|Photo: Taylor Currie|
Here's some of what was said:
AMBROSIE'S OPENING REMARKS
- It's cold out there! Thanks everyone for coming out in the cold and that's because you're passionate Rider and CFL fans.
- We asked for feedback from the teams on what to talk about. It was clear in Calgary last week that the question was about CFL 2.0 and what's the significance of it? What does it mean long-term for the CFL?
- I'm often asked: Shouldn't you be concentrating on the CBA and the fate of the Argonauts instead? I say we can walk and chew gum at the same time. But seriously, the preparations for the CBA have been ongoing for many months. I've been on the players' side too. It's tough during the season. While the players were preparing, we were too over the past several months. We'll sit down in March and we'll negotiate a deal that's fair to the players and the league. That's ongoing.
- This new strategy was born out of the analysis of our old strategy. That was "one size fits all", treating all nine markets the same, but they're not. We needed strategies to address the differences in all the markets. Secondly, for a very long time we treated ourselves as living in the shadow of the NFL. The reality is we're 2nd out of 40 football-playing nations. We reached out first to Mexico and they are overwhelmingly-excited about opening their doors to the CFL. France, for example, has five million identified football fans. Why wouldn't we want them to be CFL fans? Why wouldn't we be the epicentre of international football?
- In 1996, 9.6% of the players in the NHL were international. Right now it's 30%. And they now earn 600% more than they did in 1996. Growing our league isn't just nice, it's important so that we can become a bigger, stronger league and one that attracts more talent when we're more competitive.
- Why would we take a backseat to anyone? That's my fundamental hypothesis.
- Another key point is at the heart of CFL 2.0. My brother played at the U of Manitoba like I did but his career ended after his 5-year run. At that point his career was over. If players from other countries are in that same position and have an opportunity to keep playing in a great league on the other side of the world, why wouldn't they? How cool would that be?
GENERAL MANAGER JEREMY O'DAY
- It's been exciting. The timing was interesting, as far as when you're taking over and how fast it took place. With free agency and preparing for the draft, it's been a whirlwind. You're putting in the same amount of hours before but you have a little more pull now.
QUESTIONS FROM THE CROWD
ARE THERE PLANS FOR A CFL VIDEO GAME?
AMBROSIE: At the league meetings in January, MLSE has hired an expert in the E-Sports world. There are more people playing E-Sports in Asia than there are people in North American. He shared with us how impressive our Football Frenzy game is. It's had roughly 600,000 downloads. We've shared it with countries around the world. We'd like to have kids from around the world playing it and have Football Frenzy be the epicentre for football around the globe. He said it's been very successful and we should stay focused on that.
WHAT ARE THE EXPECTIONS FROM THE LEAGUE?
CRAIG REYNOLDS: Randy knows the answer to this one: it's shifting the season. To Randy's credit, he's a man of action. That's been a big concern of ours here and the evidence is there. We were unable to sellout the first playoff game in this stadium and the weather was the only reason for that. That's our #1 with the league.
O'DAY: From a football standpoint, our main concern is the CBA and making sure we're able to work out a fair deal with the players. We've got a lot of confidence in Randy and his crew and hopefully the players have an open mind and can get it worked out.
AMBROSIE: The 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton will be played November 21 which is a week earlier than normal. TSN is a wonderful broadcast partner and they don't want to bump up against the Stanley Cup Playoffs. TSN is our biggest revenue partner by a long shot. Beginning in 2021 the whole season will move up one full season so that's a start.
As far as the teams go, we ask them to take off their 'team' hats at league meetings and come as a league partner. Football people are a little territorial. At times we've suffered on the business side as we've translated it the same way as we compete on the field. But now we have competition on the field and cooperation off of it.
IS THE LEAGUE SERIOUS ABOUT HEADSHOTS?
