REGINA -- The CFL is unlikely to begin its season on its scheduled May start date due to continuing financial uncertainty, according to TSN football insider Dave Naylor.

On Tuesday, the CFL analyst tweeted that the league and the CFL players association (CFLPA) were putting the final touches on the league’s return to play protocol for staging games in 2021.

Naylor said most of the protocol was developed last summer for the proposed bubble in Winnipeg. There is also overlap of people working on the CFL’s return to play protocol that also worked on the NHL’s document, however the CFL has other challenges.

“You’re going to have to satisfy the provincial authorities with not the same amount of resources that you’re putting behind it,” Naylor said.

Naylor felt the proposal was being offered to provinces by “late this week," but might not be offered to all provinces with CFL teams at the same time.

“You give it to one government and they sign off on it then you feel confident you’re going to the next province or if you give it to one provincial government and they say 'hey, we have an issue with this, if you address it by the time you get to the others you’ve already addressed what may be a red flag,'” Naylor said.

With case numbers slowly trending downward, the league's return to play plan might appear less dangerous than when the NHL began its season in January. COVID-19 numbers were soaring in Canada and the vaccine rollout had only just begun.

The protocol will focus primarily on COVID-19 testing and stopping the spread of the virus.

“It’s really just laying out how much testing, when does the testing happen and what’s the protocol for players that test positive," Naylor said. "Also how are players going to interact and train and practice in hopefully a preventative protocol that would avoid any spread of the disease if somebody was carrying it."

While government approval is a major part of the return to play process for the league, Naylor said getting fans in the stands also provides another road block.

“Before you can even get into a conversation about how many fans you’re going to be able to put into stands, you have to get approval just to be able to play the games and hold team activity,” Naylor said. “I think the fans in the stands issue can be largely dependent on how much virus there is.”

Naylor revealed in one Canadian province, a committee was formed to discuss fans in the stands with provincial authorities in 2020. However, discussions quickly came to a halt with the second wave hit.

“That was essentially put on hold with the idea being that the conversation would be resumed once it came around to the end of winter, cases came down, vaccine rollout and the governments might be more willing to engage in that topic,” Naylor said.

The CFL’s regular season is scheduled to begin Jun. 10, however, there are still restrictions in place that would make it difficult to begin on the anticipated start date.

The United States-Canada border is still closed and many CFL teams laid off staff that will need to be re-hired to prepare for the season.

“Still got a lot of the population that isn’t going to be vaccinated. Teams are going to need some lead up to this because, as we know, they’ve laid people off,” Naylor said.

The league averaged 23,000 fans per game in 2019 and gate revenue is the highest source of revenue for teams.

“I don’t think the league wants to begin the season without fans in stands, I think they might be willing to do so if it were only a few weeks,” Naylor said.

Based on numbers from the Saskatchewan Roughriders 2020 Annual General Meeting, the team made $17.1 million from gate receipts in 2019-20, which makes up approximately 43 per cent of their revenue.

It’s unclear at what the capacity of stadiums will be, but it’s not expected to return to 100 per cent this season.

“If you want games without fans in the stands, you’re basically asking owners to throw tons of money away that they’ll never get back,” Naylor said.