The Canadian Football League is among professional sports leagues to have taken the biggest hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to having their entire 2020 season wiped out, the league also requested and was denied $150 million in financial assistance from the federal government in April, before also being denied a $30 million loan in August.
Unlike other sports leagues which have been able to resume play without fans in the stands thanks to lucrative TV deals, the CFL doesn’t make nearly enough money from broadcast partners. The nine-team league relies heavily on the presence of fans in the seats, with ticket buyers providing the greatest source of revenue.
When the CFL officially ruled out the possibility of a shortened season on August 17th, it left many questions to be answered about the future of the league. But two days shy of what would have been the 108th Grey Cup in Regina this weekend, the league officially rolled out its plans for the 2021 season on Friday.
To kick things off, the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders will face off in Calgary on May 23rd for the first game of a three-week, two-game preseason for each team. The contest won’t count for anything in the standings, but the significance won’t be lost on the fact that it will be the first CFL game in 546 days by the time the players take the field.
As an all-Canadian league with an 18-game schedule, all nine teams are already quite familiar with the other teams in the league. However, in order to minimize travel across the country, the CFL will is implementing more divisional games than normal.
The B.C. Lions, for example, will play Ottawa and Montreal two times in 2021 but will only face Toronto and Hamilton once each. In 2019, they played all four teams in the East Division twice. Similar tweaks will be made to the schedules of all nine teams to keep teams closer to home during the season.
Still, the season won’t be without some exciting inter-division matchups. Hamilton and Winnipeg will square off on June 10th for opening day in a rematch of the 107th Grey Cup that saw Winnipeg come out on top 33-12.
The regular season is set to conclude on October 30th with a handful of rivalries. The Toronto Argonauts will host the Montreal Alouettes while the still-unnamed Edmonton Football Team will wrap up its season in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers.
The CFL Playoffs will begin on November 7th, while the 108th Grey Cup will take place one year from tomorrow on November 21st, 2021 in Hamilton, Ontario. It remains unclear if fans will be permitted into the stadiums by the time action is set to begin this spring, but for now Canadian football fans have a tangible date to hold onto which is a step in the right direction.
You can check out the full 2021 season schedule here.