Archive for the ‘CFL’ Category

The Canadian Football League and its players’ association have agreed to terms outlining a new collective bargaining agreement, the league announced late Saturday night.

“The CFL and the CFLPA have agreed to a memorandum of agreement which contains the terms of a new collective agreement,” the league wrote in a statement. “This agreement is subject to ratification by the players and the league’s board of governors.”

It was not immediately clear when ratification votes will take place.

This tentative agreement was reached mere hours before the scheduled opening of training camps across the league on Sunday. It comes after the sides had to reopen talks after hitting a snag in contract language, according to multiple reports. Some players even tweeted that they were on strike shortly before word of the tentative agreement leaked late Saturday.

The CFL and its players ironed out the misunderstanding and agreed to the original language around 11 p.m. ET on Saturday, according to TSN’s Farhan Lalji.

“The language in the MOA is now agreed upon and is exactly what we communicated to you earlier,” the CFLPA wrote in an email to its players obtained by Sportsnet’s Arash Madani. “We are now prepared to sign and move forward with our unanimous endorsement for the tentative collective agreement.”

Week 1 of the 2019 CFL season is scheduled to kick off June 13 when the Saskatchewan Roughriders visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Four-time Grey Cup winner Ricky Ray announced his retirement from the CFL after 16 seasons in a press conference Wednesday.

One of the most prolific passers in league history, Ray ends his career as one of just four quarterbacks with more than 60,000 passing yards and ranks fifth all time with 324 touchdowns. The 39-year-old also retires as the most accurate passer to ever suit up in the CFL with a 68.2 career completion percentage.

“I just wanted to be a player that teammates and fans and the organization could believe in, could be proud of that I was going to go out there and play my best every week,” said Ray. 

“That’s what I tried to do, perform my best and be a good leader, lead by example.”

Speculation regarding the likely Hall of Famer’s future had been ongoing since he suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 2. With Ray a free agent, the Toronto Argonauts said they were moving forward with James Franklin as their starter.

The 39-year-old won his first two titles with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2003 and 2005 before being traded to the Argonauts after the 2011 campaign.

He won a Grey Cup in his first year with the Argos. Six years later, he helped shock the heavily favored Calgary Stampeders to earn his fourth championship.

Following his first title in 2004, Ray was signed as a backup by the New York Jets. He returned to Canada the next year and won the lone Grey Cup Most Valuable Player award of his career.

The 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, hosted in Edmonton last November, had a total economic impact of more than $81 million, a new study shows.

Overall attendance at Grey Cup events throughout the week reached 430,967, including 55,819 who attended the Grey Cup championship game itself and 30,841 visitors from out of town who spent $29 million during their stay in the city.

More than 93 per cent of the attendees reported having a positive experience at the Grey Cup Festival and two-thirds felt it was better than most of its predecessors, according to the Global Sports Impact Study conducted by Sportcal, a leading provider of sports market intelligence based in London, England.

“These impressive numbers are a testament to the support we received from the people of Edmonton and Alberta, the contributions made by our partners, the hard work of our staff and an army of volunteers, and the power of the Grey Cup itself to attract Canadians from every corner of the country,” said Brad Sparrow, Chair of the Edmonton Eskimo Board of Directors and Co-Chair of the 2018 Grey Cup Festival Committee.

Randy Ambrosie, Commissioner of the Canadian Football League, said the study underlines the enormous effect the Grey Cup game and the festival have on a city and province.

“As proud as we are as Canadians, we can sometimes take our greatest treasures for granted,” Ambrosie said.

“This study, like the ones that have preceded it, show that the Grey Cup is more than a source of fun, pride and unity. It’s a giant-sized economic funnel that pours dollars and people into a host city and province at a time of year that can otherwise be slow for tourism.”

The study says the Grey Cup was also a source of civic pride: 93 per cent of local citizens surveyed agreed that the Grey Cup had a positive impact on the city and 94 per cent said the city of Edmonton should host the Grey Cup again.

The report also cites the event’s social impact. It engaged an estimated 1,000 volunteers, featured flag football and football skills sessions for youth, and included visits from 4,000 school children from 40 schools who were granted special access, a Diversity is Strength party that celebrated inclusion and campaigns designed to counteract violence against women.

