CFL SHOWS FORESIGHT

CFL shows foresight
Monday, January 26, 2009
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With the economy where it is, who better to take on the Grey Cup than an Edmonton Eskimos club that can easily buy the gate for the requisite $3 million?

TAMPA – If you were the Canadian Football League, and like the rest of us, you weren’t sure what lay ahead in the markets, where would you put the next available Grey Cup?

The CFL’s big game made money in recent years in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. But what now, with the economy in free fall, where would you go?

Like a golfer with a tight lie and water up ahead, the CFL reached for a trusty old club, Sportsnet has learned, awarding the 2010 Grey Cup game to the Edmonton Eskimos.

Let’s face it: With the ‘09 game set for McMahon Stadium in Calgary, it was probably the Eskimos’ turn anyhow.

But with the economy where it is, who better to take on the game than a club that can easily buy the gate for the requisite $3 million and take the league off the financial hook at a time when the prudent decision has to be the right one for the CFL?

Truth be told, at a $3-million buy, it is a no-brainer now to make money on the Grey Cup. Big money – in CFL terms of course. The Eskimos can count on a profit of five or six million.

But in returning to Edmonton, where wildly successful Cups were held in 2002 and '97, the league is secure in knowing that its championship game, at least, will be in good hands for two consecutive years. The Stampeders have the game next November.

It is on the rarest of occasions that the CFL has been accused of showing foresight, but having back-to-back championships in Canada’s most economically sound province might give one the impression the league actually knew what it was doing. Don’t worry folks, they’ll disprove that by putting another team in Ottawa before long, we promise.

In the meantime though, the CFL can whistle past the graveyard that has claimed the Arena Football League and threatens so many other sports circuits. The league governors have held the line on their salary cap at $4.2 million, and of all the professional sports on the Canadian landscape, there isn’t one that can mix the level of exposure with the price threshold the CFL offers both fans and advertisers.

It is perhaps why the old girl catches a cold once in a while, but she never dies.

It’s a fallback position for Canadians, the CFL. Even in Hamilton, where the franchise has been troubled for so long that it seems like the norm, she has made it through another winter. They’ll throw another coat of paint on old Ivor Wynne this spring, and the Ticats will lose another dozen games in '09, a sad rite of passage in the CFL.

In Edmonton though, it’s different.

Sure, the team has had its struggles of late, but nothing like what other franchises have endured over the years. And though fans called for the heads of the front-office folks who run the team (into the ground, some say), there has never, ever been any question of whether the club could pay its bills or begin another season.

In fact, is there another team in the CFL with a suspected $9 million in its “stabilization fund”?

No, there isn’t. And by the time the 2010 Grey Cup is done, that fund will grow by 50 per cent.

Mark Spector is the lead columnist for sportsnet.ca