What is the NFL’s Relationship to the CFL? The NFL/CFL Agreement Explained

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While the NFL might seem like a juggernaut ready to crush its smaller, Northern counterpart at any second, the NFL needs the CFL to maintain its stronghold on professional football. This need was strong enough for the NFL to shell out its own money to ensure the CFL’s survival.

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The NFL needs the CFL to maintain its stronghold on professional football – image by nevist.org

The NFL/CFL Co-Operative Agreement

In 1997, the Canadian Football League found itself in dire financial straights, after failed experiments to expand the league into the United States. These expansion cities included Shreveport, Louisiana, Memphis Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama. The only way for the CFL to stay afloat was if it received help, and quickly.

With the chance to benefit, the NFL and CFL developed the NFL/CFL Co-Operative Relationship Agreement.

NFL/CFL Co-Operative Agreement -image by iowalum.com

This pact would allow CFL players to sign with NFL teams during the option years of their contracts. In exchange, the NFL would help the CFL to maintain financial stability. The five-year agreement between the two was extended from 2004 to 2006.

In 2008, this working relationship ended, as the CFL repaid its debt to the NFL, and had pulled itself out of murky financial water. The CFL reiterated its respect for the NFL, and the NFL expressed its willingness to work with the CFL, if such a working relationship can exist again.

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NFL would help CFL to maintain financial stability – image by iowalum.com

The Buffalo Bills in Toronto Series

When the Buffalo Bills announced that they would play eight games in Toronto over a five-year period, speculation buzzed over whether or not the Bills would move to Toronto. The NFL reiterated that this move was to solidify the Southern Ontario base for the small-market Bills. They have implied no threat to the CFL, which is evident from their scheduling the first Bills regular season Toronto game in December, after the CFL season finale.

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Team The Buffalo Bills – image by buffalodown.com

In the media, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has stated that he has no intention to sell or relocate the team prior to his death. On the contrary, he has stated that a large percentage of his ticket sales come from the Southern Ontario market, and that such revenues will help to keep the team financially stable, and in Western new York.

Bills In Toronto Series Rocky

Given the price of even nosebleed tickets, the Bills vs. Dolphins Toronto game had a rocky start, but was still broadcast as the late game on CBS. This is not to say that the American game has been rejected by Canadian fans, but that the ticket prices might be more than what many are willing to pay. This year, the Bills have announced reduced ticket rates for the Toronto series.

What is the NFL's Relationship to the CFL? The NFL/CFL Agreement Explained
The Bills vs. Dolphins Toronto – image by heavy.com

The first Toronto series game was still profitable for the Bills, which will ensure their financial stability, and while seeming to have done no harm to the CFL. Wilson’s assurance to the media could have been a bluff, except that relocating an NFL franchise would cost $800,000,000. This rule would hold true for any owner who takes over the Bills after Wilson’s passing.


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