CFL Pass

CFL to St. Louis? Sure, but let's not get gluttonous...

CFLpass first ran a piece on CFL expansion to the US in October, a couple of months before the always-inevitable decision to move the St. Louis Rams franchise to Los Angeles.

We’re rerunning it today now that “2016 Los Angeles Rams” is a certainty, but also due to the birth of an intriguing little website themed on creating a CFL team in St. Louis to fill the void left by the departing Rams.

CFL to St. Louis? Great, fantastic, amazing idea. Glad i thought of it.

But.

A cursory scan of the burgeoning website StLRamsCFL.com and subsequent coverage of the idea from Yahoo Sports among others displays quite a bit of wrong-mindedness and/or straightup fantasizing on the part of American fans. The race is on, apparently, to figure what other four, five or nine US cities would be great markets for CFL football, how divisions and scheduling would work, etc.

Yes, we’re taught by guys like this that, in the business world, thinking big (or yoooge) is good. But if sports history teaches us anything, it’s that over-expansion is death.

In professional football alone, we of course always have the example of the USFL. Before this dude came along to torch everything to the ground, the USFL was a rickety structure already. Finances were strictly hand-to-mouth by the end of season two and the prescribed solution was expansion in order to cash in on the fees for any owner who decides he could run a football franchise with neither prior experience nor acumen.

And who remembers af2? A developmental association put together by the Arena Football League and designed for mid-sized US markets was launched in 2000 with 13 teams, recorded attendance of 7,200 per game ... and immediately added *15* teams for the 2001 season and another *six* for 2002. By 2007, 13 of the 34 franchises of af2 season three had folded.

The AFL continued to pour money into the loss-leader af2, both leagues suspended operations due to bankruptcy in 2009, and the Arena League relaunched in 2010 – with 15 teams.

Not having learned the lesson, AFL franchises came and went as though through a revolving door over the next five years. Today, the league suffers from its expansion-fueled gluttony still: Would you believe the latest team to fold was the defending champion San Jose SaberCats?

The AFL will begin the 2016 season with eight teams. And, just to make things even more absurd, all eight teams make the playoffs.

Y’see, this is what over-expansion gets a football league. And all the CFL needs right now is *one team*. One gives the CFL 10 teams. And one is the number of markets in the US which could realistically host a professional football game immediately.

Simply put, then for the “tl;dr” crowd: Yes to CFL expansion to St. Louis. No to more teams thereafter.

The original piece on CFL expansion to St. Louis follows. It may also be found here.

Two not-so-modest proposals for CFL expansion
I realize that this is a topic of the sort best left for the offseason – but the combination of an offhand remark on last week’s episode of the 2 And Out CFL podcast, the weirdness of a five-game slate for week 14 and my own dedication to the St. Louis Rams got me to thinking about straightening out an imbalanced league in which Montreal is somehow competing for a spot in the West Division playoffs.

Thus, below runs the meat of a listicle with the shortest possible number of items – two – on expansion of the CFL to include a neat 10 teams. Please note that neither of these ideas might actually be feasible and thus should not be taken too seriously – unless you think that, I dunno, there’s a chance, maybe…?

1. Expand to the US. Wait! Hear me out here. Sure, on the whole the 1990s experiment of US expansion was an abject failure which could have bankrupted the league. I get it, but aren’t mistakes made to be learned from?

For example, even back then we – particularly those of us who had seen the USFL attempt to expand with multiple franchises well too quickly – all knew that throwing so many new teams into the mix simultaneously would at very least dramatically dilute the talent pool while promising no financial benefit to the league as a whole.

But.

When the CFL dipped a toe in the US waters in 1993, the only franchise added was the Sacramento Gold Miners. Admittedly, this market enjoyed the infrastructure and audience for the team provided by the then just-defunct Sacramento Surge of the WLAF (!), but nevertheless drew up to an estimated 16,900+ per game. And the ’94 Baltimore CFL Colts  football team Stallions were powered to success in part by capacity crowds hungry for football.

Surely a market like this exists today in the US. Several, even. Due to travel and such – said to have led to the collapse of the Gold Miners and a couple other US-based CFL teams – the most logical choices to found a new team might be upstate New York or Minnesota, but both of these regions have dominant NFL presences. Unfortunately, any US-based team would have to eat this added expense as part of the team operations budget.

Nevertheless, let’s press on. Sacramento probably isn’t a great choice, having nearly lost its NBA team a few years back. Las Vegas and San Antonio both hanker to score themselves some professional football, though neither has a great track record in hosting the sport, the latter having failed in both the USFL and the CFL. Investors in ‘Vegas, meanwhile, once toyed with the idea of creating an excessive stadium worthy of Sin City that could definitely be home to a 110-yard field – a problem late in the US experiment.

So how about Los Angeles? Travis Currah’s remarks on 2 And Out about rumors that the CFL-to-L.A. idea had been advanced to league higher-ups was scintillating, indeed, and attracting an audience in a media behemoth would not at all be difficult. Trust me: After 20 years or so of no NFL football, more than enough people to sell out CFL games are living in the Los Angeles/Orange County area. (Just ask Currah about the time he wore his Roughriders shirt in California.)

The NFL’s buzzards are circling the L.A. market, however, and it seems assured that the Rams will be playing in the big city in 2016. So how about St. Louis, which would be bereft of a team but still have a workable stadium plus designs on erecting another venue…? Well, maybe not.

In any case, should this wacky idea come to fruition – yeah, surrrrrrrre – the CFL should a) ensure that the national/international ratios hold, perhaps giving a US-based team sliding limits that get into line with CFL standards over a few years, and b) encourage a new team’s management to stock its roster with the maximum possible number of regionally-known players.

And BC Lions might finally get proper derby-game opposition.

Wait a second. What about Portland…?

2. A whole new concept in North American sports. Traditional expansion is so 20th century: Look for the biggest possible market, do a feasibility study or two, get a payment to the league, yawn.

In recent years, a number of locales have been put forth for CFL expansion, a list which includes London, Halifax, Moncton, Quebec City, Saskatoon and Windsor. These cities have been formally or informally ruled out at one time or another for various reasons, but let’s assume all six are at least quasi-suitable to host CFL games. Even if we omit Saskatoon, Quebec City and/or Windsor for geographic/marketing reasons, that’s still three or four potential home venues – so why not reward them all?

Here’s the concept: Let’s call the proposed team The Nomads (though the Wanderers, Barnstormers or Day Trippers might also work). The Nomads’ home base is set in a single location (probably London for geographic convenience), and each venue gets to host two to three “home” games during the season. To drive up attendance, Nomad home games whenever possible would be scheduled against the nearest local team.

Certainly if each of these six venues seeks to take on hosting duties for a CFL team, the local business interests could sell two to three CFL games per year, couldn’t they? Doesn’t every city deserve a special holiday designed to be dedicated to the CFL? (Besides Labour Day, I mean. And Thanksgiving.)

Heck, in a worst-case scenario, a single season of Nomads football could functionally serve as test-marketing, i.e. determining which of the potential venues is actually most capable of permanently hosting a successful 10th CFL franchise.

And the Alouettes might finally get proper derby-game opposition.

– written by Os Davis