The CFL's Ill-Fated Expansion Attempt Nearly Destroyed The League

Published on October 22nd, 2022 12:19 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

In photo:  Toronto CFL team cheerleader - The Canadian Football League. The Canadian Football League, which currently consists of 9 Canadian teams, has survived through some pretty trying times in the past.

One of those trying times came in the mid 1990s, when the league attempted to penetrate the US market.

The foray would prove to be a short, ill-fated disaster that left the league with plenty of egg on its face.


In 1993, the CFL, attempting to build off of a surge in popularity (largely thanks to players such as Raghib Ismail and Doug Flutie), announced that they would be expanding to the United States.

The league's first American franchise would be the Sacramento Gold Miners.

Fans of the CFL were largely up in arms over this move, and felt like it would be the beginning of the end for the unique ruleset and history of the league.

If the league expanded into the United States, the largely held belief was, the rules would eventually be changed to accommodate American fans.

Despite the outrage, the league went ahead with the move.

The Gold Miners enjoyed a moderate amount of success in their first season, with the team managing to win 6 games and average about 15,000 fans per game.

The league saw something in these numbers, and decided to push ahead with three more expansion teams for the 1994 season - the Las Vegas Posse, the Baltimore Stallions and the Shreveport Pirates.

The Posse and Pirates were both disasters on the field and at the box office, but the Baltimore Stallions were a massive success.

The Stallions would average more than 37,000 fans per game in the 1994 season, and the team enjoyed a great deal of success on the field.

The CFL decided to add two more American teams in 1995, with the Birmingham Barracudas and Memphis Mad Dogs joining the fold. The Las Vegas Posse would fold, and the Sacramento Gold Miners would relocate to San Antonio.

The Baltimore Stallions won the Grey Cup in 1995.


Despite an American team winning the Grey Cup in 1995, there would be no American teams in the league by 1996.

The dagger? The NFL announcing that the Baltimore Ravens would be joining the NFL. This destroyed the Baltimore Stallions franchise overnight.

To make matters worse - the Canadian teams in the CFL were struggling badly in terms of their finances. The league was a mess, and the American teams were on seriously shaky ground.

When the Baltimore Stallions franchise was no longer viable, the dominoes quickly toppled.

The league announced that the Stallions would be moving to Montreal and the rest of the US teams would be folded.

The American expansion attempt for the CFL was over within three years of starting.


The CFL was in dire straits in the mid 1990s, though they would end up surviving, thanks in part to an agreement with the NFL.

The NFL provided an interest-free $3 million loan to the CFL, and in exchange NFL teams were allowed to sign CFL players that were entering their option year.

The CFL would stabilize and pay back its loan, though they almost didn't make it.


One interesting note from this era - despite US teams not being bound by minimum Canadian player quotas, they didn't enjoy much success, aside from the Baltimore Stallions.

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