Probably the one word that brings about more opinions than any other among CFL fans. Everyone has an opinion on if, where to, and how soon the league should expand.
One area that everyone can agree on is that Ottawa is coming back, and it is looking more and more likely that they will begin play in 2014. While we found out recently that the Saskatchewan Roughriders will not allow the new Ottawa franchise to use their previous moniker of Rough Riders (or any derivation of it, like Riders), it is exciting to see the CFL returning to the nation’s capital.
That is about where the consensus ends, however. So let’s take a look at some of the issues that get brought up whenever expansion discussions take place.
1. The CFL must expand to 10 (or 12) teams if it is to be a legitimate professional sports league. One of the constant complaints about the CFL is that it “has only eight teams.” It is the one fact that critics harp on to explain why the CFL is not in the same league as other big-time pro-sports leagues.
That said, having eight teams actually makes the CFL rather large in comparison to its main North American counterpart, the National Football League.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
The NFL has 32 member teams. The United States of America, where all 32 teams are located, has a population of approximately 307 million. That means that there is one NFL franchise for approximately every 9.6 million Americans.
Contrast that to the CFL’s eight member teams and a Canadian population of around 33.7 million — that’s one CFL franchise representing approximately every 4.2 million Canadians.
To have their representation per fan be the same as the CFL’s, the NFL would have to have 73 teams. That is way too many. And yet, supposedly, the CFL having eight teams for 33.7 million people is too small.
The CFL expanding to Ottawa would change the numbers to one CFL team for every 3.75 million Canadians. To match that number, the NFL would have to expand to a massive 82 teams.
An eight-team (or nine-team) CFL doesn’t look quite so small now.
2. After Ottawa, there are no other areas to expand to.
These Touchdown Atlantic games in Moncton are not just for fun. Quebec has a huge football fan base. And what about Southwestern Ontario?
There are plenty of untapped marketplaces that the CFL could look at for expansion — think London, Moncton or Quebec City. Moncton successfully hosted a regular-season game in 2010 and will host a second game in 2011. Université Laval, in Quebec City, has been one of the most dominant Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) football programs over the past 10 years. The region of Southwestern Ontario is growing rapidly, and CIS football has been hugely successful in that part of the province.
Whether any of them is viable and what potential roadblocks would stop a team from being put there are unknown. But those places are all viable candidates for expansion should the league wish to expand further than the soon-to-be nine teams.
3. Expansion talk is a waste of time.
There are many out there that believe that expanding, even to Ottawa, is a mistake. They say the league needs to get its eight current franchises financially viable before looking to increase the league’s membership.
While that argument has some merit, it is inevitable that the CFL will look to increase its membership at some point, but not until Ottawa has made its triumphant return. Only then will the league look at places like Moncton, Halifax or Quebec City to place a tenth franchise.
Adding a team anywhere just for the sake of getting the league to some arbitrary number would be a mistake and a waste of time. But expanding to a marketplace after all the legwork has been done to ensure that it will be successful is what any and every professional sports league should do. More markets means more potential fans, which means more revenue and higher television ratings, which leads to larger television contracts, which means more money for everyone. Expansion for the sake of expansion is a bad idea; however, expansion done correctly is always worthwhile.
So while it is probably premature to talk about definitive expansion beyond nine teams, it does not hurt to speculate where a potential tenth franchise could be located.
Where do we go from here?
Any talk of expansion must always be tempered by the fact that no one will wake up tomorrow to a 10- or 12-team CFL. Things do not work that quickly, and that is for the better.
The league will do its due diligence before trying to put a franchise in any location — just look at the patience being taken with the situation in Ottawa.
Expansion in the CFL is no longer a cash grab for a financially struggling league. The league will expand to a market only if it can succeed in the long term. The league wants to do this right and is doing everything possible to make sure that any new franchise will be successful, regardless of how long it takes.
Expansion in the CFL may not be on the horizon, but when it does come up, you know it will be because everything has been done to make it as successful as possible.