The Next Step For The CFL: Expansion

The Canadian Football League is experiencing something of a boom period currently, however more could be done to increase the game's popularity. Namely, the addition of a tenth team could do wonders for the CFL.

The Next Step For The CFL: Expansion
CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge - Toronto Star/David Cooper

When explaining the differences between professional football in the United States and Canada, it is often different rules which are brought up. No fair catches in Canada, a wider field, single-point plays, more men on the field, etc. It also often noted that the CFL has just nine teams, and only had eight prior to the 2014 season. It is not necessarily a bad thing to have (markedly) fewer teams in the CFL, but the issue lies with the uneven number. Nine teams does not lend itself to a nice, neat schedule, instead leaving one team to have a bye each week and uneven divisions in sheer number of teams.

The way to fix this is to add one more team, bringing the CFL to 10 franchises. Numerous problems are solved by adding another team to the league. For one, there no longer have to be an uneven number of teams in each division, as the East and West would both be able to have five teams. There would no longer be a forced bye every week, as each team would be able to have an opponent on a weekly basis. There would be no need to change the length of the regular season, as a simple double round-robin format would create 18 games for each team.

This also solves the issue of playoff inclusion; the way the league is set up currently, two-thirds of teams make the playoffs (a decrease from when three-fourths of teams made the postseason prior to the 2014 season when Ottawa’s newest franchise began to play). Adding another team allows the league to still have a six-team playoff while not being as inclusive (and subjectively unfair) as it has been in the past. Plus, this would lead to the end of the unique yet obscure rule of allowing teams to enter the playoff bracket of the opposite division based on record.

Another team in the CFL would solve a multitude of problems and would frankly neaten up the league, for lack of a better term. This is an ideal scenario, however there are big roadblocks still in the way before a team can be added to the Canadian Football League. Namely, where would the team be placed?

Numerous things must be taken into account when trying to find a suitable location for a new CFL team, including potential fan support and the city’s ability to support a team (infrastructure-wise). Over the years, several cities have attempted to secure new CFL franchises, including Halifax, Moncton, Windsor, Quebec City, London and Saskatoon, amongst others. Issues with geography likely rule out cities such as Saskatoon (the city is in close enough proximity to Regina, the home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, that the team can represent the entire region) and Windsor (located near football-obsessed Michigan in the United States and near Hamilton, home of the Tiger-Cats, and Toronto, home of the Argonauts, in Canada). The argument can also be made that based on its proximity to Montreal and for other geopolitical reasons, Quebec City is not a good fit either.

This leaves Halifax, Moncton and London as the likely top candidates for a CFL expansion team. In terms of impact on divisions, a team in any of these three locations would not affect the current divisions of the nine existing CFL teams, as they all lie in eastern Canada, and the league’s East division currently has just four teams, in comparison to five for the West. London has the most populated metro area of the group, and by virtue of sheer numbers, a higher number of residents would ideally lead to a higher number of team supporters. While this is a positive when it comes to London’s candidacy, there are also negatives which likely outweigh them.

For one, London is also located in relatively close proximity to Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto, meaning they would not be adding much of a new market for the league to tap into. Also, London does not have the infrastructure (read: stadium) currently to support an expansion franchise. These factors likely point to a different favorite for an expansion team: Moncton.

Despite the smallest metropolitan area of the aforementioned trio of potential sites, Moncton is the only city with a stadium which could be utilized for a team. Granted, work would need to be done on the stadium to get it ready for a team (Moncton Stadium has a permanent capacity of 10,000 and can expand to over 20,700 seats; however, the smallest stadiums currently in the CFL have 24,000 permanent seats, those being Tim Hortons Field and TD Place Stadium in Hamilton and Ottawa, respectively). Nonetheless, the sole fact that the city has a stadium currently in place puts it ahead of the other potential locations at this point.

Once again, geography must be considered. While the smallest market of these three potential locations, Moncton is far enough east that it would be able to represent the entire Atlantic Canada region. Without another major professional sport in the immediate area, a new CFL team could become the focal point of the populous when it comes to sports (consider the passion for football in cities such as Regina, another area devoid of another professional sports franchise). A new market, a new potential fanbase and a solution to several league-wide issues. Moncton seems like it could be an antidote for the CFL.

Of course, this is a simplified view of the overall issue. While it is easy to say that the CFL should expand into other cities and regions, there are roadblocks beyond just what an individual location can offer. For example, is the league positive that a new team will be able to develop a consistent and relatively sizable following in a relatively short amount of time? A team is not going to survive if nobody is there to support it. In addition to this, the league must be absolutely positive that expansion is in the best monetary interest of the game. No fan support leads to low ticket sales, which of course leads to low revenue. Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge will have to deal with this issue often in the coming years, and while it will be tempting to the league and to the fans, it may not actually be in the best interests of the CFL, at least from a monetary perspective.

With all of this information taken into consideration, it looks as though expansion is on the horizon for the Canadian Football League, but the biggest variable is when it will take place. The game is growing not just in Canada, but also in the United States. With the biggest American television broadcast schedule the league has ever seen, more Americans are becoming familiar with the game than ever before, and it is becoming more and more popular with the football-crazed U.S. A broader audience, a more popular sport and a likely incoming increase in revenue will only help the CFL, and these factors will likely lead to the eventual addition of a (frankly necessary) tenth CFL team. Whether a team is added in the Atlantic, just across the border from the U.S. or in an undiscussed region, expansion can only mean good things in the future for the CFL and its fans.