Back in early May, the CFL announced a deal with Whistle Sports in the hopes that they would help the league attract a younger audience. It was a good first step, and the video of Andy Fantuz breaking the record for one-handed catches was entertaining.
But this deal was just that, a first step. If the CFL wishes, as they say they do, to continue to reach what are commonly referred to as millennials, they need to take it a step further.
The CFL needs to make games available to all via online streaming.
More and more people are “cutting the cord” and ditching their cable subscriptions, and instead choosing to consume their entertainment exclusively over the Internet: Netflix, Hulu, Shomi, Crave, Yahoo, WWE Network, Amazon, the list goes on and on. There are numerous options out there to watch television shows and movies, and it makes having a cable subscription almost unnecessary.
The one area where people still need to watch programs via the traditional means of cable is sports. The legal online options for watching sports are miniscule. The NHL, of all leagues, has taken the lead when it comes to online streaming by launching Rogers NHL Gamecenter this past season. For a fee, fans can purchase a season pass and watch any and all games wherever and whenever they want.
Also, the NFL just recently announced a deal with Yahoo that will see this upcoming season’s Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars game from London streamed on the service for free around the globe. It is the first time an NFL game will be streamed, but it will not be the last time.
The CFL is not completely out of the online streaming game, as the league experimented with some streaming last week in a pair of preseason games. The results were mixed. While a vast majority of observers were effusive in their praise of the stream the Ticats hosted on their website of their game last Monday against Ottawa, the results for the following day’s stream on TSN.ca of the Argos and Blue Bombers tilt from Varsity Stadium was not hailed as successful. Glitches, lack of audio and the inability to access the game without having a TSN Go account were just a few of the complaints lobbed at the Canadian sports leader. Two good attempts, one better than the other, but more still needs to occur before fans should be satisfied with the league’s efforts to make game accessible online to those around the globe.
The league announced last month that they came to terms on a television contract extension with TSN that will last until 2021. There needs to have been some language in that deal that allows for universal online access to live CFL games, either via TSN.ca or other means (such as CFL.ca). If not, and the league waits until the 2022 season to find a way to stream all their games on the Internet without the need for a TSN Go account — which, by the way, you can only get if you have a cable subscription — they will have failed in their desire to attract the millennial generation.
The CFL needs to take the lead on this one. They are already behind the NHL and will soon fall behind the NFL, NBA and MLB — as all three will more than likely have some form of online streaming by the time the CFL’s contract with TSN is due for renewal — if the CFL does not start showing their games online without the need for a cable subscription prior to 2022.
Last week’s streams were a step in the right direction, but the league should not rest on its laurels. Watching programs online is no longer what the future holds, it is what the present is, and the CFL needs to be a leader in this area, not a follower.
If the CFL wants to attract younger fans, there is no other option. Universally accessible online streaming of preseason, regular season and post season games is a must.