Tackling the CFL issues

Commissioner Mark Cohon discussed a variety of challenges the CFL faces, the worst of which is the...

Commissioner Mark Cohon discussed a variety of challenges the CFL faces, the worst of which is the current state of the economy. (Sun Media/Jack Dagley)

GERRY MODDEJONGE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

While players are preparing themselves for training camps across the CFL this week, commissioner Mark Cohon already has his game face on.

Instead of scoring touchdowns or tackling the opposition, his job at this time of year involves securing sponsors and advertisements for the upcoming season.

Cohon was in Edmonton yesterday discussing a variety of challenges the league faces, the worst of which is the current state of the economy.

"Like anyone, if you look at leagues south of the border, we're all challenged by the economy," said Cohon. "I think we're going to come through this better than the other leagues because we're affordable and we're accessible and we really are value for money."

Southern Ontario markets have been hardest hit, said Cohon. "We just have to be as flexible as possible in this environment."

The commissioner referred to stadium redevelopment programs taking place across the league in both present and future CFL markets. Work is being done on buildings in Edmonton, B.C., Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Montreal and even Ottawa.

"In Ottawa, our group there is negotiating with the city right now," said Cohon. "Hopefully by the end of the summer we'll have an indication of when we'll be ready in Ottawa. I'm hoping ... probably 2012."

By that time, Cohon said, a league-wide drug policy will have been in place for two years.

CFL chief-operating officer Michael Copeland has a target of 2010 to have an agreement in place with the CFLPA.

"We have a first draft of an agreement that, in principle, we all like, but we've agreed that our collective-bargaining discussions will start this year," said Cohon.

The current collective-bargaining agreement runs out three days prior to the beginning of training camp in 2010.

"We want this to be part of the new agreement," said Cohon.

"I think we have a great product on the field. I think they're determined and great athletes. At the same time, we have to be cognizant of what's going on in sports around the world and we have to be a part of that."

The position of both sides, said Cohon, is a drug policy must be in place as soon as possible.

As for the NFL's excursions into other countries, Cohon said he requested the Buffalo Bills wait until after the Grey Cup before hosting a 'home' game in Toronto again.

"Right now, I'm not going to speculate on where that's going," he said. "As I said last year, we're really focusing on building our league, doing things like reaching out to our fans."

And the fan initiative has already provided feedback that has led to a handful of CFL rule changes this year.

"One of the reasons why I'm here is talking to fans directly," said Cohon, who has asked for a list of season-ticket holders from the different clubs. "I am randomly calling those fans to say thank you. That's the type of league we are, we're accessible and we're going to continue to do more of that. And that's how we're going to answer any issues with the NFL, by growing our league."

Further growth could be met through the promotion of the league's star players.

"I think one of the things we do is we work closer with the unions to try and get our guys in ads," said Cohon, pointing to Jesse Lumsden and Kerry Joseph last season. "We're doing a lot more of that."

Another way is profiling young Canadian athletes through a televised CFL Canadian college draft last month.

"You're going to see a lot more of that to make sure that we can make these guys more household names," said Cohon.

Single-game tickets went on sale this week at www.CFL.ca.


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