The survival of professional football is at stake now in this current crisis. Full disclosure, I’ve had an intimate relationship with the league since dad bought season tickets to the Tiger Cats in 1952, moving to a 20 year career as play-by-play broadcaster in Hamilton and Toronto, and as mayor leading the construction of Tim Horton’s field. As well, a great-uncle played in the 1943 and 1944 Grey Cup games.
Despite its American content, the CFL is a unique Canadian institution whose impact on us is profound. Nothing in Hamilton for instance can bring over 20,000 people into our stadium 9 times a year, and thousands more in front of their t.v. sets. On another level, visits to McMaster Children’s Hospital by Tiger Cat players brings a kind of happiness that isn’t provided by the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball. Canadians will determine in their own minds the impacts the CFL has personally for them.
There is much discussion around economic spinoffs. Add to that, every CFL host city has infrastructure in the form of stadiums whose major tenant is a CFL team. In a couple of cases the funding formula for newly built stadiums is dependent on ticket sales to augment residential tax contributions.
We now have a proposal from the CFL commissioner which is well worth considering, but the real answer for this problem is a co-ordinated effort from all parties including the municipalities and provinces to bring into the discussion the broader considerations related to the league’s relationship to its fans, its cities and provinces along with the federal government. The CFL needs to get back to business as early as permissible because the long post-crisis recovery will need the reinforcement of familiar things, familiar activities, to help relieve the inevitable anxieties of a recessive economy. In the 1930’s this role to a great extent was played by the radio programs that brought even temporary relief from what were very hard times for so many, including members of my family.