One of the first things they team you in Journalism School is that you should never put a date in your lead. The first paragraph of any story needs to grab the attention of the reader and no one gets excited by a date.
That might explain why the Canadian Premier League didn’t lead off its press conference yesterday with the date of its first ever game. Instead, they started by explaining how Volkswagen Canada was the league’s first major corporate partner. More on that in a minute, but to most fans they buried the lead.
April 27, 2019 at 1pm in Hamilton, Ontario. The 905 Derby (ugh, really. You have a team of marketers and that’s what you came up with. What is it with this region and its obsession with area codes?).
The only problem with this – if you view it as a problem – is that the game is at a time that will make it impossible for fans to go to both that game and Toronto FC’s match with Portland at 3pm.
A few celebrate this “shot across the bow” of the CanPL against the established team. It shows intent and a failure to be fearful of Big Bad TFC.
Far more people were puzzled. Why would you cut out thousands of potential fans be making it impossible to do both games that weekend? In time, Hamilton and York will have a solid core of fans that live and die with the team. A tiny, tiny, tiny amount do now. Until that changes it is absolutely vital that CanPL teams seek out fans that are also fans of MLS teams in Canada. This move eliminates the possibility of the curious taking a flyer on the CanPL game as well as the MLS game.
It was preventable and it was a mistake to schedule the game in such a way.
I argued this strongly on Twitter yesterday. Roughly 95% of the people who interacted with the Tweet agreed. Twitter is hardly a scientific tool, but it also isn’t without influence.
It wasn’t long until the insiders were slipping into my messages to tell me that another announcement was coming soon that would make it all make sense. The implication was that this was a TV decision and that it was done to maximize the viewership there.
After hammering back and forth with a few people today what I’ve pieced together is this: The CanPL is very close to working out a pay-to-broadcast deal with TSN. Basically, the CanPL would pay for all production and talent costs and share in advertising revenue generated during the broadcast. In exchange TSN would promote the airing of the games.
No guarantees on editorial content beyond that, but SportsCentre sure does talk about the CFL a lot. Sportsnet, not so much. TSN has 100% of the CFL rights.
It was even suggested that the Volkswagen deal was largely tied into the deal. Basically, the auto giant would be the title sponsor of the broadcasts.
It’s not an uncommon relationship for a start up league and, on the surface, not the worst idea. They aren’t getting on TSN in a standard rights deal and streaming only will make it hard for them to get much traction beyond the hardcore audience that is only so big.
But, it’s still a bad idea to schedule games so that fans in MLS markets are forced to choose between. At best, it’s just disrespectful of fans. Ignoring that there are conflicting loyalties at play is silly and if you force a long-time TFC fan from Hamilton to pick a side he’s likely staying at BMO Field. That’s doubly the case with the York market, which already mostly identifies with being from Toronto anyway.
So, why? Just why?
Finally, how many fans do they hope to gain by being on TV? The industry trend is moving away from cable TV to streaming only. You’re not hitting Gen Zers with this. You’re barely hitting Gen Xers at this point.
And even the ones you’re hitting are probably already aware of the product. TFC struggles to draw 100,000 viewers. The CanPL will be lucky to hit 20,000 regularly. And all of them would probably watch on YouTube too.
Sometimes you need to be realistic. If what is being suggested in true then CanPL would have been better ignoring conventional TV this year, putting the product on YouTube for the hardcore (and getting some local TV deals), focusing on the in-stadium experience and then revisiting the major national media when the negotiations are on more equal terms.