"I have loved football as an almost mythic game since I was in the fourth grade. To me, the game wasn't even grounded in reality. The uniform turned you into a warrior. Being on a team, the mythology of physical combat, the struggle against the elements, the narrative of the game..." ~ Steve Sabol (NFL Films)

The CFL and Kmart

It's been exactly one week since I, and I think a lot of us, were all woken up from our CFL and XFL slumber and read the news alerts on our phones that our favorite leagues might, or might not, merge. Which, let's be honest, aside from all the free agent signings (I am looking especially at you Argos) had been inking, the only other thing most of us CFL fans had been hearing were crickets.  

Why? 

Well, as much I would like to blame the pandemic and America's favorite former presidential clown for everything, the lack of communication from the top as to what the league intends to do for 2021 is the fault of league leadership.  As a Navy man I looked to my leaders for direction, and in the case of the CFL, the leadership of the league hasn't been very vocal and open about a lot of things, and that includes especially the state of the league's finances.

Anyone who has ever watched or been to a CFL game the last several years has noticed one thing, a serious lack of fans (I am REALLY looking at you now Argos!) and overall lack of any enthusiasm in the media or online for a league that truly is a superior product. As an American I am (willingly) force fed the shield and its products on a daily basis and am constantly reminded just how successful and rich it is with every free agent signing (including the Bears wasting $10 million on Andy Dalton this week). The CFL I have loved for it being the exact opposite of what I see daily here in Chicago, for it is and I hope will always be a working man's league for the fans.  

However, it is the fan part of the equation that lays at the heart of every league, except one or two, and the disappearing base in Canada and the presently non-existent one in America for the CFL. Without fans, plain and simple, the league, "Our League!" is going to die. The fans and with them, the money for sustenance, has been running out and little, if anything, has been done by league leaders, both past and present, to try and turn the tide, and CFL 2.0 does not count as an attempt to save the league.  I wish the league would put as much into marketing and branding as they have with trying to encourage the growth of the game globally, as noble of an effort as the Commissioner's intentions truly are.

Fans lay at the heart of what make the CFL great. Just take a look on Twitter where the bloggers like me (and there are seriously too few of us) and the podcasters (all of whom I admire and tip my hat to) and you will a grassroots fan base that is strong, but not strong enough to save nine dying franchises.  Andrew, Kayla and Mike bleed green and gold over at The Turf District and are the very definition of hometown fans, and they do and have done more for the Edmonton Eskimos to market the game, for free, than what likely the franchise and league have done themselves.  The same is true for all the other podcasters who are the reason why I went from being a casual fan to a true double blue one. 

Yet, we fans are getting older and I know that we also are not getting any younger.  If the CFL wants to survive past the next season it had better get its act together and use this new alliance to lay a foundation for the growth of the game in the attraction of young fans that goes beyond simply putting a cool app on their phones.  I know individual teams do a lot for the community, but they do really need, now more than ever, to step up their game. Do whatever it takes to put asses in the seats (again I am looking at you Double Blue bosses), so that you don't ever again have to sign and let play in mostly empty stadiums washed up American Heisman Trophy winners in the hopes they will boost failing attendance.

I don't know what the answer is ultimately, but I do know this, whatever CFL teams and leaders have done simply has not worked, and the time has run out to keep trying the same old ideas that the league where it now is in 2021. Did the lessons of the 1990s not teach anyone anything? I have a shelf full of professional football history books that I have read that have taught me one thing, and that is the CFL has not learned from its mistakes and has been blind to the future that anyone who reads science fiction or even watches other sports could see coming.

Much like Kmart (which is the one analogy I really don't want to use, but since I worked for the retail company for six years in high school and college, I feel I now must), the CFL is losing and soon will lose its paying customers to other sports and leagues deemed cooler and better.  But the Kmart I knew and loved died of repeated self inflicted gunshots.

Kmart was great in its day, and was a great place to shop, but it had an image problem, poor management, a lot of debt and no vision to how to retain or grow it's customer base.  Kmart is now for all practical purposes dead, just as the CFL, without having played a season in 2020, is considered dead by many (not me I still have hope), and right now it seems no one has noticed or cared.  Until last week.....

CFL fans and friends, all we can do is keep the faith alive and hope that whatever comes from the "talks" with a very rich suitor, keeps our game alive.  The devil of course is in the details, but I do think that the game as we know it, the three down long ass field variety, will survive, but make no mistake, changes are coming.  The one thing the CFL has over Kmart is that it is not only a business, but also an idea and institution that are so very much unique and so very much Canadian, and those are the very things that no money can ever buy. And because of that, unlike Johnny Football, failure for the CFL is definitely NOT an option!