Q. Commissioner Cohon, welcome to the heartland of the CFL -- Regina, Saskatchewan.
A. Thanks, Rod. It's always great to be here. Especially in February!
Q. Well, you know this province only has two seasons: the off season, and football season. So let's talk about the CFL. The theme of this Congress is The Next 100 Years. Can you explain that?
A. The reason we chose that theme is we are squarely focused on the future of the CFL, and we're really excited about the future of the CFL. You know, last year we spent a lot of time celebrating our proud past, our history, and that's great. And we will always cherish our roots. But the time has come that we can confidently examine our present, and look to the future.
Q. It's interesting you say that, because 2012, and the 100th Grey Cup, are very tough acts to follow. How do you top that?
A. It's not a matter of topping it. It's a matter of building on it, of launching the next 100 years of the Grey Cup, and the CFL. We have so much to look forward to. Let's start with our product: what happens on the field. So many great, young stars have emerged in our league: Weston Dressler and Kory Sheets here in Regina, JC Sherritt, Andrew Harris, Chad Owens, Jon Cornish, Chris Williams and so many more. We often say our players are great guys.
We don't say often enough that they are great athletes and real stars. They've been setting new records – and new standards for excellence. So our future on the field is bright: that's where it all starts, with the exciting game of Canadian football played by elite athletes at the top of their game.
Q. Beyond the field, what has you excited?
A. Well, what's really exciting for our fans, and our business, is the stadium renaissance happening across the country. BC Place is clearly a state of the art facility now. We often talk about what a great place Molson Stadium in Montreal is to see a CFL game. A beautiful facility in the wonderful setting that is downtown Montreal.
Commonwealth Stadium is a world class building and, with their new field house, a great community resource. Well, now… we have the new Investors Field opening this Spring in Winnipeg. Look for us to kick off the season there. It's a little bittersweet, in a way, but Ivor Wynne Stadium has been demolished, and construction is about to begin on the brand new stadium in Hamilton. It will open in 2014. And so will a beautifully refurbished stadium in Ottawa, with our new team kicking off in the nation's capital, also in 2014.
And of course, here in Regina, they've done a great job of renovating Mosaic Stadium, but the big news is the new stadium, slated to open in 2017. We have such an opportunity here to really revamp the fan experience, to set the standard for the industry when it comes to what game day can and should be for fans. It can really transform our business. I've said to our board: we're a 35 million dollar business. How do we make it a 70 million dollar business in the next five years? New, modern facilities that look great on TV, sure, but really transform the fan experience in the stands, are a big part of that vision.
Q. You also mentioned TV. We're entering the final year of the TSN deal. We've heard rumours. What's the status of those talks?
A. I'm very confident that our next TV deal will be one we can be very, very proud of. We can't discuss details until a formal agreement is in place. But I can tell you, on this front as well, our future is very bright.
Q. That's important from a business point of view...
A. It's enormously important for our business, both from the standpoint of rights fees and the image our league projects to the world. And TSN has been a great partner. But I can tell you that putting "fans in seats" remains our core business. That's a big focus for my team and the Board of Governors. I know it's a big focus for this Congress. And I know it's a big focus for all of you. And it must be.
Q. And it's not as easy as it used to be, is it?
A. It's important to the future of the CFL, but we're not alone. It's an issue facing the entire sports industry. With high def TV's, and the ability to interact with the product online, and your friends through social media, all from the comfort of your couch, we need to work harder than ever to bring fans to the stadium.
We have to do more and more to connect with our fans, and make their experience in stadium truly memorable. We need to move away from activations that border on silly and have little to do with football, and integrate our fans and partners in the unique and exciting CFL game experience. We need to leverage our new facilities to connect fans in the stadium with each other, and with their fellow fans who aren't at the game, and with our teams and athletes.
We shouldn't fear social media. We should lead when it comes to social media. We should make sure our fans in stadium get everything fans at home get, and a lot more: stats, highlights, injury updates, wifi and networking and a whole lot more. g WE have to make the game experience so exciting, so much fun, that it's worth the drive to be there. Our attendance has been strong in most of the league, but it's also been essentially flat. That's encouraging, when you consider the industry wide trend is reduced attendance. But we need to buck that trend, and fill our stadiums.
Q. So when you look at the next 100 years, what do you see?
A. Exciting athletes playing a great game. A growing league with expansion to Ottawa and perhaps, someday, to Atlantic Canada or Quebec City – if the conditions are right. Strong attendance, ratings and corporate support. Proudly Canadian, but, if I can be so bold as to say this, a league that is perhaps not typically Canadian.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. Well, I love Canada, and I love that our league is proudly Canadian. But sometimes we're a little too self-deprecating in Canada, and in our league. The CFL is in such a great place, and we have so much to look forward to, we should march into our next 100 years with just a bit of a swagger. Not arrogance – that's not who we are. But confidence. We often say at meetings like this that the CFL brand is authentic (we've been around a long time), affordable (a family can experience our game), and accessible (our players really connect with our fans and our communities.)
Well, I'd like to add another brand attribute that we need to embrace, and that's "aspirational". We must aspire to more than growth. We have to aspire to true greatness. When I look at our young stars, our new stadium projects, our business strength, our return to Ottawa and the prospect for further expansion, I see almost limitless potential.
We have a right to be proud. Not blind to our challenges, but proud of how far we've come and how far we can go. And we should be confident. Not cocky. But confident of our place in Canada, and the future of the Canadian Football League. As Canadians, we tend to be a little self-deprecating, sometimes, and we can take the things that are close to us, like the CFL, for granted. At our worse, we take shots at those things that are uniquely Canadian. Well, we in the CFL, should project confidence.
We should allow ourselves to move forward with a bit of swagger. We've earned that. We have a lot of work ahead of us – work we're tackling here at Congress. But we have so much to look forward to, we should move forward boldly, and confidently, as we launch the next 100 years.