build a suitable facility. The funding was discontinued due to the pandemic. 

Expansion would balance schedule, move Grey Cup up

Ambrosie said another aspect of gaining a 10th team would be a balance the league does not currently have due to the odd number of teams.

"We now play our 18-game schedule in 21 weeks. When we get that 10th team, now you can play your 18-game schedule in 19 weeks."

He said it would allow the league to have the playoffs in October and the Grey Cup game in the first week of November.

Ambrosie said that would see fewer games after Labour Day and potentially better weather for playoff games. Using this year as an example, he said the Grey Cup would have taken place two weeks earlier. 

"Ironically, Nov. 6 in Saskatchewan was colder than the forecast on Nov. 20."

A few fans suggested that the league tweak its schedule to avoid games on Sundays in the fall once the NFL season has started to avoid competition.

Ambrosie received applause when he said the division semi-finals and finals will be held on Saturdays in 2023. However, the Grey Cup will remain on Sunday.

Ambrosie said the league has discussed moving the Grey Cup game to Saturday, but does not want to limit the week's festivities.

"The Grey Cup festival is as much a part of Grey Cup as the game itself. We're battling the risk of truncating the Grey Cup festival by losing a day on the weekend."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from The Canadian Press

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