“We have world class athletes doing amazing things. Our games are fun and social – the place to be on many nights. And we play in new and newly renovated venues. The time has come to update and transform how we present ourselves,” Jeffrey L. Orridge said as he delivered his State of the League address to media gathered in Winnipeg for the 103rd Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
“Our great fans will be the first to tell you: we need more fans. And in particular, we need to attract the next generation of fans, so this league is strong for years to come.”
Orridge, who assumed his duties as Commissioner last April 29, said this new approach puts the spotlight on what is true and best about the CFL today.
“It respects the past but really invites in our fans of the future,” Orridge said.
He said the CFL can do this now because it has considerable momentum, with new stadiums, emerging young stars, and new technologies in place that allow it to engage avid fans and reach new ones in new ways.
And the CFL needs to do this now because the sports and entertainment industry is rapidly changing and the CFL can’t ignore the challenges presented by those changes, Orridge said.
The Ottawa REDBLACKS meet the Edmonton Eskimos in the 103rd Grey Cup presented by Shaw – the championship game of Canadian professional football -- this Sunday at 6:30 pm ET. The game is broadcast on TSN and RDS in Canada and ESPN2 in the United States.
During his address, Orridge touched on several topics.
Scoring was up this year, by a touchdown per game, thanks in large measure to successful rule changes, but several starting quarterbacks were injured, hurting their teams’ chances and, at times, the product.
“We owe it to our fans and our product to sit down in the off-season to take a careful look at this,” Orridge said.
The CFL has developed a proposal, with the help of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which would strengthen the league’s drug policy and resume testing for performance enhancing drugs. The proposal is now with the Canadian Football League Players Association.
“We’ve worked hard to strengthen the policy I inherited, so we can work with a credible lab and in the best interests of the health and safety of our players, and the integrity of our game,” Orridge said.
News for the Argos
One of the highlights of the year was the announcement of new local owners – Bell Media and Larry Tannenbaum’s Kilmer Group – for the Toronto Argonauts, and a new home for the team at BMO Field in 2016.
“There is tremendous potential for a new era for the Argos,” Orridge said.
Penalties were up 9 per cent, or almost two flags per game. In 2014, they were up 18 per cent over the previous year.
“Overall, our officials do a difficult job very well. But I say to them and I say to you: our best can always be better, and we will always work to get better,” Orridge said.
The CFL enjoyed the strongest year in its history for partnership sales, with the exception of the year of the 100th Grey Cup.
“We signed tremendous new partners, including Shaw, the first ever presenting sponsor of the Grey Cup,” said Orridge, adding the league is looking forward to 2016 and the introduction of adidas as its’ official outfitter of on-field uniforms, apparel and headwear.
There were consistent sell outs in Hamilton and Ottawa, just a few years after people questioned the strength of the CFL in Ontario, but fluctuation and softness in some markets. Attendance year over year was unchanged.
The league is looking forward to new stadiums being added in Regina and Calgary, and the Argos moving to a renovated home in Toronto, on top of the new or refurbished venues now in place in several other CFL cities, Orridge said.
Audiences for the CFL on TSN and RDS were down about 15 per cent, according to some measurements, the product of what Orridge called “a kind of perfect storm”: unprecedented competition from the Pan Am Games, FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Blue Jays playoff run, which displaced the Argos, tough seasons in CFL strongholds Regina and Winnipeg, and changes in viewership habits that are affecting the television industry overall.
“I believe that the fact an average of nearly 600,000 fans watched each of our regular season games speaks to our resilience,” Orridge said.
“Still, we would be irresponsible if we didn’t take this seriously. I know we do and so does TSN and RDS.”
The new brand campaign is a sign the CFL is optimistic about the future, Orridge concluded.
“We can showcase what we are today because we have a strong story to tell,” he said.
“Transitions, and transformation are not always smooth. But a bit of turbulence is something you go through at times of gaining altitude,” Orridge said.