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Canadian Football League - Always One Step Behind

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Canadian Football League - Always One Step Behind

As of June 30, 2017, the Canadian Football League will once again be without a Commissioner. In Jeffrey Orridge’s two years in the commissioner’s office the CFL attempted to move deeper into the digital fan engagement landscape. It was a well intended, yet half hearted attempt to lure younger fans into the CFL and one that had moderate success. Nevertheless, should it be abandoned or should the CFL double down on the marketing strategy?

Orridge put on a brave face at the last Grey Cup where the CFL on TSN drew an average of 3.6 million viewers down more than 12 per cent from the 4.1 million the previous year. Under Orridge the CFL was quick to send out a media release stating that live streaming audiences on TSN digital platforms increased by 35% compared to the previous year’s Grey Cup. Make no mistake the lower TV audience for the biggest game of the year impacted how the board of governors viewed Orridge.


TSN Bindings

One of Orridge’s first moves in 2015 was to tie the CFL at the hip to TSN and their cable centric audience until 2021. TSN makes revenue via cable or satellite subscriptions and advertising before passing on $40 million a year of that revenue to the CFL. This fan reliant revenue stream allows for the platform provider, TSN and the CFL all to take their cut. However, the model is contingent upon fans buying a subscription to TSN via a platform. It only works going forward if the platform subscriber numbers stay steady or continue to grow. However, throughout North America a new trend has emerged in cable cutting or shifting to free internet based platform delivery.

With the audience shift from a cable or satellite TV platform to a streaming internet based platform, what does this mean for TSN and the CFL? Throughout North America the cable bills of individual households have become outrageously high. This has led to the CRTC mandating new rules around basic packages and content reselling. TSN did not make the list of basic service channels and viewers are being asked by platform providers to recommit to TSN. With NFL.com and KODI internet platform now offering the NFL’s streaming game package Game Pass on a subscription basis, is this the future of sports viewership?

Will streaming subscriptions via an internet platform continue to lead viewership moving away from satellite and cable platform providers? It must have been obvious to the governors, during last Grey Cup, that Orridge’s messaging was disjointed regarding traditional TV and streaming platform audiences.

How could the CFL capture the rapidly expanding streaming audience while being locked into the limited traditional platform parameters of TSN? Why didn’t Orridge position the CFL to expand its digital streaming viewership? Then again maybe he was doing just that when the CFL decided to part ways with Orridge.


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