Among the other findings:

  • The total economic impact of $81,146,423 is estimated to be a 6.6 per cent increase from the Grey Cup in 2017.
  • A total of 381 accredited media attended during the week, an increase of 20 per cent compared to the previous year.
  • More than 9,100 stories were published about Grey Cup week, a 62 per cent increase over 2017, complementing a strong social media presence throughout the week.
  • More than 40 festival partners, and 32 league partners activated during the week, adding to the fun and excitement of the Grey Cup experience for attendees.
  • The Grey Cup game garnered a television audience of 3.3 million with a reach of 8.4 million.
  • The average number of days attended by fans was 2.9 days; 11 per cent attended all five days of the event.
  • Thirty per cent of all fans – and 58 per cent of those aged 19 to 34 – attended a Grey Cup event for the first time.
  • Women and those aged 19 to 24 were most likely to score events highly.

“We look forward to the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw this November in Calgary, home to our football rivals but also our fellow Albertans, and the Grey Cups that will follow in Regina in 2020 and Hamilton in 2021,” Sparrow said.

“We have worked to set a high bar. We know our friends and colleagues across the CFL will work just as hard to meet it or even exceed it and Canadians will continue to rally around the Grey Cup.”

General manager Jim Popp is doing his part to give Canadian quarterbacks a shot with the Toronto Argonauts.

The Argos now have three on their roster. They signed veteran Brandon Bridge of Mississauga, Ont., and Regina native Noah Picton as free agents this off-season before taking Ottawa’s Michael O’Connor in the third round, 20th overall, of the CFL draft Thursday night.

Bridge, Picton and O’Connor will battle incumbent James Franklin and veterans Dakota Prukop and McLeod Bethel-Thompson in training camp.

Popp said talent is the overwhelming reason why Bridge, Picton and now O’Connor are with the club. But Popp is also looking ahead to the possibility that Canadian quarterbacks could count as nationals on CFL rosters.

“There are discussions and talks about making the quarterback who’s Canadian counting as a Canadian on your roster,” Popp said Friday. “I don’t know what the rules will be, if it will actually take place or when . . . but there’s enough strong talk that there’s a chance for it.

“And it plays to your favour if you have one of a few Canadian quarterbacks who we feel can actually play in the CFL. We know Brandon can. Now, the first thing we look at is talent and if they can play. But if they’re Canadian and the rules change . . . that’s another extra benefit.”

CFL teams dress 44 players per game. Twenty-one are Canadian (national), 20 are American (international) and three are quarterbacks of any nationality.

Many league officials believe if Canadian quarterbacks counted as nationals, clubs would keep them and develop them much like they do with Canucks who are positional players. With the CFL and CFL Players’ Association currently negotiating a new agreement — the present one expires May 18 — there’ve been suggestions a change regarding Canadian quarterbacks could come about.

Bridge is Toronto’s most experienced Canadian quarterback. The six-foot-five, 235-pound Bridge is entering his fifth CFL season with his third team following previous stops with Montreal and Saskatchewan.

The five-foot-eight, 177-pound Picton participated in Toronto’s training camp last season before returning to university football with the Regina Rams. Picton is Canadian university football’s all-time passing leader (11,494 yards), stands second in completions (835) and seventh in TDs (71).

The selection of O’Connor is certainly intriguing. The six-foot-five, 235-pound quarterback spent four seasons at UBC (2015-18), leading the Thunderbirds to a Vanier Cup title and being named game MVP his first year at the school, after redshirting at Penn State.

O’Connor has all the intangibles coaches look for. Physically, he’s big, strong and can make all of the throws but he’s also very cerebral, articulate and is willing to be coached.

“Any quarterback that carries all of those different attributes is valuable,” Popp said. “With that pick, we could’ve taken anybody from an offensive lineman to a special-teams player but we drafted the quarterback because we feel he can compete for a job no matter what his status is.”

O’Connor was Canada West’s second-leading passer last season (337.6 yards per game), completing 222-of-316 passes (70.3 per cent) for 2,701 yards with 14 TDs and just four interceptions.

Over four seasons at British Columbia, O’Connor amassed 9,900 passing yards. On Thursday night, he became the highest drafted Canadian quarterback since 2001 when Ottawa’s Jesse Palmer went in the second round, No. 15 overall, to the Montreal Alouettes.

