Sask. Roughriders return to profitability after shortened season

The Saskatchewan Roughriders recorded a significant profit for the 2020/21 fiscal year despite a shortened CFL season, but lower ticket sales and changing consumer behaviour still present challenges.

Football club warns that recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a 'multi-year effort'

The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced a $3.9-million net profit for the 2021-22 year. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are celebrating a return to profitability after two years struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like all CFL teams, the Riders are working to bounce back after COVID-19 triggered the cancellation of the 2020 season and the shortening of the 2021 schedule.

At Tuesday's annual general meeting, the team announced a $3.9-million net profit for the 2021-22 year. That's a big improvement over an $8.4-million loss the year before, but still leaves the team $4.5 million in the hole over the last two years. Some financial cushion is available to the team, thanks to a $7-million stabilization fund.

Team president Craig Reynolds said the team owes a debt of gratitude to fans for playing a major part in the recovery .

"Our fans were the number 1 reason," he told reporters. "They kept their money with us, the season ticket money, they rolled that over to [the] next year and we had very few requests for refunds, which would have challenged that number."

Roughriders' president Craig Reynolds said the team had, 'So much uncertainty, so many unknowns.' (Glenn Reid/CBC News)

Stalwart ticket holders were not enough to bring the team's finances in line, however. Reynolds admitted there were significant staffing changes, some of which have been reported previously.

"We did a number of expense management measures, both in terms of sheer numbers of people, unfortunately, in our organization, but also salaries just to manage ourselves through that. And I think we did a pretty good job of that."

He said staffing levels have been kept down by employing more temporary workers during the football season.

The team also received COVID-related support from federal government programs

Fan spending habits changing

The team still faces challenges to profitability. Some ongoing issues include a nine per cent drop in ticket sales this season compared to 2019, the last full CFL season, along with post-pandemic reluctance to attend large events, the influence of inflation and changing consumer behaviours.

Kent Paul, the team's chief financial officer, said one bright spot has been the popularity of family-priced tickets, which were introduced to make it more affordable to bring children to games. Paul added that the team is constantly looking for ways to address affordability concerns, working with partners like Regina Exhibition Association Limited, the body that operates Mosaic Stadium.

"Not only did we implement family pricing at the ticket level, but we do have family meals. So there's some different pricing options there that are new this year," Paul said. 

The team has also expanded the number of seats available at the lowest price points to open up home games. Noticing a trend of more last-minute ticket purchases, the Riders also adjusted marketing efforts to focus on the week of a game instead of pushing tickets that are further into the future.

Reynolds and Paul were reluctant to predict when the team will consider itself recovered from its pandemic deficit.  However, the hosting this year's Grey Cup will be extremely beneficial for the team. The Riders claimed $9.3 million in net profits from hosting the 101st Grey Cup in 2013.