Saskatchewan

'Very large appetite' for Sask. to be a CFL hub city, says premier

Premier Moe would love for Regina to be a hub city for CFL football but recognizes there would be some extreme challenges.

Moe says he would work with the Roughriders to become a hub city

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have put their name forward to be hosts should the CFL choose to go to a hub city format. (The Canadian Press)

Canada Day 2019 was an epic day of Saskatchewan football. Mosaic Stadium sold out every seat, the team introduced Gainer the Gopher's new look (which received much online criticism) and the game was interrupted by a good old prairie thunderstorm.

But now, the Canadian Football League is facing a different interruption — COVID-19.

The 2020 CFL season has been facing uncertainty for months. The following questions continue to arise: who can host games in a gate revenue-driven league? How do we follow the rules for mass gatherings and keep fans safe? And how does the league keep players and staff safe from the virus?

In early May, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie appeared before the federal government's finance committee and stated that a CFL season appeared unlikely and asked for $30 million up front to support teams and another $120 million later if the season were to be cancelled.

Now, a "hub city" plan is starting to become a louder conversation.

This concept would see the possibility of two select CFL cities hosting games involving all nine teams.

Previously, Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab were wary of the idea, but at Tuesday's provincial COVID-19 briefing Moe and Shahab had a change of heart.

"As the Premier I have very large appetite to be a hub city and to host some CFL play here. But in saying that it needs to be done in a safe manner and it isn't a cheap undertaking. It isn't an easy undertaking" says Premier Moe.

"There are lots of complexities there and everyone needs to feel comfortable with that," added Shahab.

Both Moe and Shahab feel that consultation with Canada's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam will also be needed to safely execute a hub city plan.

Those complexities have been tackled by other leagues around the world. The NHL is expected to outline its plans for a hub city program: Reports indicate Toronto has been chosen for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the West.

A formal announcement has not been made, but the reports follow weeks of speculation about which cities the league would resume play in after games were halted due to the pandemic.

As for who would host teams in a hub city model for the CFL, both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders have put their names forward to be host cities. Both cities have strong arguments for why they should play host. the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the defending Grey Cup champions while Regina was originally slated to host the 2020 Grey Cup. 

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere has already expressed an interest in being the mayor of Hub City. Fougere believes it's at least worth a conversation.

Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab on the risks of the CFL playing the season using a Hub City concept. (CBC)

Other provinces are also campaigning to play host. Ontario Sport Minister Lisa MacLeod said the CFL has discussed Hamilton and Burlington, Ont. as potential hub cities. MacLeod told reporters Tuesday that in the league's discussions with the Ontario government, it has mentioned the two southern Ontario cities as possible hubs for a 2020 season.

"I would hope the federal government would look at the proposal," said Moe about the Roughriders bid to be a hub city. Moe said he would actively work with the Saskatchewan Roughriders organization to bring the other nine teams to Saskatchewan. He also acknowledges that if the 2020 season is cancelled, the province will assess ways to help the league regain strength for 2021.

Saskatchewan is currently scheduled to host the 108th Grey Cup on November 20, 2022. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fiona Odlum

CBC Staffer

Fiona is a contributor at CBC Saskatchewan. She is from Winnipeg, Manitoba and that is where she started her broadcasting career over 15 years ago. Fiona has done everything from traffic reporting in a helicopter, to breaking news, anchoring and hosting talk radio across the country and telling weather stories.

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