AMBROSIE: We are as concerned as you are. After what happened here in Regina to Zach Collaros, we added an 8th referee for the playoffs because that seemed like a rational short term reaction. A conversation started at the league meetings in January and is carried into the next meetings is what's the next iterations of officiating head-to-head collisions? Last year we were very heavy on players for headshots. Fined heavily. We were criticized but we have to be tougher on this. There is more work to be done. But it's a mistake to think this is a CFL issue. It's an all sports issue. We somehow are wearing the concussion issue more than any other sport and I find it frustrating. We are working on ways to make our game safer for kids. Parents aren't having their kids play the game and that's a very worrying trend because this game changes kids' lives for the better. Show me a sport anywhere that's as inclusive as football.
WHAT'S UP WITH HALIFAX?
AMBROSIE: Somebody mentioned to me this morning that this isn't the first time we've tried to put a team in Halifax but this time it's quite different. The last group had no money. None. This group includes Gary Drummond, Gary Leblanc and Bruce Bowser who've contributed substantial money to putting a team in Halifax. This group has committed $60-million to putting a team in Halifax. They are very committed. I can't say enough good things about what they're trying to do there.
There is great progress being made there but you're late in the fourth quarter and you're down by 5 points. We're getting a lot of first downs and the fans feel great but it's not going to matter unless you get the ball in the endzone. The real moment's gonna come when they get the stadium project done. But I can give you absolute confidence this group is invested heavily in making this happen.
ARE THERE MAJOR SPONSORS COMING ON BOARD?
AMBROSIE: I couldn't be more proud of the group of sponsors we have today. There's a natural rotation that happens in sports but many of our sponsors have been with us for a very long time like Shaw and Mark's. I'm happy to say we grew our sponsorship revenue league-wide in 2018. The 2.0 narrative is creating a new energy. Our new on-field partner is New Era. They were with us in Mexico at the combine and we had 87-million impressions on social media that week. I would ask you fans to share your energy and passion for the Riders and CFL football with your friends and families across the country. There used to be a huge export of people out of this province and that's a huge opportunity for us. When you get home, phone and ask those people to buy season tickets in whatever city they live in.
ARE EUROPEAN OR MEXICAN PLAYERS TO BE CONSIDERED NON-IMPORTS?
AMBROSIE: The question of how we'll categorize international players will be discussed with our players. We've been working with U-Sports for several months on building a relationship with them. I've visited with university head coaches along this trip. The York region in Ontario is getting down to just three high schools playing football. They're telling me it's getting harder and harder to find players to make them competitive. They're interested in attracting international athletes to play their sports. It's a whole big picture here that we need to wrestle to the game. We need to resurrect the game at the grassroots level in our country. We're going to roll out a program called Try Football to get footballs out into the hands of kids. We don't see as many kids playing football in Canada as we used to.
WHY THE TRIPLE-HEADERS?
AMBROSIE: We've been working hard with TSN on something that's been a central complaint for years and years and that's when are your games on? We've made a commitment to play Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Until Labour Day, teams are committed to that. Thursdays were our biggest success last year. We'll shift to a Friday and Saturday schedule in the fall and there will be no games on Sunday and that's because we want Canadians to know when we're playing. Regarding triple-headers, part of the challenge is stadium availability. BC and Toronto don't have first call on their facility so sometimes we end up jamming those games in. TSN has helped us sort that out.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO MARKET PLAYERS AS STARS LIKE THEY USED TO BE?
O'DAY: It's a very good point. We talk a lot about keeping our star players. It's a big challenge with our league. The players only have a short window for playing football. They can't do it for 20 years. They're playing because they love it, but also to provide for their families. When they have a good season, they have to look out for their families first. Part of my job is convincing those players to stay. My circumstance was to stay with the team, and sometimes that was passing on free agency. It is an issue that I see currently with our team. We want our players to stay and be great in the community. It's tough to buy a jersey so ideally you want those players for the long-haul. They make up the fabric of our jerseys. It's important for me but it's important to understand that players' loyalty is a lot of times to their family before the team.