What if the CFL never existed, and was being formed today?

Let’s pretend that the history of Canadian amateur football remains intact, as well as all other Canadian sports history, but for some reason, nobody thought to create a professional Canadian rules football league until today. How different would that league look?

Let’s pretend a group of interested investors from across the country get together and decide to start up a professional Canadian rules football league. They decide that each franchise is entitled to a 120 km radius exclusive home territory. They also decide that each franchise’s home territory must not overlap with another franchise’s territory, and a minimum population of 850,000 must reside within a prospective franchise’s 120 km radius home territory. They also determine that a bare minimum stadium capacity of 20,000 should be adequate, preferably more like 25,000 or more, especially in host cities with higher populations.

Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg get franchises. Victoria, Nanaimo, and Port Alberni on the island are well within Vancouver’s territory, so they can’t have a team. Saskatoon, being the larger and more central city in Saskatchewan, is briefly considered, thanks in large part to the Hilltops junior team being a national powerhouse, but it falls well short of the population requirement, and is deemed to not be a viable market for a pro team. Regina, with an even smaller population than Saskatoon, is not even considered.

Toronto is the priority market for a franchise in the East, since it is the commerce and media unofficial capital of Canada, and of course its population. Cities such as Peterborough, Barrie, Orillia, Oshawa, Brampton, Guelph, Kitchener, Burlington, St. Catharine’s, Brantford, and Niagara Falls are all Toronto’s territory. Even Hamilton, despite its proud amateur history with the Tigers and Wildcats, doesn’t get a pro team due to its’ far too close proximity to Toronto. Hamilton is part of Toronto’s territory.

Montreal is the next priority city, as the largest city in Quebec. Its territory extends up from the US border to Sherbrooke and Trois Rivieres, then over to Mont-Tremblant, and down to Thurso before catching the furthest Eastern edge of Ontario, passing through Casselman and down to Ingleside and Cornwall, to the US border near there.

Quebec City, Kingston, and Chatham, Ontario, centrally located between Windsor, Sarnia, and London, where all three would be within Chatham’s exclusive zone, are considered as possible locations for franchises, but none of these centres have a stadium that fits the nascent league’s capacity requirements. Ottawa is outside of Montreal’s exclusive zone, but too close to have a team since its exclusive marketing area would overlap with Montreal’s. Halifax, with a population of 615,000 within a 120 km radius, is too small for now, but is deemed to have great expansion potential, if an adequately sized stadium is ever built there, and the population grows to at least the agreed upon minimum.

So, if the CFL never existed before, and was to be started up today, it would probably only have six teams- Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in the West, and Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal in the East. Those would be the only cities with the right population, locationand infrastructure already in place to be able to support their teams.

Although you provide an interesting analysis, there is value in regional rivalries. Not placing a team in Ottawa just because the marketing radius overlaps with Montreal’s is a little ridiculous in my opinion. Having a professional sports team, one must also factor in cultural differences between markets. There is enough cultural difference between Montreal and Ottawa for both teams to have a team and in my opinion distant enough for marketing to not overlap. And even if they do, it is better for the league since it may expand the rivalry beyond the playing field. The same applies for your Toronto/Hamilton analysis. The fact that there are two teams in such proximity adds to the rivalry. You never questioned Calgary and Edmonton both having a team despite being in the same province, and look at how successful that rivalry is.

To answer your question, you need only to look at the Canadian Premier League, a professional soccer league which just started in 2019. They put 2 teams in the GTA, in Hamilton and in York Region specifically to create a local rivalry. They wanted Ottawa to join really badly but that did not happen, and there are discussions to put expansion teams in the Montreal area and in Quebec city. The NHL also has a team in both Ottawa and Montreal and there is no conflict of interest or marketing terrirtory. The English Premier League has 2 teams in Liverpool, 2 in Manchester and 6 in London (Arsenal and Tottenham have stadiums 6 km apart) and all these teams are very competitive and successful. It all depends on the culture of the sport in the city. If Canada had its own professional hockey league, there would be no problem having 6 pro hockey teams in the GTA and 2 in Montreal and 2 in Vancouver, it would make for excellent rivalries and very fiercly competitive games. Instead in North America we prefer to spread our teams out so far away, there is no sense of rivalry between them. You only need to look at the best rivalries in the NHL to know why there is so much hate between the two teams, and in European soccer how intense the local derbys are, you play for local bragging rights in a addition to the points in the standings.

Imagine if both Saskatoon and Regina had teams, or the atmosphere of a Montreal-Quebec City eastern final at Olympic Stadium, and all the media hype that came along with it?

In the end, all I can say is that with your vision of the CFL, if it were to start today would have very boring labour day classics.

I agree with a lot of what you say. Hamilton and Regina would not have a team, as these are considered small markets that would not increase TV revenues. However, I would posit that Winnipeg would also fit that category. Also, they would likely put a team in Ottawa just so that the nation’s capital is represented.
Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in the West; Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in the East.

Thank goodness history has given us the league we have now.

If the league were starting from scratch today, you would probably have a barely struggling to survive entity with players that would be playing for very little money.

The CFL really leverages it’s vast history (although sometimes they don’t take care or acknowledge it) into the level of success they currently enjoy.

That brand equity really helps them. Starting from scratch you would have none of these things. The league would be very semi pro in nature and probably not long for this world.

You’ve made a lot of arbitrary (and unnecessary in my opinion) assumptions though.


IMO if there was no CFL here by now there would never be. It is not an investment a capitalist would choose as an investment and the gov’ts would not be interested in funding anything.

Canada would probably hold 3 NFL franchises however. Montreal, TO and Van. With Edmonton and Calgary next up.

USport football would have stronger support probably.

…probably combined into an Alberta team with a stadium somewhere around Red Deer and train service to the stadium from each metropolis…

pretty much couldn’t happen today.

one of the many reasons is that when the CFL did start, there was no NFL to be subservient to and our dollar was stronger.

I think the best we could do as a startup now would be a semi pro flag or tag league.

…a football vacuum paired with canada’s multiculturalism would result in soccer becoming king of the summer sports scene…the MSL/CSL world would explode…

makes sense.

Agreed. Kind of pointless.

Inagural east teams today? Ottawa, Hamilton, Montreal, Halifax. Let Toronto beg for 40 years for a CFL team, as they have been for an NHL team for 50 years.

it would be more likely that the league would be begging Toronto to provide fans for a team.

Quebec City would get one in this scenario, no?

What if the CFL never existed, and was being formed today … it would never see a snap … look how difficult it is to find owners one team at a time … and to get approval to build stadiums