Opinions: Why U.S. Expansion Died

It was a bold move to say the least when the CFL expanded into the U.S. in the mid nineties..

What were the reasons for it's eventual demise?

i.e. poor locations, CFL name, season timelines/NFL intersections, lack of U.S. TV/carrier exposure, product on the field etc etc etc etc ?

Personally, I feel the Canadian game itself is one of the most exciting sports worldwide, and had thought U.S. citizens may grasp the same concept regardless of the lack of hype and glitz associated with most U.S. sports....Guess I was sorely misstaken..


The worst part was the American teams played with different rules and had a huge advantage! They didb,t have to use the import rule which made the whole league a joke !

The worst part was the American teams played with different rules and had a huge advantage! They didb,t have to use the import rule which made the whole league a joke !
I never knew that..interesting..

Were there any other nuances/differences in the game at that time? Did they use Canadian regulation field sizes in the U.S.?

Alot of the Team where Based in South East where they never seen the game
They where use to US Collage ball and NFL 4 Downs

They only way it may work is to keep boarder Cities

Similar sentiments here re: border cities may work..

NFL-Free Municipalities such as Spokane Wash, Milwaukee Wisc, Hartford Conn, Portland Or, Columbus OH may be decent locations due to border proximities and possible previous/current CFL television and media exposure.

Americans have no idea what they are missing!

I agree. The league went a little too far south when it expanded. If you look for border states that don't have an NFL franchise, you might attract some teams that'll stick around. I think states like Maine and North Dakota that don't have any teams at the pro level (unless I'm forgetting a team) might embrace it, much like Saskatchewan embraces its team or Atlantic Canada (probably) would.

It didn't work because they plowed ahead and accepted the first barnum and bailey owners that came along. Anybody who had a 100k deposit could get a team. It attracted cheap businessmen and the league came off looking more bush than ever with these circus franchises like Vegas and Shreveport.

That and the fact that the league did no homework concerning US Labor laws which messed up the ratio rules giving US teams an unfair advantage.

Pretty good Wiki page on it-


So how does this fit with the end of the Arena football league, the XFL, the USFL, etc? The USFL in particular never gained traction and it's not because Americans "don't understand the game".

There's a much simpler explanation that is summed up nicely from the wikipedia article: "Teams like Birmingham and Memphis began with promising crowds comparable to their Canadian counterparts, but saw attendance plummet with the onset of the college football season."

Maybe Americans already have two levels of football they're happy with (NFL and college) and don't have much interest collectively in anther one. That's going to be doubly true if the season overlap. If you're prepared to have the CFL play entirely in the NFL offseason then it might have a shot in some cities, but you have to get past the "why should I care?" factor first.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the CFL put one team in Portland, Oregon and one team in Portland, Maine (their respective states' largest cities), and the Ottawa Rough Riders were still in the league? "Tonight's CFL games feature Portland vs. Portland followed by Roughriders vs. Rough Riders".

With th exception of Baltimore and Sacremento to a degree, the league had to stay close to our border and make sure any US cities did not have other major league competition.
The CFL team must be the only team in town, like the awesome success of the Riders.
I still say it can work with this criteria.

Did you know that the NFL changed several rules for the 1994 season, a year after American CFL expansion (Sacramento Goldminers)


Correct on bad locations, bad owners, bad stadiums (with improper sized fields), and a leap into an expansion that seemed determined to happen without any attention to detail and a solid business and marketing plan.

But, the US labor laws were fully known and understood all along that you can't possibly enforce a Canadian (non-import) rule on a US employer.

This was a pretty big mess up, along with the fact that US teams paid players in US currencies, but same dollar cap. This meant that the US players got paid over 30% more. These unlikely had anything to do with a lack of success though, as if anything it game them an advantage.

The fact it had "Canadian" in it likely did not help...anyone recall Canadian Tire attempts to expand in the US?

I also agree on location location location. Teams played in stadiums that had too small of a playing area for the CFL. Also, why on earth would you expand to the deep south? The majority of the teams went south where US style of football is HUGE. I mean, come on, towns essentially shut down for High School ball never mind NCAA and NFL competition. This was set up for failure from the start...MAYBE if other cities had success for a few years and they creeped in it would do ok...still can't see it.

I still believe that the CFL could succeed in the US though, but wiser location selections would be required...Portland, Bismark, Billings (maybe), Fort Wayne, Maine, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake, Albuquerque. It is more a matter of are their sufficient facilities to play there?

Baltimore was a big success...funny...most Norther location huh. It was successful enough that the NFL awarded a team there.

