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JONES: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie fumbled federal funding request

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses the media with his State of the League news conference during the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary on Nov. 22, 2019.
CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses the media with his State of the League news conference during the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary on Nov. 22, 2019.

Randy Ambrosie hasn’t made many gaffes in his first few years as Canadian Football League commissioner.

But in blurting out an inflated top-end figure of $150 million from the federal government, he fumbled his football league.

It took the focus away from the ‘ask’, which is to help keep the league that has long fought the good fight, to build a bridge to continue the fight.

On Thursday, Ambrosie was speaking to the House of Commons standing committee trying to fix the impact of the CFL Wants $150 Million headline he was responsible for creating himself.

The commissioner was actually asking for $30 million now to get this league through September, and some sort of support built in beyond, if required. I mean, what’s the point of giving the league $30 million if another football game never gets played?

So what’s the next set of headlines?

It focused on his quote, “Our most likely scenario is no season at all.”

Four words from that one filled most of a front page in Edmonton on Friday: ‘Our most likely scenario is … No Season at All.’

I believe the football term is piling on.

When you don’t have to pay your players if you don’t play, $150 million doesn’t come close to adding up for me.

Understand, I’m backing the CFL request, in principal.

I believe the government should be there to do whatever it has to do the cover the league’s ass to get through this.

While the focus again went elsewhere, Ambrosie did make some of the right statements once he got to them.

“We want the support we need to get through this crisis and not a dime more,” he said.

“Ours is a big brand but not a wealthy business,” he added, pointing out the teams collectively lose more per season than a single individual super star might make in another league. Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both make more than the salary cap covering the entire Edmonton Eskimos roster.

The league, Ambrosie said, lost between $10 and $20 million this past season.

An illustration of the situation the league found itself in pre-COVID-19 — mostly due to the economy — was hardly healthy.

One example he could have used was the Eskimos, long the league’s flagship franchise, have a healthy $11 million-plus rainy day fund that would give the team a chance to get through this. (Most of that money came from the sale of the Pacific Coast League Edmonton Trappers, but that’s another story.)

The Eskimos postponed their annual general meeting because of COVID-19 and have yet to produce the financial report. I suspect the team that usually leads the league in attendance likely lost more than a million dollars last season. It might be timely to produce it now.

The reality is that the CFL has never been a for-profit business.

Indeed, three of the teams, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg are all community-owned and specifically labeled not-for-profit entities.

And how much money has ultimate Canadian and B.C Lions owner David Braley lost doing his part to keep the league alive? Another not-for-profit owner, Bob Young in Hamilton, refers to himself as the “caretaker.” He’s definitely not in it to to make a buck, but to preserve the Tiger-Cats in the memory of his brother, who grew up living and dying with the team.

Along the way, the guy-next-door CFL players do more for the community than the big money players of the other sports because of the time they have available and because of the Champions in the Community cultures most of the CFL teams have had for most of their history.

To me, the biggest reason for the government to be there for the league during this time is that the CFL has always been a significant slice of Canadiana that somehow manages to survive from season to season to provide our nation with its biggest annual sports celebration every November.

I’ve covered 47 Grey Cups and watched the CFL on the verge of folding going into several of them. Two of the greatest Grey Cup games ever played, the 1987 Edmonton win over Toronto and the 1989 Saskatchewan win over Hamilton, I swear, saved the league.

It’s a league you just can’t kill. And I believe that would remain to be the case coming out of this.

But this league deserves government support in this situation for everything it has given to Canadians in the past. But a much better approach would be to get something worked to cover the league in the event of losing a significant portion of this season and get a work-together commitment to keep the door open in the event the entire season is lost without the ultra worst-case scenario of losing $150 million, which I believe to be way too high.

And, for the record, I’m still betting the league will get an eight-game season in.

E-mail: tjones@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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