Fans aren't the ones who need convincing of CFL's global 2.0 initiative
Currently crisscrossing the country on his latest instalment of Randy’s Roatrip, Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been busy this month engaging fans and media while continuing to promote his grand vision of CFL 2.0.
But with his stop in Edmonton this week, it’s become apparent that if he truly wants to grow the game globally, he might just be better off focusing his efforts internally instead of out.
Travelling coast to coast in hopes of expanding both minds and borders to Canada’s version of the gridiron game with his 2.0 strategy, Ambrosie aims to see a growth in fans and, eventually, revenue from other countries as well as reaching potential new fans in Canadians from diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
A big part of that would be having them feel a connection to newly emerging global players, as they’ve been coined.
But for that to happen, they’d have to start seeing the field first, and in more than just routine special-teams roles and backup work.
And if that’s the case, perhaps it isn’t those of us outside of the league who need the most convincing of the merits of his planet-wide plan, but Ambrosie’s own head coaches and general managers.
It’s not enough for the idea to be embraced at the club level if the actual football operations side of things aren’t going to take it seriously, since that’s where the rubber meats the road if any traction is hoped to be gained in having global players become more than just window dressing on a roster.
As it stands, some teams seem to be taking the movement more seriously than others.
Take Saskatchewan Roughriders offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas, for example.
Heading into last year’s regular-season finale in Regina as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, his depth chart listed Diego Viamontes Cortera as a starting receiver.
Already the informal poster boy for CFL 2.0 after becoming the first player chosen in the first draft held outside of Canada’s borders, the former member of Mayas CDMX in Mexico’s Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional was on the verge of adding another first to his resume as the inaugural global player to start in the regular season.
But when game day rolled around, he didn’t even see the field on offence, instead relegated to returning three punts for 44 yards and a missed field goal 25 more.
So, never mind starting. He didn’t even get a chance to play a single offensive snap. Hardly the opportunity that warranted headlines such as ‘Esks’ Diego Viamontes becomes first global player to start,’ which appeared on the CFL’s own website and social media accounts.
But in reality, the on-field advantage of the CFL’s global initiative has been much less substantial.
“When we have global players, we have to find a way to get them on the field,” said Chris Presson, who took over as Eskimos president and CEO in September. “I think the challenges around it is we’re in the developing phases of what that looks like and making sure that, regardless of nationality, we’re putting the best players on the field and I think that will be, at this point, something that we will continue to work on.”
In terms of ratio rules, which dictate how much Canadian – and now global – content must make up a roster alongside Americans who have benefited from playing in an NCAA system that is unmatched anywhere else in the world, the requirement will be for teams to go from one to now two global players on their active roster for the 2020 season.
But that still doesn’t necessarily mean they will see more of the field and help advance Ambrosie’s globalized goal.
And while it’s been slow to develop, the commissioner is steadfast in his 2.0 stance.
“The internationalizing of sports has actually been a real attraction to the Millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y,” Ambrosie said of the generational gap currently affecting attendance throughout sports, not just the CFL. “So that’s obviously part of our overarching strategy, is to create a league that’s bigger, that’s more global because we know that has an attraction to young fans.
“There’s a lot of positive things going on all designed around the vision of being the biggest global football league in the world.”
At the conclusion of his road trip, Ambrosie will be meeting with representatives from all nine teams in Toronto on March 17, where the clubs will present their business plans for the upcoming season. As for what the various football ops will be up to, we’ll have to wait until the preseason kicks off Sunday, May 24, with the Eskimos on the road against the defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge