CFL forms strategic partnership with German league

Randy-Ambrosie

Randy Ambrosie speaks during a press conference in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO — Two down, three to go for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

The CFL continued its international push Thursday, announcing a partnership with the German Football League (GFL) to grow the game in both countries. It follows a similar agreement with the Liga de Futbol Americano Profesional in Mexico reached in November in Edmonton.

The CFL followed that up by holding a combine for 51 Mexican players in Mexico City on Jan. 13. The next day, the nine Canadians teams drafted 27 players over three rounds.

Next week, Ambrosie will travel overseas to meet with French and Austrian football officials as well as those in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. He’ll gather with the French federation Tuesday in London before sitting with the Austrian federation Wednesday in Vienna. On Thursday, he’s in Helsinki to speak with Nordic representatives.

And Ambrosie is hopeful he can secure partnerships after each meeting.

"The world is our oyster," he said. "These meetings with those federations aren’t first meetings, we’ve been speaking with them.

"I don’t want to be presumptuous … but I think we’re optimistic that what we’re trying to do is help one another and my feeling is that’s going to yield positive outcomes."

If the CFL were to follow suit, then a draft of GFL players could be forthcoming. But Ambrosie also suggested a much bigger selection process.

"We’re hopeful as we go visit France, Austria and the four nordic countries next week that this concept could expand," he said. "Perhaps we end up not so much with the GFL-only draft but might we potentially end up with a draft of European players."

The partnership with the GFL came following two days of meetings at the CFL’s head office in Toronto. As part of the deal, select GFL players will participate in the league’s national combine in March, which annually showcases the best Canadian players eligible for the league draft.

"The wheels are in motion," Ambrosie said. "We said we’d be working with our coaches and GMs in the days ahead to make sure they’re sending not only the best of the best but the profile of player that will best suit the circumstances."

The two sides also discussed having Canadians play in Germany following their university or junior careers. There also was talk of Germans playing in the Canadian university system.

Ambrosie said there’s a good reason why he’s pushing so hard to take the CFL globally.

"It’s worked in sports," he said. "It’s been a driver of financial success for virtually every league in the world.

"One of the things I’m passionate about is why not the CFL? Is there a rule that no one told me about that says we were supposed to be small when the world of sports is getting big? We’re just going to take our seat at the table and I think it’s long overdue."

A potential benefit of the international partnerships is reaching TV agreements to have CFL games broadcast internationally. In fact, Ambrosie said there’s been interest expressed by some Mexican outlets to carry Canadian contests.

"It’s really early days but it absolutely shows the potential," Ambrosie said. "And we talked about that with the German Federation and they asked the same question: Are we interested in talking to some of their TV networks and the answer is, of course we will be.

"This is the beginning of creating a much bigger interest in the CFL around the world, then finding a way to harness that interest in revenue."

The GFL features 32 franchises playing by American rules in two separate divisions. The top circuit consists of 16 teams vying for the German Bowl.

The Schwabisch Hall Unicorns captured the ’18 title, rallying from a 13-0 deficit to down the Frankfurt Universe 21–19 before 15,213 spectators in Berlin.

In a statement, the GFL said, "it sits atop a rapidly growing national system of gridiron football that boasts 500 club teams and 65,000 members, often described as the deepest and most advanced in Europe."

"We are confident this partnership will benefit both leagues and football in both countries," GFL chairman Carsten Dalkowski added.

Ambrosie’s ambitious global plan comes a time when the CFL and its players have yet to begin collective bargaining talks. The current deal expires in May.

And Ambrosie said one subject to be discussed is determining the designation of foreign players. CFL game-day rosters consist of 44 players, with 21 being national (Canadian), 20 international (usually American) and three quarterbacks of any nationality.

"That’s a conversation we’re going to have to have with the players and we will," Ambrosie said. "I think it all has to start with a goal we share and that’s how do we grow the game, how do we grow our revenues?

"Listen, we can spend a lot of time fighting over a small pie or we can bake the mother of all pies and then have more to share with one another. That will be the kind of conversation I want to have with our players because in the end I want them to be successful on the field and successful financially. The way I best serve the players is to grow our game."

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.