Few people have such a deep connection to the CFL as Jim Lawson.
The former chairman of the league’s board of governors and two-time interim commissioner has had four generations of his family involved in the league, but shared some hard truths about his financial realities on the Rod Pedersen Show on Friday.
“My grandfather was involved in the league. My dad was a Gray Cup champion. My daughter was involved in the league and I was involved in the league. I love the Canadian Football League and think it is so important to the heritage of this country and who we all are, ”Lawson said.
“You’ve gone beyond that line of trying to decide if football is important to this country. I love football, but the economic model is broken.
This has been true since Lawson was appointed president in 2013.
“One of the first things I did was try to understand the business model of the league and in the current environment I think it’s very difficult – as has been well published – in the big cities, and in particular Toronto and Montreal. I think there is a need to look at the business model, ”Lawson explained.
These problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the league to lose between $ 60 million and $ 80 million last year. This distress prompted the league to reach out to the XFL in the pursuit of a partnership between the two leagues.
The CFL has awarded the Gray Cup for over 100 years. Meanwhile, the original XFL lasted a full season in 2001. The XFL only lasted part of a season before the COVID-19 pandemic put its season on hold, which led Vince McMahon to drop off the balance sheet.
Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital were retained last August for all assets of Alpha Entertainment LLC, the parent company of XFL. It cost $ 15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league going forward.
CFLs share this hope and RedBird Capital brings stability with $ 4 billion in capital. As CFL purists rise up, Lawson urges openness.
” Your feelings [against the XFL] aren’t unique and I’m certainly not unique to a lot of people involved in the league, but my perspective right now is to keep an open mind, ”he said.
“I know the people involved in the league are sensitive to the same issues as you, but they are definitely in a difficult position.”
The XFL has the potential to make the CFL relevant to the massive US market and opens up another revenue stream Lawson is familiar with: gambling.
As CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, Lawson lives in the betting world and is encouraged by the impending passage of Bill C-218 in Canada, which would legalize single-game sports betting. Similar legislation is approaching in many US states, and the opportunities for the CFL are enormous if the XFL steps in the door.
“When you think of football in the United States and the opportunity, we haven’t seen sports betting in California yet. We haven’t seen sports betting in Florida yet. When you think of that market, what are the juggernauts of American sports betting? This is the National Football League. Well, the National Football League does not take place in April and September and there is an opportunity as a revenue producer that few people have talked, ”Lawson explained.
“When I think about how it’s going to play out in terms of franchise value and what that means, not just for football franchises but all sports franchises and hopefully spill over into amateur sports, there is something about this opening up of the sports betting world to the top. “
As any racetrack operator will tell you, betting on ponies is always a good idea. And Jim Lawson is no different.