Canadian sports league without the wealth of the Big Four are preparing for an uncertain future

Mike Morreale and David Clanachan had no illusions when they began their journey into the Canadian sports landscape a year ago.

Being the commissars of the two novice Canadian sports leagues – the Canadian Elite Basketball League and the Canadian Premier League, respectively – both knew that in the first years of existence, it would be a difficult battle to survive.

They created a place for growing pains – less attendance, disruptions in the game of the day, changes in their game plan on social networks, along with the uncontrolled variables that come with the start of a new league.

But after what each league calls successful opening seasons, it was the hope and expectation of Morreal and Clanachan to strengthen their position in communities across the country for the second year.

They could never, in their wildest thoughts, come up with a scenario according to which both leagues would be justified, like almost everything else, because of a global pandemic.

“We are clearly aware of what is happening around us, and our priority is to ensure the safety and health of people,” said Morreale. “Now many people don’t think about sports.”

On Wednesday, Morreale announced that the start of the CEBL season, due to begin in May, was delayed until at least June.

Mike Morreale. (Submitted by CEBL)

“Given the current restrictions that limit the size of public gatherings and the closure of some team training and playgrounds in June, opening the season scheduled for May is not possible,” Morreale said.

Morreale said the delay was obvious and necessary and would not come as a surprise to anyone. But he said the league wants to be thoughtful and balanced when it comes to announcing and providing updates.

“We’re going to review it every month,” Morreale said. “I feel for our players. I am trying to create a normal life in their life, and I cannot. So there is some frustration. ”

As a former CFL star, Morreale knows all about dynamics.

Two-time champion of the Gray Cup helped lead his 1999 Hamilton tiger cats up to the championship, including a frustrated victory over Montreal in the Eastern finals, and was named the most outstanding Canadian in the title match against Calgary Stampders.

But momentum can be changeable and fleeting.

“What can we do to turn this positive momentum in the first season into a future positive momentum?” Morreale told CBC Sports. “In 2021 there will be CEBL, whether we will play this year or not. It will happen”.

Hopes were high in CEBL sophomore season – the league announced the off-season addition of Ottawa Blackjacks.

In 2021 there will be CEBL, whether we will play this year or not. It will happen.– Mike Morreale

League with seven teams – with Hamilton, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Guelf, Ontario, Fraser Valley (Abbotsford, British Columbia) and St. Catharines, Ontario. (Niagara River Lions) – competes with 70 percent of the 10-player rosters made up of Canadian content.

Fans in communities not used to seeing any kind of professional sport had a team to rally around. This led the Saskatchewan Rattlers to win their first title in front of a noisy home crowd in Saskatoon.

“I’m trying to look at it from the other side,” Morreale said. “We are trying to do everything in our power to bring us back to normal.”

However, when the season was rescheduled indefinitely, Morreale said that a few weeks ago the league had to fire ticket sales staff.

“We are going to use as many government subsidies as possible to keep our staff and to return to it as soon as possible,” he said.

Fans cheer for the Saskatchewan Rattlers during a game last year. (Submitted by CEBL)

Make no mistake, this unexpected and unprecedented stop will certainly create problems for CEBL and other Canadian leagues. They don’t bring the billions of dollars in revenue that major leagues regularly bring, such as the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.

“We need some help. We are still a starting league. It’s us, CFL and CPL, ”said Morreale.

CPL on Monday announced that there will be a reduction in wages for players and staff.

In a statement, Clanachan said players would be delayed 25 percent of contracts, while coaches, technical staff, and club and league staff would accept unspecified salary cuts.

The season was supposed to begin last weekend and last until October 4. At the end of March, Klanachan announced that the league was postponed indefinitely.

In February, the CPL announced that it was moving from spring and autumn split seasons to a single-table format in 2020. Eight teams, including Expansion Atletico Ottawa, were expected to play a total of 28 games, 14 at home and 14 on Road.

Eight teams include FC Cavalry (Calgary), FC Edmonton, FC Forge (Hamilton, Ontario), HFX Wanderers (Halifax), FC Pacific (Langford, British Columbia), FC Valor (Winnipeg), FC York 9 (York Region, Ontario) .) and the expansion of Atletico Ottawa.

Clanachan said they continue to go through a series of reshuffles to save some season, including a tight schedule.

“It concerns. It’s hard. We are waiting. And at the right time, we will be ready to leave, ”Clanachan said.

Clanachan’s optimism is unshakable in the face of the unknown – he said that despite the financial losses incurred by the start-up league, which needs victories at an early stage of its existence, the CPL will not go anywhere.

Canada’s Premier League announced salary cuts on Monday, as its second season was delayed due to a pandemic. (Twitter / @ FCEdmontonNow)

“We see a big goal here. We are here to stay, ”he said.

“In the end, we are talking about one thing. We said it would be a league for Canadians, Canadians, and we remained true to that. ”

Clanachan points to a roster structure to reflect the league’s homegrown character – it is designed for Canadian players.

As in CFL, there are strict rules for compiling the registry. Teams must be at least 50 percent plus one Canadian, and must have at least six Canadian starters during matches.

“This game has become very widespread in this country. We have reached the final point, and we need to continue to move forward, ”Clanachan said.

While CEBL and CPL are struggling to survive this pandemic, with only a handful of history and experience to rely on, the CFL also faces challenges, even though it has been around for more than 100 years.

In a recent interview with CBC Sports, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosi said the canceled season would be “disruptive” to the league.

“Almost all of your sources of income go away at that moment,” Ambrosi said.

The league, which was due to begin the regular season on June 11, announced in early April that the season would begin no earlier than early July.

Ambrosi said they continue to hold regular meetings and talk with all CFL stakeholders about how the tight season will look and how plausible it is.

As past days and clarity continue to elude Ambrosia and sports leagues around the world, CFL does not have enough time and opportunities to save the 2020 season – there are some conversations related to playing games without fans, but CFL is highly dependent on goal income, which makes it almost impossible.

CFL season hanging by a thread

“I wish there was a silver bullet in this to make it better. But because no, we use a good, honest dialogue as our leadership, ”Ambrosi said.

While the season is in balance, the stop also ended most of the excitement and momentum, at least for the moment, around the extension to Halifax.

In December, the Halifax Regional Council voted to provide a one-time contribution of $ 20 million to the stadium project, with several reservations related to financing. Steps were taken to implement the league with 10 teams. It was all aloof at the moment.

When asked specifically about how this pandemic will affect things like the expansion to Halifax and the game in the Gray Cup this year, Ambrosi will not speak directly to him.

“We will take it one day at a time and hope that all of this can happen,” he said.

This is all that everyone can do right now.

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