I posted this on a similar thread in 2008:

The 1993-1995 "US Experiment" failed, a view that I think many Canadian CFL fans agree with & are even short sightedly happy about. I think the CFL's 90's expansion to the USA was amazingly ill-conceived, out of a desire to rake in some quick & easy expansion fees. Planning of this experiment, if there was any at all, bordered on the non-existent. The American cities involved were all very far from Canada in Southern & Western cities with no affinity for Canada at all, no sense of familiarity or of being neighbors. This is a sense I can tell you is very well developed in Ohio, my native home state; where people vacation, honeymoon & fish in Canada all the time. It's also even stronger in places like Michigan & New York, where Canadian TV can be seen, & the CFL & Canada are things that are familiar.

My point here is that expansion to the USA could have been a wild success in every city it was done in, not just the fluke of Baltimore trying to prove to the NFL that it could & would support a team if given another chance. By expanding only into US cities & areas that are close enough to Canada to have an affinity for it, the CFL would have had a much better chance to grow support for its game, and with that get a lucrative TV deal of some sort in the bordering states (to start with at least, perhaps grow that out farther with time)

Cities like Rochester NY, Spokane WA, Boise ID, Fargo-Moorhead ND-Minn, Portland Maine, maybe even Anchorage Alaska, all of which have no current professional major league sports would/could probably have a genuine fanaticism ala' Saskatchewan for a CFL team, if an expansion was handled right & marketed well. (Please dont bring up the "Import Quota". The US and Canada could work out a Trade Exemption for all teams US & Canadian alike to have even playing conditions roster wise. Nations do this kind of thing all the time. Or, perhaps Canada has some field they could allow comparable US employment in, in exchange for the employment of Canadian football players by a US team or teams. People always cite the Import Quota as a deal killer, almost invariably without mentioning even the possibility that the 2 governments could work something equitable out.)

Whatever else you want to say about it, growing interest in the game anywhere you can is a good thing. Maybe the hard-core Canadian CFL fans dont think so, but I can guarantee you the owners & Commissioner do. (Or should, if they are smart.) Money always talks, despite wherever it comes from. If I can sell CFL merchandise in quantity in the States, or get a TV contract from there that lines my pockets as a CFL owner with more $$, I'd have to be insane to say no to that. The NFL wants to grow interest in IT'S game in Canada, in Mexico, in Europe, in South America, in Asia, wherever it can. One day there will probably be Penguins in Antarctica sporting "Minnesota Vikings" (or even "Duluth Eskimos") Classic NFL Sweatshirts or jersies.

Meanwhile, readily accessible CFL TV in the USA, (which failed back in the 1950's. Failed because people got tired of watching the "Big Four" Eastern teams play each other all the time. NBC's TV deal, signed at the height of the Canada-NFL playing signing war, was only with the "Big Four" which was just the Eastern teams, Hamilton Toronto Montreal and Ottawa. This was prior to the combination of the late 1950's with the WIFU that led to "The CFL".) is virtually non-existent. Today there are 8 teams in the league with 1 more coming. The old and tired joke "All the teams are called the Rough Riders!" , one that I just heard Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio say in all seriousness! very recently to diss the league isnt even valid any more, & hasnt been for a long time. Isnt it about time that people, especially media people; outside Canada KNEW that?

I think the CFL should aggressively & intelligently do whatever it could to sell the game anywhere it can. The logical place to start is in the massive market right next door. You dont have to sell out your game & your pride in Canadian culture to do that. It's gotta beat the 25 years & still counting wait for someone with money, be it a corporation, an individual or a community group, or the Federal or Provincial Governments to decide that a NEW CFL team (& more importantly, a real CFL quality Stadium of 30 to 35,000 seats, with of course; the Grey Cup expansion room.) in Halifax, or Moncton or Quebec City, etc etc or anywhere else in Canada besides Ottawa or Montreal is a viable business opportunity. The League hasnt expanded to a new Canadian city since 1954. Quite frankly, it doesnt look like it soon will. Its time to do something smart to try and grow interest in the game.

I just thought it was Rod Black’s fault :expressionless:

Unfair advantage of the import rule not used in the states made the league a 2 tier, didn't like what the CFL became, when the league went back to Canada I was so happy. That feeling of we got our league back was so special I personally am happy with an all Canadian league period. Nine or ten teams is good enough for me, I watch the games to see my team win not how many different teams they play.

It was Larry Smith's fault. :?

from Wikipedia:
“Although the league originally intended to only place teams in the areas within driving distance of Canada, it turned out to be the exact opposite. All but two of the CFL USA teams were based south of the 37th parallel north; the northernmost team was based in Baltimore, Maryland, 375 miles (600 km) from the Canada–United States border.”

Interesting. So the CFL had originally planned only U.S. border franchises, yet made a grave error in judgement.

I wonder if we’d still have U.S. teams today, if CFL kept to the seminal business plan?

I wonder if we'd still have U.S. teams today, if the NFL had not gone back to Baltimore?