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Canadian Football League asks for as much as $150 million as part of government bailout

The revenues of the league are mostly gate-driven, which means playing without fans doesn’t make sense.

Chris Streveler of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers celebrates with the Grey Cup after a win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Calgary, Canada. Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in the 107th Grey Cup. Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images

Another North American pro sports league is in trouble, and this one likely won’t be able to survive the Covid-19 pandemic without government intervention.

The Canadian Football League has asked for as much as C$150 million ($108 million USD) from their federal government to keep operations going.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told The Canadian Press on Tuesday the league’s proposal involves three phases: $30 million now to manage the impact the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on league business; additional assistance for an abbreviated regular season; and up to another $120 million in the event of a lost 2020 campaign.

“We’re like so many other businesses across Canada,” Ambrosie said. “We’re facing financial pressures unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“Our best-case scenario is we’re almost certain to have to cancel games. But at worst if this crisis persists and large gatherings are prevented, we could lose the whole season and the types of losses we could incur would be devastating.”

For a league where dollars always seem to be an issue, the move makes sense. Only a small portion of CFL team revenue comes from a broadcasting contract, and not being able to have people in the stands makes having games not nearly as helpful as it would be to other leagues.

Three franchises in the CFL are community-owned, and some of their books are publicly available. The reigning Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers reported in 2018 that only 13% of their revenue came from the CFL offices, with the TV deal likely accounting for most of that, while over half was from game operations and concessions. If the league can’t have fans in its nine stadiums from coast to coast, it can’t keep the operations going.

The CFL season was schedule to run from June 11 until the 108th Grey Cup on November 22nd. Now at best games would begin in July, and it’s highly unlikely stands in stadiums will be open by then.