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  • Reeve Batstone

A Backup Plan

A few weeks ago, Toronto’s presumptive starter, Chad Kelly, was interviewed on Barstool Sports podcast, Pardon My Take. The last high-profile CFL QB I can remember being interviewed on Barstool was Johnny Manziel. It prompted a few questions for me.

Chad Kelly is a talented quarterback, and notwithstanding an impressive Grey Cup cameo, the 29-year-old signal caller has never started a meaningful CFL game. Should he be given an opportunity to start? Absolutely. However, the Argonauts have an awful lot riding on his success and would be well advised to mitigate their risk. With the notable exception of QB they have assembled the best roster in the league on paper. It’s a Grey Cup-worthy roster and perhaps the best one they have had in at least 20 years. The football management has done almost everything right over the last three years. It would be a shame to see that get de-railed by lack of success or injury at QB.

Experience tells us that unless you have a uniquely resilient QB like McLeod Bethel-Thompson or Michael Reilly or the elusiveness of a Doug Flutie, you will surely need two experienced and competent CFL quarterbacks in the CFL. 18 games is a long season and everybody gets hurt. Kelly still has a lot to learn and they have no one proven behind him. This is a very risky situation although one would think that they don't need Kelly to win games, they just need him not to lose them. If they are to win the East, Kelly will likely need to throw more than 20 TDs with fewer than 15 INTs while starting at least 16 games. Can he do that? Possibly. What's the probability of it happening? Maybe 50-50.

If Kelly is successful in not letting his NFL aspirations get in the way of his focus on the Argos and leading his team to another East Division title, the management will look like geniuses. If he stumbles or gets hurt, everyone will wonder what might have been for a star-studded lineup.

In the meantime, I had a look at the USFL schedule the other day and couldn't help but notice that its regular season ends the middle of June with the championship played on Canada Day. Incidentally, MBT is 3-0 with 6 TDs and 1 interception after three games in New Orleans...

Monopoly Money

The CFL announced a TV deal with CBS Sports this past week. The deal is reportedly worth $1 million for 34 games. While modest, its a symbolically important deal because it signals that the CFL may be moving away from its sole-source awarding of TV and streaming deals. Until now they have allowed TSN to be their monopoly platform provider. This is a very good sign as their television, streaming and social media strategy is in dire need of renovation, if not re-invention. CFL television ratings on TSN have been in free fall for a decade, with up to two thirds of the decline attributable to cord cutting. Notwithstanding the Roughriders, had the Argonauts not been in last year's Grey Cup, viewership would have almost certainly fallen below three million. Streaming numbers are not publicly available which has been speculated to be due to modest viewership. It is my evidence-free speculation that the addition of Victor Cui and Pierre Karl Peladeau may have influenced this decision as they appear to be the most savvy media executives/governors in the CFL. TSN is partly owned by ESPN. They must be wondering where this is going. Not necessarily a bad thing for the CFL.

In the US, ESPN’s CFL audiences were small, but still generally larger than MLS draws south of the border. Meanwhile MLS scored a huge $250 million streaming deal with Apple TV. One would hope that Genius Sports has been contracted to land something similar for the CFL. $1 million from CBS is a downpayment on a three-bedroom bungalow in Canada's two largest cities. Let's hear less hyperbole about Genius and see a multi-million-dollar deal for TV and streaming south of the border. Americans love football, they care less about soccer. The CFL has a thirsty market on the shoulders of the NFL season.

If Genius can't find an owner for a maritime franchise or an American streaming deal, the CFL needs to find an American firm that can. This should be low hanging fruit for what is essentially a 110-year-old league. The MLS is the 25th best soccer league in the world. The CFL is the second-best forward pass league in the world on the top of a football-mad continent. Them's the facts.

Canada First

The CFL should take a page out of the old marketing book of Petro Canada. Canadian football players are killing it south of the border (and at recent Grey Cups). Last year at this time the CFL was gaslighting Canadian players in an effort to negotiate down the ratio and lower salary costs. Meanwhile, Canucks are getting drafted in the NFL, and the Grey Cup overfloweth. It’s time the CFL wakes up and realizes that instead of spending precious dollars on its ill-fated Global hallucination, it needs to double down on the development of Canadian players who do not see the CFL as simply a staging area to return to the NFL. Canada is their home.

Is it possible that the galvanization of support for the return of SFU football is a watershed moment for Canadian football? Time will tell, although the SFU administration is doing its best to run out the clock.

The CFL got press for announcing it had contributed $3.1 million to amateur football last year. It sounds like a lot but it's only a little over $300,000 per team and some of this is "in-kind." My recollection is that Amar Doman makes up a singularly disproportionate amount of the donations. $3.1 million is certainly a start, but there is still more individual teams and the league as a whole can do for amateur football.


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