CFL commissioner Mark Cohon says league's heyday is now

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon holds the Grey Cup aboard a train at Pacific Central Station in...

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon holds the Grey Cup aboard a train at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, B.C., Sept. 7, 2012. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:01 AM ET

EDMONTON - Clear the track. It’s not just the Grey Cup Centennial Train that’s coming through, it’s the CFL.

If there ever were a perfect time for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to call a lockout, this is it.

So said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon here Friday.

“You don’t want to take advantage of another league, especially the one which is the No. 1 sport to Canadians. But there is certainly opportunity here.

“Because most of our initiatives leading to the 100th Grey Cup are kicking in right now, the timing involved really magnifies that opportunity,” he said.

With the NHL season derailed, the CFL is headed into the final eight games of the regular season en route to the 100th Grey Cup full steam ahead.

“It’s a time when so many of our special projects leading to the 100th Grey Cup are being activated,” said Cohon.

“Fifty million Canada Post celebration stamps, five million 100th Grey Cup-logo loonies and two different documentary series, one on TSN and the other on Citytv, are about to hit not just all of our fans but Canadians in general. And now we have the train making a coast-to-coast 70-day tour which is going to touch a lot of Canadians of all ages.”

Cohon said they’ve had preliminary discussions on special NHL lockout strategies.

“We’ve talked about tweaking our schedule to take advantage of the situation in terms of TV ratings for one thing,” he said.

Cohon had just finished making a speech to kick off the visit of the Grey Cup Centennial Train to Edmonton. He also took V.I.P.s and media through the museum cars on tours of the train which will be open to the public, free of charge, complete with free photos of the Grey Cup and a festival of activities and attractions outside the train at the VIA Rail Station (just off the Yellowhead at 12360 121st street) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

When Cohon says the timing couldn’t be better, it’s not just in terms of all the initiatives kicking in but at a time when the CFL is usually being punted back a few pages in the sports pages to make room for hockey.

With the NHL lockout, fans almost unanimously seem to see the owners and players arguing about who gets the biggest slice of the biggest pie they’ve ever baked and instead of putting themselves through all the angst, it’s like the fans have decided this time they’re just going to take the attitude to call them when this insanity it’s over.

Meanwhile, the CFL is poised to be the perfect antidote.

While the NHL is running around getting players signed to six- and seven-year contract extentions paying $6 million a year, like the Oilers did with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, while the owners are locking out the players to improve their profits, CFL players are a contrast. They make the same sort of money as the people sitting in the stands.

Shawn Horcoff, a $6.5 million this year, is signed to make almost a time and a half the entire Edmonton Eskimo team. The CFL salary cap is $4.35 million this season.

“This is about celebrating our country and our future,” Cohon told the people at the Grey Cup Train arrival ceremony after making sure the Western Conference side of the train was on the platform side of the track instead of the opposite at Jasper Thursday.

And the future is very much now for the CFL, especially with the NHL being kind enough to clear the track to make way for the stretch run of this special season.

“After 10 games our average attendance is 28,348 — up 1,000 fans a game from this time last year. Our TSN ratings are up four per cent. And ratings for the key demographic of males 18-34 are up 38%,” he said.

“I believe we have something special happening right now because of how competitive our league is. This year our league has had 16 games decided by four points or less. That’s more than all of last season.

“There have been three walk-off field goals for victories in the last three weeks,” he added, not mentioning if Grant Shaw of the Eskimos had made his, there would have been five.

“And 68% of games this year have been decided in the last three minutes.”

Cohon said he believes “the next generation of CFL greats are smashing records and fueling higher ratings and attendance” as it is, including two — Chris Williams, 25, of the Tiger-Cats and J.C. Sherritt, 24, of the Eskimos — who will be on opposite sides of the field Saturday in Hamilton.

“In a year when we are so busy celebrating our history, you can’t lose sight of the fact that the heyday of the CFL may be right now.”

NHL lockout? Bring it on!

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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