Despite playing in the smallest city in the CFL, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have become the league's economic engine thanks to their province-wide passionate support. Now, the Lingerie Football League is hoping to tap into that same groundswell of football support with Wednesday's announcement that their third Canadian franchise (following the 2011-established and long-problematic Toronto Triumph and the recently-announced Abbotsford, B.C. franchise (now named the B.C. Angels) will be based in Regina and play games at the Brandt Centre (home of the WHL's Regina Pats). However, there are plenty of reasons to believe that this particular expansion won't pay off, as it's difficult to see a lingerie football team arousing (well, maybe that way) the same sort of passion that has sustained the Roughriders.
The Regina market is a fascinating one for professional sports. By all sorts of conventional metrics, such as the Conference Board of Canada's infamous population analyses, it shouldn't work. The Regina metropolitan area has just under 211,000 people, which most would suggest is far too small to sustain any sort of professional sports. However, the Roughriders have managed to not only survive but to thrive in recent years, partly thanks to the intense passion of fans who actually live in Regina but additionally thanks to their province-wide appeal (which is one of the many reasons why splitting the provincial fanbase up by throwing a CFL team in Saskatoon would be problematic). The LFL is clearly banking on some of that support translating to their particular brand of football.
However, there are reasons to think that's not going to work. For one thing, the average LFL ticket price appears well above the average CFL one; in the Abbotsford expansion discussion, commissioner Mitch Mortaza said their average ticket price is about $48. The most recent league-wide CFL data I could find is from 2008, but it looks about right, having basic tickets usually start between $20 and $30. Roughriders' single-game tickets currently start at $31. It's tough to imagine people shelling out more for the LFL than the CFL.
Furthermore, it's difficult to envision much province-wide interest in an upstart team playing lingerie football. The Roughriders have survived and thrived in Regina's small market thanks to their history and their unique connection to the province, but they had plenty of lean years and even had to rely on fundraising telethons at times. If a CFL team had to resort to that, it seems unlikely a LFL team will do all that well in this particular market.
The LFL does have significant advantages on the financial side, though. For one thing, they don't pay their players, so that takes out one major expense. In Toronto, reports indicate there were plenty of shortcuts taken on the safety side, including getting players to manually alter hockey helmets and play with them, so that probably saves the league money as well. By all accounts, the LFL appears to generally be a license to print money, and as long as city/arena administrators like the Brandt Centre's Neil Donnelly are willing to support it, maybe it will draw enough people to pay the bills. Don't expect this team to be the Roughriders part two, though, or even any significant competition for them. Instead, it may just be more proof of their unique nature that allows them to exist and do well in a market like Regina.