Excerpt: Could the NFL and CFL Ever Merge?

Could the NFL and CFL Ever Merge? In an excerpt from “Sports Are Worth How Much!? And Other Questions in Pro Sports. Answered (Kind Of).”, author Justin Bedi explores this idea in all its absurdity and potential wisdom.

In “Sports Are Worth How Much!? And Other Questions in Pro Sports. Answered (Kind Of).”, author Justin Bedi takes readers through the most exciting and defining issues in U.S. and Canadian professional sports today. Blending an opinionated writing style with economic analysis, empirical research, and journalistic pursuit, Bedi engages the questions that sports fans want and need answers to, including: Why are some sports more popular than others? What’s the big deal with Fantasy Sports? What, if anything, is the economic impact of professional sports teams? Just how and why is hockey so important to Canada? Should college athletes be paid, and why or why not? What is Canada’s place in a sports landscape that is dominated by the U.S.? And what factors determine ticket prices? Bedi takes readers through discussions on these topics and much more, with plenty of awkward jokes and unpopular opinions along the way. Sports Are Worth How Much!? is the future of sports writing: Somewhat humorous. Almost smart. And nearly definitive. What else could you want from a sports book?

The following is an excerpt from the chapter: Could the NFL and CFL Ever Merge? It has been edited and condensed for Sports Business Canada.

There are two football leagues in North America:

The National Football League (NFL), and the Canadian Football League (CFL).

The NFL is made up exclusively of American teams, and the CFL is likewise exclusively comprised of Canadian franchises. For decades there have been whispers about the NFL expanding into Canada—perhaps in Toronto or Vancouver—but it hasn’t yet happened. What’s been lost in the dialogue over NFL expansion into Canada is a far more complex, but perhaps more rewarding proposal:

What if instead of relocating a current NFL franchise to Canada or creating a new team there, the NFL and CFL instead merged their leagues together?

In this chapter I explore this idea in all its absurdity and potential wisdom, with the full acknowledgment that it is far more absurd than wise.

The NFL has 32 teams. It is the most popular major league sport in America. It is estimated that in 2016 the NFL earned $14 billion in revenue.[1]

The CFL has nine teams. It is a small but steadily growing major league in Canada. The current annual revenue of the CFL, while not typically available publicly, is estimated by some to be between approximately $120 and $200 million.[2]

Clearly, the two leagues are worlds apart. One is a monolith that towers over professional sports in North America and the other is a regional league that has traditionally struggled to break into the mainstream North American market. They also play two different versions of football.

The NFL’s style of football includes four downs of play, a football that is 11 inches long, seven inches wide, and has a 21-inch diameter, 11 players per side, and a field that is 120 yards in length and 53 1/3 yards wide.

The CFL has only three downs of play, a different style of football with slightly different dimensions, 12 players per side, and a field and end zone that are larger than the NFL’s. The CFL also has many other rules in regard to kicking field goals, returning kicks, and time of play that are different than the NFL’s rulebook.

When it comes to money, the two leagues have very little in common; aside from the huge gap in annual revenue, the salaries for players are drastically different as well, with the average CFL player earning $80,000 a year (not counting quarterbacks, who bring in six figures on average), and the average NFL player earning $2.1 million in 2015.[3][4] The value of the two leagues’ respective franchises are miles apart as well, with the average value of an NFL franchise in 2017 coming out to $2.5 billion, and during the 2016-17 fiscal year, the revenue of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, one of the CFL’s premier franchises, was $37.8 million.[5][6]

So financially speaking, the leagues don’t operate in the same world, especially given that the NFL has more than triple the amount of teams the CFL has, and that the Canadian market is nowhere near the size of the U.S. in economic output or population (for a breakdown of these figures please see the previous chapter).

Culturally, the NFL and CFL are held in drastically different regards in their respective countries. The NFL essentially owns a day of the week (Sunday) and commands loyalty, media coverage, and money from tens of millions of fans from both inside and outside the U.S. It is an incredibly powerful organization that is atop the North American sports landscape and located in a country that is crazy for football, from early childhood games all the way to the professional level. Football is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, and is a very important cultural phenomenon for large segments of the country.

In Canada, football is popular, but by no means is it considered part of the Canadian identity, nor is it something that the majority of the country is exposed to at all stages of their lives, as is often the case in the U.S. That right is mostly reserved for hockey, and after that football would be hard pressed to beat out basketball, baseball, or soccer as Canada’s second most popular sport. That’s not to suggest that there are not football fans in Canada; far from it. The CFL’s lengthy existence (it began in 1958) is a testament to football’s staying power in Canada, and the cities that do have CFL teams generally have incredibly loyal fan bases and local community support. Additionally, that the CFL has a lucrative deal with TSN to show games on TV that pays the league $40 million per year from 2014-2021 demonstrates the considerable demand for a Canadian football product.[7]

The comparative analysis above makes one thing certain: the NFL and CFL are not comparable. Save for the fact that they are involved in the sport of football, they are wholly different entities. So why would a merger between the two leagues make sense?

[1] Kaplan, Daniel. “NFL revenue reaches $14B, fueled by media”. SportsBusiness Journal. March 6, 2017. Accessed November 2017. http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2017/03/06/Leagues-and-Governing-Bodies/NFL-revenue.aspx

[2] “Frequently Asked Questions about The League”. The Canadian Football League Database. Accessed November 2017. https://cfldb.ca/faq/league/

[3] Revay, Victoria. “Show me the money: CFL players’ salaries”. Global News. November 20, 2012. Accessed November 2017. https://globalnews.ca/news/310679/show-me-the-money-cfl-players-salaries/

[4] Badenhausen, Kurt. “The Average Player Salary And Highest-Paid In NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL And MLS”. Forbes. December 15, 2016. Accessed November 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2016/12/15/average-player-salaries-in-major-american-sports-leagues/#72f765ee1050

[5] Badenhausen, Kurt. “The Dallas Cowboys Head The NFL’s Most Valuable Teams At $4.8 Billion”. Forbes. September 18, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2017/09/18/the-dallas-cowboys-head-the-nfls-most-valuable-teams-at-4-8-billion/#21a82f85243f

[6] Hamilton, Ian. “Roughriders Earned A Modest Profit in 2016-17”. Saskatchewan Roughriders. June 2, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.riderville.com/2017/06/02/roughriders-earned-modest-profit-2016-17/

[7] Rovell, Darren. “Thanks to TV revenue, CFL is flourishing on business side”. ESPN. June 24, 2016. Accessed November 2017. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/16454871/cfl-flourishing-business-side

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