OTTAWA - Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie held his first-ever State of the League Address at Grey Cup Week in Ottawa on Friday morning. He opened with a slick promotional video for the CFL, and the info contained is near the bottom of this post.
Here are some notes from his address and Q&A session with reporters:
1 - The Winnipeg native has been looking forward to this event since the day he was hired on July 5. He said that was the proudest day of his life, and the past five months have been the most amazing of his life.
2 - Ambrosie admitted that due to his late hiring, he hasn't gotten to know the league's GMs and Coaches as well as he'd like, but that'll come this off-season.
3 - Very quickly he got to the topic of concussions, saying that they are indeed injuries and are brain trauma. The Commissioner said the CFL is constantly looking for ways to treat and manage these injuries. "We are going to rely on science," Ambrosie said. "But right now the science is very unclear. Inconclusive." He noted that concussions aren't confined to football; they span a variety of sports including diving, gymnastics, hockey and soccer for instance.
4 - Ambrosie feels the CFL can be 2-3 times bigger as a league (business) and there's no reason why every stadium can't be full for every game. "Our product is worth watching," he said.
5 - There are two seasons in the CFL: football season, and business season. The business season starts on Monday.
6 - Ambrosie said they'd like to activate a data stragey, a centralized ticketing system, and utilize data to tell them what their business is on a daily basis.
7 - The Commissioner said he's "very worried" about the stadium situation in Calgary, saying the greatest team over the past 20 years in the CFL plays in one of the poorest stadiums. "That's a tragedy," Ambrosie said, and used the term "terrible".
8 - Regarding moving the regular season up, Ambrosie said that's a Top-3 question that he gets from CFL fans. "We should look into it," Ambrosie said. "And there are a lot of reasons to do it." He referenced potentially playing the Grey Cup in October as early as 2019.
9 - The Commissioner said officiating is the #1 criticism of all leagues and that "it's always going to be tough". The speed of today's game makes it very difficult for the officals. "We're so proud of some of the innovations we employ," Ambrosie said. "Officiating is the integrity on which our league sits." He said they need to talk to CFL officials this off-season to see where the gaps are in their training, and that the Command Centre needs to be revisited. It was designed to fix egregious errors, not make the perfect call. "I'm proud of our officials," he concluded. "It's a super tough job."
10 - Regarding expansion to Halifax, Ambrosie said the resources of the Halifax ownership group (including Gary Drummond and Anthony Leblanc) are "a game-changer". Ambrosie said the situation is very positive and a team in the Maritimes will open all kinds of doors for the CFL.
CFL AIMS TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS
OTTAWA — The Canadian Football League is strong and looking towards an even brighter future, says Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
“Our mission is to take our league to even greater heights,” Ambrosie told those at the annual State of the League news conference today in Ottawa.
Five months into his tenure as the league’s 14th Commissioner, Ambrosie highlighted some key metrics:
- It is expected that one in three Canadians will watch at least part of the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw on TSN and RDS this Sunday at 6 pm ET.
- Two million fans attended a CFL game this year.
- 2.4 million watch the CFL on TSN and RDS each regular season weekend.
- Playoff ratings for the divisional semifinals were up seven per cent and ratings for the divisional finals were up 15 per cent from a year ago.
- Offensive scoring is up 19 per cent and penalties are down 14 per cent since 2014.
- The league has seen $2 billion invested in recent years in new and improved venues, including the opening of the new Mosaic Stadium this year in Saskatchewan.
- Fans are engaging with the league online like never before, with 20.7 million video views this year on CFL social media channels; 25 million page views on CFL.ca; 175,000 fans playing some form of CFL fantasy and 60,000 downloads of the league’s CFL Football Frenzy mobile game.
Ambrosie cited several new steps forward for the league in 2017:
- the launch of its Diversity is Strength campaign, which brought a message of inclusion to the CFL’s own sidelines and events with youth, including a #BringItIn Rally with hundreds of local school children here this week.
- the introduction of Mark’s CFL Week, a fan- and media-friendly offseason showcase for the league’s leading players and top prospects;
- the mid-season decision to improve game flow by reducing coaches’ video challenges to one per team per game;
- the CFL NFL Flag Football tournament for youth that included competitions in every CFL city and culminated in a championship played here this week.
- an unprecedented agreement with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association to ban full contact practices during the regular season plus an extension of the season to reduce the number of short turnarounds between games.
“The health and safety of our players is of paramount importance to us,” said Ambrosie, who played in the CFL for nine seasons and was a member of the Edmonton Eskimos team that won the Grey Cup in 1993.
Addressing the issue of concussions in sport, Ambrosie described as “state of the art” the league’s approach to promoting awareness among players and working to prevent, diagnose, assess and treat concussions.
He vowed to continue to work with experts in the medical and scientific communities as research evolves.
He praised the work CFL teams and players do in the community, including the Be More Than a Bystander program that combats violence against women, Purolator Tackle Hunger which supports local food banks, CP Has Heart and its efforts to promote heart health, and many more.
On the prospect of the CFL adding a tenth team, Ambrosie confirmed an “enthusiastic and credible” group has come forward with hopes of securing a franchise for Halifax. But he stressed that discussions are in the early stages and a lot of work has to be done before any decisions are made.
“I know this can feel like unfinished business for many Canadians and especially our fans,” he said.
“But we must do our due diligence to ensure any expansion would make our entire league stronger over the long term.”
The Calgary Stampeders will face the Toronto Argonauts Sunday in the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, which will also feature a half-time performance by Shania Twain.
To be played here at TD Place Stadium at Lansdowne Park, the home of the Ottawa REDBLACKS, the Grey Cup is the biggest single day sporting event in Canada and one of the country’s most watched events of any kind.