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Speros thinks CFL's future turns on television deal CFL 1994: THE FUTURE


In the interest of soliciting a major U.S. television contract, Jim Speros is willing to change the name of the Canadian Football League, some of its long-standing rules, and maybe even the calendar season.

Not only will the CFL be longer, wider and faster, it will be bigger, better and more American in the eyes of the owner of Baltimore's CFL expansion franchise.

Speros blew into the CFL four months ago on the wings of change. He is a key player in the league's blueprint for expansion in the U.S. If his franchise takes off, it could persuade other American cities to enlist in the CFL cause. And if enough other American cities enlist, the CFL will be in better position for a television contract with an American network.

Better product plus more U.S. visibility equals big bucks - and football - for all. That's the equation the CFL and Speros are operating on.

"Everyone knows the future of this league is television," Speros said. "For this to be successful, we've got to get a major television contract. When you look at the ADI ratings, Baltimore is between 19 and 22. This is the biggest market in the CFL, bigger than Toronto or Vancouver, bigger than Las Vegas or Sacramento."

Soon after Speros was granted the league's 11th franchise on Feb. 17, he was added to the CFL's expansion and television committees. It is a role the 35-year-old entrepreneur relishes.

And if television is the monster that drives sports, Speros is ready to feed the beast. In a recent interview, he suggested the CFL owners would accept further Americanization of the game in return for a better bottom line.

"If it's for the betterment of the CFL, if it means a big TV contract for us, I think you'll see the owners fall in place for that," he said.

The league's collective bargaining agreement is up after this season, at which point several issues will be up for debate. Here are some of the changes Speros envisions for the CFL in the near future:

* The name change. "The name [of the revamped league] is very important, probably one of the most important things we can do as a league," Speros said. "But we cannot give up the history of the CFL. That's where our roots are."

He said the league must acknowledge its American partners if it's going to sell in the States. That could mean the Canadian-American League. Or the North American League. Or the Continental Football League. Speros prefers North American, but likes Continental for its CFL consistency.

* The import rule. The CFL's import rule likely will be among the first legacies to fall. With 37 American players on their rosters, it won't be long before the U.S. teams have a competitive advantage over the Canadian teams, which are limited to 17 "import" players. Even Canadian owners concede that a change in the ratio is needed. Speros said he thinks the rule will disappear by next season.

* Three downs. Treading on thin ice, Speros said he is willing to sacrifice the league's three-down tradition in favor of four downs the effort to Americanize the sport. This looms as the most controversial element of any revision plans.

"I can see a four-down situation," he said. "In my opinion, it's not going to change the game that much. What it would do is simulate more of the game the American fan is used to.

"It would not disrupt the nature of the game or the history of the game tremendously. It certainly would change it. Probably it would be the most dramatic change. It's been discussed between owners, but there is no decision pending."

* The 20-second clock between plays. Catering to TV, Speros said a 30-second clock might be in the offing. "I'm in favor of the faster-paced game," he said. "It's more of a spectator sport. I'm not in favor of going to 40 seconds like the NFL. But we've got to maximize our TV exposure. If [TV executives] told us a 30-second clock had to be installed, rather than 20, I probably would be in favor of it because we could get more commercials on TV and give announcers more time to talk about the game."

* The season change. Speros speculated the CFL might push its season back a month and play from August to December instead of July to November. "People are more inclined to watch football on TV at that time of year," he said.

This is the least likely change to occur. The CFL can barely play games in its northernmost cities in November. December weather would be unbearable; only two teams, the British Columbia Lions and Toronto Argonauts, have domes.

Speros also said he could see training camp being extended from three weeks to five, as the expansion teams had this year.

* New cities. Speros said he expects to have 24 teams in the league by 1998, including 14 in the U.S. Of the four new teams the league wants to add for 1995, he said he'd like to have two from major U.S. markets and two from mid-sized markets.

"My first goal, and I think the goal of most owners, is to go where the NFL isn't," he said. "Places like Memphis, St. Louis, San Antonio, Orlando, Oakland - those are all big enough cities to support football but don't have it today."

Other cities being mentioned for consideration include Boston, Birmingham, Ala., Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore. Speros said there is interest in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and he likes the idea of putting teams in Detroit and Philadelphia. But he does not like the idea of waging war with the NFL.

"Under no circumstances do I want to go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon with the NFL," he said. "I do not think that would be a good move for the league."

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