WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government laid out the red carpet for the Canadian Football League Monday, promising $2.5 million to help Winnipeg serve as the league’s hub city if the season should go ahead.
“I think this is the right spot to host the CFL. I think it’s the safest place,” Premier Brian Pallister said.
“We’ve got a pretty good general back and forth going (with the league) so far and we’re told … we have a few days to nail down, cross some t’s and dot some i’s.”
The CFL and CFL Players’ Association remain in talks to amend the current collective agreement that would allow for an abbreviated season to be played. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has said the earliest a shortened campaign could start is September but that a cancelled season remains possible.
Prior to sitting down with the players’ association, the CFL imposed a July 23 deadline for an amended contract, adoption of health-and-safety protocols and assurance of acceptable federal funding. The league would also need to reach an agreement with broadcast partner TSN.
Earlier this month, the CFL sent federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault a revised financial request for about $42.5 million. In April, the league asked Ottawa for up to $150 million in financial assistance if the 2020 season is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If an abbreviated season goes ahead, Pallister is hoping Winnipeg will be chosen as the hub city, partly because its COVID-19 numbers are among the lowest in the country. There have been 354 confirmed or probable cases to date and seven deaths.
But Manitoba will face some competition to be the hub city. The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced Monday that they’re bidding to stage the 2020 season.
While details would have to be worked out, the plan is for Winnipeg to stage 60 games over 15 weeks, provincial Sport Minister Cathy Cox said. Manitoba would pay for practice field rentals, transportation and other expenses.
Plans also call for the 2020 Grey Cup game to be played in the Manitoba capital. The championship was originally slated to be played in Regina, but it would hold the 2022 contest instead. Next year’s contest is scheduled for Hamilton.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said players would be required to self-isolate upon arrival and essentially live in a bubble during their time in Winnipeg.
If a team wanted to have its players eat at a restaurant, he said, the establishment would have to be closed to the general public.
“The health and safety of all Manitobans and all participants is paramount,” Roussin said in a release. “CFL teams and anyone associated with the hub city will be expected to follow all protocols, as reviewed by public health, at all times.”
Testing would be mandatory and frequent for players after their arrival, Roussin added. It wouldn’t be as frequent afterward, he said, unless someone close to a player tested positive.
Pallister said even if the league decided to proceed with no fans in the stands, having players, coaches and staff in Winnipeg would boost the hard-hit tourism industry.
A recent economic impact analysis estimates about 800 participants would result in the equivalent of 55,000 hotel room night stays. That would generate about $3.8 million for the provincial economy.
The analysis also estimates $45 million in business sales and $4.5 million in direct tax would be generated.
Pallister suggested there would be an emotional benefit to fans if the league could get up and running this year.
“There’s kind of an immeasurable emotional aspect to this … for a lot of Manitobans, who have been feeling kind of deprived from their nightly ritual of checking out how the sports teams are doing, and watching some sports or sports highlights on TV.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2020
— With files from Dan Ralph in Toronto
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press