Fans, local businesses feeling the effects of lost season

By Landon Majcher

Faithful Blue Bomber fans cheer their team on as they beat the Hamilton Tiger Cats to win the Grey Cup in 2019./COLIN JACKSON

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were supposed to start the 2020 CFL season as defending Grey Cup champions for the first time in nearly 30 years.

“I was really excited for the upcoming season,” said Judy Gutoski, a Bomber fan for over 45 years. “I feel they were ready to challenge for the Cup again.” 

The Bombers trounced the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 on Nov. 24, 2019 in the CFL’s last game before the COVID-19 pandemic. They secured the league’s championship for the first time since 1990.

Many Bomber fans in Winnipeg were thrilled to start the season with their blue and gold as the team to beat.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down basketball, then hockey, and then baseball, it was only a matter of time before the CFL had to take a hard look at their upcoming season. 

In June 2020, the CFL decided to postpone the approaching season. The league explored different options for playing games, including talk of setting up a hub city in Winnipeg, similar to what the NHL was doing in Edmonton and Toronto for the playoffs.

The league applied for financial assistance from the federal government in the form of $30 million, but when they were denied, they made the decision to officially cancel the season in August. 

“I was really hoping the CFL was going to play,” said Gutoski. “Watching other leagues like the NHL play in a bubble system made me hopeful the CFL would be able to do the same.”

According to The New York Times, the CFL relies mostly on ticket sales, while the NFL profits mostly come from TV and sponsorship contracts. 

Many organizations in the CFL already struggle financially and with poor fan attendance. The Toronto Star says three of the nine teams in the league are publicly owned, and a cancelled season could be bad news for teams with unsteady ownership.

In Winnipeg, many businesses also felt the loss of the Bombers’ cancelled season.

“Some of my clients in the restaurant industry have struggled with the loss of business from the cancelled season,” said George Sigurdson, president of Sigurdson Group Inc., a financial planning company in Winnipeg.

“They weren’t getting business from people coming in for pre- and post-game meals. They were losing out on all that.”  

Recently, the CFL and XFL have been in talks, causing many speculations about a merge between the two football leagues. Neither league has given an official update and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is committed to playing in 2021.