“He has first-round talent in the CFL draft,” Popp said of O’Connor. “He fell back simply because he doesn’t count as a Canadian as of today.

“I never thought he’d make it out of the second round and it was a big dilemma for us even at No. 9 (where Toronto took Laurier defensive lineman Robert Smith to open the second round) to maybe take Michael there. Talent-wise he was worthy of being the first pick of the draft, it’s just there were other guys who could count as a national or Canadian.”

Toronto got a look at O’Connor in 2018 when he attended its training camp before returning to school. O’Connor is currently attending the Seattle Seahawks’ rookie mini-camp.

“We got to know him well (in 2018) and saw what he was capable of doing,” Popp said. “And he’s only going to get better.”

The Edmonton Eskimos have no immediate plans to change their name.

The CFL franchise has spent the past couple of years speaking with Inuit leaders and conducting research on the impact of the Eskimos name on the Inuit community. And the club plans to do much more before being in a position to determine the final results of its efforts.

Despite a social media report Monday suggesting Edmonton would be changing its name to Empire, Allan Watt, a marketing and communications official with the Eskimos, said there’s nothing imminent regarding a new team monicker.

“We’ve been doing many phases of research and been up north and done extensive research there,” Watt said. “It was not about changing our name.

“It was asking (Inuit leaders) about how they feel about our name. And there’s a big difference between the two.”

On Friday, McGill University announced it was changing the name of its men’s varsity sports teams, who were called the Redmen. Suzanne Fortier, McGill’s principal and vice-chancellor said the name made Indigenous students feel alienated.

Watt said the Edmonton club purposefully hired and international research company to help them gather information on the potential impact of the Eskimos’ name on the Inuit community.

“When we embarked on this process, one of the things we wanted to do was make sure that we were getting answers from people without us in the room,” he said. “There’s only one way to do that and that’s get somebody else asking.

“This is something that’s been our name since 1910 . . . and we want to make the right decisions, not quick decisions. We’d be remiss if we didn’t do extensive research, if we didn’t do it thoroughly and if we didn’t do it in the north. . . . none of us should pretend to speak for people who are Inuit.”

Watt said there’s no timetable regarding when the research results will be compiled. Until that’s done, it’s unfair to speculate whether the CFL club will or won’t change its name.

“We don’t have the research results so there’s no point,” he said. “We’re not researching a name change, we’re researching how people feel about our name.”

The Eskimos name is near and dear to CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s heart. The veteran offensive lineman finished his career in Edmonton (1989-93), winning a Grey Cup with the franchise in his final season before retiring.

Shortly after becoming commissioner, Ambrosie commended the Eskimos for the process they were taking regarding their team name. But he also admitted a name change would be difficult to imagine, given all the memories he has as a former Eskimos player.

“When you’ve got jerseys tucked away that you’ll want pass on to your kids and maybe grandkids one day because you’re so proud of it . . . the idea of that name going away is hard to fathom,” Ambrosie told The Canadian Press. “But I also know times change and so we have the conversation and we see where it takes us.”

Montreal businessman Clifford Starke has formally announced his intent to purchase the Montreal Alouettes.

The 35-year-old chairman of Hampstead Private Capital put out a press release Thursday to confirm his interest.

“In a period of uncertainty in respects to the future of the Alouettes, I would formally like to announce my intention to pursue the necessary steps in order to purchase the team, whatever those steps may be, while respecting the process of the Canadian Football League. It is my desire and goal to bring the Grey Cup back to where it belongs — Montreal,” Starke said in the release.

“Growing up in Montreal, I was privileged to have had a first-hand experience of the modern era glory days of the Alouettes. I was childhood friends with Brad Smith, the son of former president of the Alouettes, Larry Smith. I sat and watched throughout my formative years the power of the Alouettes organization, not only within the stadium, but also throughout the community and Quebec as a whole. I sat beside the Alouettes icon Larry Smith and had aspirations of being Michael Soles and Ben Cahoon. I stood for hours to watch the 2002 Grey Cup parade with over a million other Quebecois filled with Alouette pride.”

Brad Smith, a former CFL receiver with the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos, is a consultant with Starke’s potential ownership group.

Starke, 35, has acted as a consultant, adviser and/or director to more than 15 publicly listed companies.

The Alouettes have hit hard times of late. The club hasn’t been to the CFL playoffs the past four seasons and amassed a dismal 21-51 record over that span.

