DAVIS: Riders do the right thing by not providing free video stream

Screenshot courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders
The Saskatchewan Roughriders were the last CFL team to allow the lifting of local TV blackouts, sometime back in the 1990s. Now they’re evidently the last team giving in on video streaming, the on-line televising of their games.
This will certainly be considered an archaic opinion by the modern, anti-paywall crowd, but maybe the Roughriders are doing the right thing by not providing free video streaming for anyone with a computer or cell phone.
Why should they give away their product for free? It didn’t work very well for newspapers, which originally gave away their content before scrambling to make money off its availability by setting up paywalls and trying to sell subscriptions. Free-to-pay didn’t appeal to the on-line crowd.
The Roughriders are being criticized for not video streaming their final preseason game, slated for Thursday against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan’s first game, one week earlier against the home-town Calgary Stampeders, was televised on TSN, so there was no need to provide video streaming, which is usually a scaled-down, lower-quality version of a network telecast.
However, the Blue Bombers played a home, preseason game last week and were praised for providing a video stream.
The Roughriders have numerous in-stadium camera crews whose work appears immediately on the gigantic video screens inside Mosaic Stadium. It wouldn’t be difficult to have those cameras focusing on the game instead of the crowd, so a reasonable rendition of the game could be video streamed. As with all Roughriders games, there’s always an audience wanting to watch the franchise self-dubbed as “Canada’s Team.”
TSN is the CFL’s television partner. Every TV contract for the past three decades has prevented CFL teams from enforcing local blackouts.
In Saskatchewan, the blackout used to be province-wide. For the Edmonton Eskimos, it covered most of northern Alberta; for the Calgary Stampeders, most of southern Alberta. The idea then, from the teams’ viewpoint, was that fans wouldn’t buy tickets if they could watch the game for free on TV. In those days the league’s finances were gate-driven, dependent on the number of sold tickets. The CFL and its nine franchises still rely heavily on gate receipts, but TV contracts, advertising partners and other promotions provide a substantial share of the league’s revenues.
The CFL ultimately decided that lifting blackouts would promote the league, its teams, the players and the enjoyment of watching a game in a stadium. Lifting blackouts also increased the value of the TV contract because TSN would potentially have a larger, more engaged audience for every game.
Yet look at what happens in the CFL playoffs. Home teams have difficulty selling tickets for their playoff games for a couple of reasons: They usually know they will be playing host to a postseason game only one or two weeks beforehand, so it’s a short sales period, plus the potential ticket buyers know they can watch the game on TV in the comfort of their own homes or with friends or at a favourite pub, without enduring bad weather that can hit any CFL stadium in November. Ticket sales suffer when a game can be watched for free — on standard TV or video streaming.
Blackouts may have served their purpose at one time. Video streaming may also become the norm as the CFL (and other pro sports league) floods the internet and social media with its presence, intent on building interest in the game. Giving away your product for free, via video streaming, may pay off long-term. But it doesn’t help sell tickets for tonight’s game.
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.