Friday, June 3, 2011

Doug Ford's bungling of NFL talks may help the CFL

Friend of the blog Brad Gagnon posted a rather interesting interview over at Goal-Line Stand Thursday, speaking to Toronto councillor Doug Ford about plans to try and attract an NFL team to the city. Ford made some rather bold statements, including saying that two teams (Jacksonville and New Orleans) "are kind of in play here," and that the NFL "can't keep ignoring a market this size." Funnily enough, though, Ford's comments themselves might be further disincentive for the NFL to stay away; his comments about New Orleans in particular hit a nerve, forcing the team to issue a quick denial, and he had to make a public apology in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (That hasn't stopped him from getting plenty of hate mail from Saints' fans, though).

This obviously isn't the first time this has come up, as the NFL in Toronto has been a matter of debate for years and took on a new life in 2007 when the league announced the Buffalo Bills would play a series of exhibition and regular-season games north of the border. Since then, putting a full-time NFL team in Toronto keeps coming up, even if each regular-season game on its own isn't necessarily a portent of doom. Much like Ford's comments, though, just about every move that's been made to try and promote the idea of an NFL franchise in Toronto has backfired to some extent; the Bills in Toronto series has frequently underwhelmed from both an attendance and revenue point of view (attendance has been better for the latest regular-season games, but there have been reports that many of the tickets have been freebies), and the team and Buffalo fans are both upset about losing home games to play in a neutral-site setting (where they've frequently been outnumbered by fans of their opponent). At first, the gradual annual incursions of the NFL appeared to be merely establishing a beachhead for an inevitable invasion, but they've met with enough resistance and apathy that the invasion may never come.

It's a similar story with Ford's comments. He does make some interesting points about potential renovations to Rogers Centre, including perhaps taking out the hotel or digging further down and lowering the field to put in more seats, and it's clear from what he's said that there still is substantial private-sector interest in bringing an NFL franchise to town. However, much like the comments made by Ford (pictured above right) and his brother Rob (the current mayor of Toronto) in January, these statements reflect some stunning misconceptions about the NFL, and they don't exactly portray the city leadership as the kind of competent group the NFL wants to be involved with. It would seem likely that a league that's obsessed with controlling the message wouldn't be all that thrilled with open speculation about two of its teams potentially moving, particularly one that just won the Super Bowl in 2010 and has received strong support from its fans.

It's also notable that for all their avowed interest, the Fords really aren't going to be heavily involved with getting an NFL team north of the border, particularly if they stick with their stance that "there isn't going to be one penny from taxpayers coming into this," (which would appear to fit in with the small-government, cost-cutting anti-gravy train approach they've consistently pushed). They do apparently enjoy getting involved with questionable football leagues, and they obviously have some political capital to use. They could help with potential municipal approval for stadium renovation or construction, but it's worth mentioning that whether an American football franchise would be allowed in Canada or not is something that's come up at a federal level before (and met with substantial resistance). The Fords can obviously lobby for a side there, but that doesn't mean their side will win.

The impact on the CFL of a potential NFL franchise in Toronto isn't particularly easy to calculate. On one hand, there would seem to likely be plenty of support for CFL teams in Saskatchewan, Calgary and other places with or without an NFL team in Canada. On the other hand, though, a strong Toronto franchise is arguably more important to the CFL than a strong average team, as Toronto is crucial as a media and corporate hub. The Argonauts could perhaps survive even with an NFL team in town, but their media coverage and corporate sponsorship would certainly decrease; that could also happen to the CFL as a whole, as the league would no longer have the unquestioned top football product in Canada. It's impossible to predict exactly how things would play out for the CFL if the NFL did set up a Toronto franchise, but the net impact would probably be negative. Although the chances of a Toronto NFL franchise don't appear all that high at the particular moment, they could still increase down the road. Thus, it might be a good thing for the CFL that Doug Ford's shooting off his mouth about the NFL with embarrassing results.

Kate Walsh Autumn Reeser Camilla Belle Blu Cantrell Jaime King

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