CFL & XFL: what does the future hold?

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A Wilson football in focus. Marco Verch (Flicker)

Looking at developments in the NFL.

In an announcement that came on March 10 regarding future opportunities for two franchises, the CFL and XFL are currently exploring options which may result in a potential partnership.

Due to the vagueness of the discussions that are currently happening, there is a wide amount of speculation as to what will actually be the result of a possible partnership between the two organizations.

To try and clear the air around the current situation, I reached out to Regina Leader-Post Sports Editor, Rob Vanstone, who was available for comment.

“The tough part right now,” said Vanstone “is trying to figure out what it is that we’re critiquing or voicing an opinion on. Because all the wording is so vague. And it’s contradictory. The league puts out this announcement saying that ‘okay, they’re doing this’ and obviously it’s a big deal if they’re putting out a media release. But at the same time, they’re downplaying virtually all the questions that arise from it.”

The talks between both leagues can be summarized a bit via this quote from CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie (which can be found on the CFL website).

“Canada has an exciting game and devoted fans,” said Ambrosie. “And our discussion with the XFL provides a tremendous opportunity to build on that strong foundation. We look forward to exploring how we might work with one of the most innovative sports brands in the world to grow the game, engage fans in new ways, and reach new audiences.”

At its very basic foundation, it sounds like things are at their most preliminary stage, and, whatever emerges from that stage, will be a more official discussion with regards to whether or not this ends up being a merger or something else entirely.

Vanstone continued with his own comments by addressing Ambroise’s statement.

“I mean,” said Vanstone, “Randy Ambroise has said that, basically, they’re talking about talking. Are they just going for lunch? Or are there serious things going on here? Are they down to real crucial issues? Both exist, sort of at a crossroads. The CFL after missing last year, they’re just trying to find a way to get on the field. The XFL is already folded twice under previous ownership. And they’re trying to find a way to get back on the field, and it won’t be nearly as soon as the CFL is trying too.”

One of the previous attempts Vanstone refers to goes back to 2001, when the XFL managed to run one successful season with a definite championship winner in the form of the Los Angeles Xtreme.

As things stand now, Vanstone would continue to discuss the “survival mode” situation that CFL and XFL find themselves in.

“I’ve been wrestling with this one for three or four days.” said Vanstone. “Am underselling it? Am I overselling it? You know, CFL diehards, and that constitutes about 99 per cent of the people that live in Saskatchewan. They have a right to kind of wonder what does this mean for the game that they’ve embraced and loved for so long? And it’s the automatic question to ask. But when the fundamental question is so quickly deflected, and left unanswered, all it does is spawn more questions.”

Whether or not this is the right move for the CFL to make is, as with everything else, up in the air.

Vanstone also commented on this and speculated that the sky’s the limit for the league.

“There’s nothing they should leave unexplored,” said Vanstone, “because they’re fighting for their survival. And if you look at the principles involved in the XFL, there’s lots of money there. There’s lots of profile, and there’s 10s of millions of Twitter followers. So they’d be foolish not to do what they’ve done. But, you’ve got to leave no stone unturned right now.

“I don’t begrudge them a second for talking with them.” continued Vanstone. “It’s just my concern would be ‘how far do you go, if you were somewhat absorbed by this league’? How far do you go in association with them? In order to tap whatever resources you may need to sustain yourself. But, if you do that at the expense of your game, you’re probably no further ahead. I like it in terms of principle. Obviously, what they have done to this point, while keeping the league afloat has led to a different prosperity. There’s every reason to reach out to other people who play this game.”

Looking more towards the future and speculating on what it could possibly hold, Vanstone had this to say.

“I get the feeling that in a year,” started Vanstone. “We’ll be wondering why we made such a big deal about this. I just wonder if it’s practical to do this. The CFL has to be enticed by the kind of money that the front people with that group have. What does the CFL need right now that prevented them from being able to play last year? Oh, about $30 million as a minimum. But when you’re looking at the XFL, and they’re trying to find a way to sustain themselves, I’m not sure really what they can pluck from the Canadian Football League is going to be beneficial to them.”

“And by contrast,” continued Vanstone, “I’m not sure what, aside from money, the CFL can get for the XFL that’s going to help their game. If the CFL is going to get a significant amount of money from the XFL it may or will likely entail to some sacrifices and some compromises being made. And if you’re compromising the nature of your game, maybe that would appeal to some people. Maybe a new look to the CFL might attract a different demographic, but at the same time, would it repel the fan base of the CFL has developed over years? … if they’re just going to put a product out there, that’s four down football, and 100 yard field, and a narrow field, and fair catch, et cetera, et cetera. If you’re just doing that, I think people are just gonna say, ‘Well, that’s the case, I’m gonna watch the NFL, that’s the highest brand of football played’.

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