Much of the discussion around the NFL and Canada focuses on the Buffalo Bills, and for good reason. While the Bills' annual conflict-causing ventures north of the border don't necessarily have to bode badly for the CFL, it looks like they're not going away any time soon; the NFL's International Committee voted in May to let the Bills seek a five-year extension with Rogers, and comments from both sides have sounded enthusiastic despite a preseason game this year being moved back to the Bills' home in Orchard Park, New York. However, while that series doesn't have to be a huge threat to the CFL, it always winds up stirring up some conflict and creating problems. What's interesting is how that isn't the only NFL approach to Canada, though. The Seattle Seahawks also have a substantial presence north of the border, as they draw numerous Canadian fans to their home games and even have a designated "Canada Day" at one particular game each fall, but Mike Beamish's Vancouver Sun report on their incursion across the border this weekend (bringing a few players and team personnel for a three-day tour promoting the team) illustrates how the Seahawks have found a way to reach out to northern fans without running into major conflicts.
Beamish's piece starts off by talking about CFL fears of the NFL, especially of expansion to Canada, but much of the piece illustrates how these leagues can comfortably coexist on smaller issues. Most notable are the comments from B.C. Lions' president Dennis Skulsky on why his team's decided to partner with the Seahawks on one event, a free football clinic for kids aged 7-14 Saturday:
"It's a celebration of football, and growing the game of football," explained Lions president Dennis Skulsky. "We have many fans who are both NFL and CFL fans. That's always going to be the case. But I think the percentage of fans who drive to Seattle, versus going to a Lions game, is very small. To their [Seahawks] credit, they always advise us of their plans. This is quite different than the Bills playing a game in Toronto. If we were talking about the Seahawks coming to play an NFL game here … I'm not for that. I wouldn't support that. Not even a pre-season game. We're in the sports/entertainment business together. They have their territory. We have ours."
Skulsky makes an important point there. Far too many people in Canada see the NFL and CFL as diametrically opposed, but the reality is it's quite possible to be fervent fans of both leagues, and many people are. Thus, activities like the Seahawks' north-of-the-border trip don't have to be seen as attempts to steal CFL fans, and it's good to see the Lions teaming up with the NFL club to put on this minor football clinic. It's a much less high-profile incursion than the Bills' annual ventures north of the border, and as a result, it's being received much more fondly. There are many areas where the leagues have common ground, particularly in promoting football to kids, so it's nice to see some cooperation instead of sabre-rattling. Plenty of people are fans of both of these leagues, and that's a good thing. The Seahawks are smart to limit their trips to Canada and give the Lions advance notice of what they're doing, and the Lions are making the right move to go along with it and even cooperate with parts of the NFL team's ventures. These teams have shown they can coexist, and that bodes well for future interactions between their leagues.