The CFL has faced its share of challenges
Financial challenges are nothing new for the CFL.
The league has faced problems across the country — and even in the United States in the 1990s — many times the past few decades.
While things have stabilized in recently, with five of nine teams playing in stadiums opened in the past 15 years to replace crumbling infrastructure, the CFL faces one of the biggest challenges of its history now that it has cancelled the 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a look at some notable issues for the CFL over the years:
— A ‘Save our Stamps’ campaign helps keep the Calgary Stampeders alive.
— The Montreal Alouettes fold a day before the season starts.
— The first “Save the Roughriders” telethon is held for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
— One year after bringing in Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, hockey star Wayne Gretzky and actor John Candy as owners, singing Notre Dame star receiver Rocket Ismail to a then-pro football record contract and winning the Grey Cup, the Toronto Argonauts miss the playoffs. McNall is later convicted of fraud, splintering the ownership group before Labatt buys the team in 1994.
— With the league struggling financially, the CFL welcomes its first American expansion team, the Sacramento Gold Miners, in the California capital.
— The CFL begins play in three more American markets, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Shreveport, La. The Las Vegas Posse hold many of their practices in a parking lot and play summer games in scorching temperatures. At their home opener, the anthem singer accidentally performs “O Canada” to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” The Posse attract about 2,000 fans to their second-last home game before moving their final home game to Edmonton. The team folds after the season. The Pirates, meanwhile, hold training camp at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds. They live on the second floor of a building that houses animals on the first floor.
— Then-commissioner Larry Smith threatens to revoke the Hamilton Tiger-Cats franchise if certain ticket goals are not met prior to the ’95 season. The team eventually hits the targets.
— The Sacramento team moves to San Antonio, while the league unveils franchises in Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn. Baltimore wins the Grey Cup, but the NFL returns to the city the following year, ending any hopes for the CFL franchise. No American teams return in ’96.
— Chicago businessman Horn Chen purchases the financially-strapped Ottawa Rough Riders. He never attends a game.
— Baltimore moves to Montreal to mark the return of the Alouettes, but the league experiences deep financial problems during Grey Cup week in Hamilton. Ticket prices are cut dramatically to help fill Ivor Wynne Stadium and the league requires sponsor help to pay the players.
— The Rough Riders fold after the season.
— Former Tiger-Cats owner David Braley buys the financially-strapped B.C. Lions.
— Then-Stampeders owner Larry Ryckman is found to have run a stock manipulation scheme, forcing him to give up the club.
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— The NFL provides a US$3-million interest-free loan to the CFL.
— A U2 concert at Olympic Stadium forces the Alouettes, once again struggling financially, to look elsewhere for a home playoff game. They end up at McGill University’s Molson Stadium, which turns out to be a huge hit despite a tree poking through the stands. The outdoor stadium remains the team’s home.
— The Argonauts and Tiger-Cats square off in what is known as the ‘Bankruptcy Bowl’ because neither team had an owner. The Ticats are eventually bought by current owner Bob Young, while Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon purchase the Argos.
— Three years after the league returned to Ottawa with the Renegades, former Rough Riders and Shreveport owners Bernie and Lonie Glieberman buy the team. The team folds a year later.
— Rogers Communications announces plans to host seven Buffalo Bills games in Toronto over the next five seasons. The move raises alarm bells for the CFL, but tickets prove to be a tough sell for the NFL games and the series is called off a year early.
— Braley takes control of the Argos after Sokolowski and Cynamon step away. The team struggles badly at the gate before the Argos eventually are sold to Larry Tanenbaum and Bell in 2016. Rogers also steps in later to bring the team under the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment umbrella.
— Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula buy the Bills, beating out a group rumoured to be interested in moving the NFL team to Toronto.
— The CFL buys the Alouettes from Robert Wetenhall and runs the team for a year before it is sold to Toronto businessmen Gary Stern and Sid Spiegel.
— The league cancels the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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