CFL Pass

Manitoba, Saskatchewan make bids to become CFL hub

Mere hours after Manitoba threw $2.5 million at the Canadian Football League, Saskatchewan raised the stakes with a $3-million proposal to act as a hub city for the 2020 season.

If there is one.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister on Monday morning announced a pledge to the CFL that would help the league pay for meals, transportation, practice field rentals and accommodations at Winnipeg hotels if the provincial capital is chosen as a hub city for a truncated 2020 season. Pallister also said the Manitoba bid would have competition.

“The opportunity to host the CFL season isn’t something that we want to punt to Saskatchewan or have intercepted by Hamilton,” he said.

By early afternoon, the Saskatchewan bid for Regina to act as a hub went public, and hours later the $3-million figure surfaced.

There may also be a bid from Hamilton and Burlington, as Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod said in late June the CFL had considered those cities as hub sites.

The Manitoba bid hasn’t been submitted, and is in fact “theoretical” according to Pallister, since the league has not announced its intention to go forward with a 2020 season. Pallister said he was told by league officials there is still time to work on bid details because the CFL and members of the CFL Players Association are still negotiating collective bargaining agreement terms for a return to play.

The CFL’s self-imposed deadline for a deal is Thursday. A source told Postmedia last Saturday that the league’s player relations committee and CFLPA executive have scheduled negotiating meetings for Monday through Thursday, and could agree to push the deadline to Friday if further talks are necessary.

On Monday, commissioner Randy Ambrosie told Postmedia he is optimistic that a deal can be reached in time.

“The one thing that gives me optimism is the quality of the discussions we’re having. I can’t point to an outcome, but I can tell you I think it has gotten a lot better. I think the conversations with players have been really good, very constructive, very thoughtful, very positive. From my perch, that’s a big thing.”

The league told the CFLPA it needs federal government funding to go ahead with a 2020 season, and sources have said a request for about $40 million has been made. A government spokesperson said last week that talks continue on ways to fit the league request into existing pandemic recovery financing programs.

“On the government side, we’re talking,” said Ambrosie. “Those talks are constructive. Can I point to an outcome? No, I can’t. But if you’re asking me, can all of this come together, the answer is yes it can. When people are talking and the tone is positive, anything is possible.”

The Manitoba hub city proposal calls for Winnipeg’s IG Field to play host to 60 games, including the Grey Cup, over a period of 15 weeks. In theory, that could indicate a 12-game regular season for each of the league’s nine teams, for a total of 54 games, followed by playoffs and the championship tilt.

However, most of the league’s planning has been centred on 10- to 14-day training camps, no pre-season games, a six- or eight-game regular season schedule, playoffs and a mid-December Grey Cup. Players would be required to essentially self-isolate for as many as 105 days, as part of the protocols established to safeguard Manitobans and personnel inside the so-called bubble.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday he is satisfied that the CFL plan poses no risk to the people of his province.

“It’s the combination of the bubble format, along with the quarantine period, along with the testing. So these are not individuals that are travelling to Winnipeg that can interact with other Manitobans. They’ll be contained within a bubble, within the league bubble. And again there is going to be a period of mandatory self-isolation, there’s going to be mandatory testing that’s taking place in there.”

Pressed to provide evidence that the CFL can ensure its personnel will adhere to those restrictions, Dr. Roussin said the province always has to rely on people to do the right thing.

“If you look at all of our plans, the plans that got Manitoba where we are, rely on people to adhere to the strategies. So we had a self-isolation order in effect for inter-provincial travel for quite some time and for the most part we just relied on people to adhere to the regulations. … We have the CFL which has been a partner. We have worked with their league physician and worked with them to provide feedback on their approach to this. So we’re going to be holding them responsible for ensuring that the protocols are adhered to.”