Last week, the CFL said American businessman Robert Wetenhall continues to own the Alouettes amid much speculation the league has assumed control of the franchise and will be tasked with finding a new owner.

“As a fan, I want nothing but the best for the team and the greatest fan base in the CFL,” Starke said. “In business, my partners and I have been successful in various ventures and we possess the track record, as well as expertise to stabilize the franchise, commence rebuilding a championship calibre organization and restore the legacy of the Alouettes.”

Wetenhall has owned the Alouettes for more than 20 years. He resurrected the franchise in 1997 after it was revoked from Michael Gelfand and declared bankruptcy. Wetenhall also assumed the organization’s debts despite not legally being obligated to do so.

Early in Wetenhall’s tenure, the Alouettes were a model franchise. From 1999 to 2012, they finished atop the East Division nine times and making the eight Grey Cup appearances.

Wetenhall was a former part-owner of the Boston Patriots (AFL) and New England Patriots (NFL). In 2011, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill University for his work with the Alouettes and expansion of Percival Molson Stadium.

Wetenhall was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

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Once again, Moncton will be hosting the CFL.

The league announced Friday it will be holding the 2019 Touchdown Atlantic game there Aug. 25 between the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes. The contest will be played at Stade Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium on the University of Moncton campus.

It will mark the fourth time the CFL has held a regular-season game in Moncton, but first since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats edged Montreal 28-26 on Sept. 21, 2013.

Moncton got the nod ahead of Saint John, N.B. and Antigonish, N.S. A big reason for that was the presence of Moncton’s stadium, a facility with 10,000 permanent seats but can be expanded to 20,725 via temporary seating.

The game wasn’t being played in Halifax due to the lack of a suitable venue there.

Staging the game in Moncton continues the CFL’s drive to put an expansion franchise in Halifax. The contest is being presented by the owners of the proposed Halifax CFL franchise, the Atlantic Schooners.

Anthony LeBlanc, a founding partner of Schooners Sports and Entertainment (SSE) was on hand for the announcement at the Avenir Centre along with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and Moncton Deputy Mayor Greg Turner.

“From the very beginning, the major objective of our group has been to make the Atlantic Schooners a regional team and bringing this game to Moncton helps us achieve that,” Leblanc said in a statement. “It would not have been possible without the support of the City of Moncton and the Government of New Brunswick, and the great work of the CFL, the Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes.

“We continue to work hard behind the scenes to offer football fans what will be a great experience, so stay tuned as more information about the game will be available shortly. You won’t want to miss it.”

Ambrosie said Touchdown Atlantic is another opportunity for football fans in the Maritimes to enjoy CFL football.

“Canadian football belongs in Atlantic Canada,” he said. “Anthony and his partners Bruce Bowser and Gary Drummond and their team are working hard to realize the dream of a 10th CFL team, and this Touchdown Atlantic game is an opportunity to share our unique, exciting game and our incredible athletes with fans in Atlantic Canada.

“I can’t wait for game day, and I know fans will have an amazing experience.”

Added Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold: “We are excited to be the host city of Touchdown Atlantic for the fourth time. We are pleased to welcome two teams, the Argonauts and the Alouettes, who have already experienced our legendary hospitality. Moncton showed it was a great football city in the past, and we are looking forward to again displaying our passion for the game in August. It’s going to be a great time.”

Toronto, which had the worst home attendance in the nine-team league last season, will be the Touchdown Atlantic home team and will give up a contest at BMO Field in 2019. The Argos also played in the inaugural Touchdown Atlantic game in 2005, a 16-16 exhibition tie with Hamilton.

Toronto was also part of the first of three-regular season games in Moncton (2010, 2011 and 2013).

“The Argos are thrilled to be returning to Moncton to take part in the Touchdown Atlantic series with Montreal,” club president Bill Manning said. “Growing the game of Canadian football from coast to coast is an initiative we fully support, and we are excited to have the Double Blue faithful in Atlantic Canada to enjoy some east coast hospitality and cheer on the Argos.”

Alouettes president Patrick Boivin echoed those sentiments.

“We are delighted to return to Moncton where we had played a game in 2013,” he said. “We have always said that we are in favour of adding a 10th team to our league, and we are happy to support the CFL’s presence in Atlantic Canada with this game in Moncton.”