CFL going lean and mean

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

The Canadian Football League is in a good position to ride out the tough economic times and London isn't on the map as the location of a possible CFL team should the league ever expand.

Those are just two of the issues that CFL commissioner Mark Cohon may touch on when he appears in London on March 24 as keynote speaker at the University of Western Ontario's scholarship breakfast.

The breakfast is used to raise funds for athletic financial awards to keep top student-athletes in Canada.

Last year's speaker was Richard Peddie of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

"I'll focus on the CFL today," Cohon said. "Where we are, where we're going, where we've come from . . . the kind of successes we are having and what we need to focus on in this economy."

Cohon has a Major League Baseball and NBA background. He's in his second year as commissioner and is heading a CFL renewal. Strong attendance and good television ratings have sparked the renewal.

A five-year contract with TSN has given the CFL the kind of profile necessary to attract new fans and sponsorship possibilities.

"I wouldn't be a smart CEO if I wasn't concerned about the economy," he said. "But we're positioned a little bit different than other sports organizations. Our costs are very lean with our teams. We're a very affordable product. If you go around to all of our eight teams, you can get a season-ticket package for $100. Our high end is about $800. So we're seeing season renewal numbers that are still good.

"We're going to be quite diligent in reaching out to our fans, thanking our fans. Doing things if we need to with that special offer for tickets. We want to make sure we're talking to fans in tough economic times."

If the product is affordable, sports remains a diversion in troubled times.

"Historically, a lot of sports entertainment is a vehicle in tough economic times for people to get away from all the challenges you are having at home," Cohon said. "Rather than having to spend $200 on floor seats for an NHL game, you can afford a $25 a ticket to an Argo game."

Cohon knows the league needs to expand its reach.

He will be heading to New Brunswick in February to meet with the premier.

"They have a new stadium (Moncton) that will be ready in 2010," he said. "We want to put a regular-season game out there, expand our fan base."

Cohon said they haven't looked at London for a regular-season game. London has often been at the centre of expansion rumours, but when you look at Cohon's parameters, London isn't going to be in the mix any time soon.

"I'm always very frank with people. If you want to talk expansion, there are three things. No. 1, do you have the right local owners? No. 2, do you have the facility to make that happen? No. 3, is there an underlying business community that can support a team whether through sponsorship, and the base to have 25,000 people at nine games a year?"

Cohon touched on other issues.

The Hamilton Ticats: "In a place like Hamilton, it is about stadium renewal. We're hoping the (Pan-American Games) bid will be successful, creating an opportunity for the city of Hamilton and the Golden Horseshoe to create a facility not just for the Hamilton Ticats, but for the whole community."

On worries about the NFL expanding to Canada: "My focus is improving our league. The NFL has a lot of other things on their plate right now, their collective bargaining agreement, their own stadium renewal, the tough economic times in the states. The passing of Ted Rogers (founder of Rogers Communications) has changed the landscape as well in terms of interest. I can't speculate on what's going to happen, but I'm very much focused on our league."

Cohon's philosophy on sports is simple.

"The business of sport is not rocket science. It's really about understanding your fan base . . . making sure you engage your fans. What I said to the board of governors when I came in was that it isn't about a revolution, but an evolution."

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MUSTANGS BREAKFAST

When: Tuesday, March 24, 7 a.m.

Why: Raise money for athletic financial awards

Who: Keynote speaker CFL commissioner Mark Cohon

Where: London Convention Centre

Tickets: $75 a ticket or $700 for table of 10, includes parking

Available: Tricia Thain 519-661-2111, ext. 85739 ,or e-mail programs@uwo.ca


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