The last few weeks in the CFL has been a whirlwind the likes of which we rarely see in March.
To recap it all would be a fool’s errand, but amidst all the XFL talk and merger chatter, the overarching theme was the need for the CFL to generate more revenue.
My colleague John Hodge has spent the better part of the last two weeks explaining why the CFL’s business model may not be as broken as some claim, and I find myself agreeing with many, if not all, of Hodge’s points.
Even if you don’t believe the league’s business model isn’t irrevocably broken, I think we can all agree that the CFL needs to find a way to generate more revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many things, and one of those things was the CFL being on shakier ground than we all thought after not playing in 2020.
While the CFL didn’t play a season in 2020, Canada’s new soccer league, the Canadian Premier League, did. They held a six-week tournament in Prince Edward Island in August and September which was broadcast mostly on their own streaming platform, OneSoccer.
Some games were shown on regular television — CHCH in Hamilton had a handful of games, as did CBC, which also aired the league’s championship match between Hamilton’s Forge FC and Halifax’s HFX Wanderers. However, if fans of the CPL wanted to watch all the action they needed to subscribe to OneSoccer.
What does this have to do with the CFL?
Well, what if the CFL did something similar and created their own — for lack of a better name — OneFootball streaming service? Would CFL fans pay $70 per year — which is what a year of OneSoccer costs — for a Canadian football streaming platform? I think many would, especially if they got most of what CPL and Canadian soccer fans get when they sign up for OneSoccer.
I can already see a bunch of you poo-pooing the idea and yelling at me that the service wouldn’t be able to show CFL games since the league and TSN signed a six-year TV rights extension back in 2019. And I agree that the lack of CFL games would make the service less desirable than OneSoccer, but OneSoccer doesn’t just cover the Canadian Premier League and doesn’t only show games.
Aside from CPL games, OneSoccer shows games from international leagues, including Mexico’s top league, Liga MX and they also show plenty of Canada’s international matches, including recently airing some of Canada’s 2024 World Cup qualifying games.
So what if a Canadian football streaming service did the same? They could air games from all the international leagues the CFL has recently partnered up with for Randy Ambrosie’s global initiative.
They could, and should, partner with Football Canada on this endeavour, similar to how the CPL partnered with the Canadian Soccer Association to create OneSoccer, and show the games and tournaments Team Canada participates in.
They could broadcast Canadian Junior Football League games and they could use the platform to stream their games for an international audience that already pays $70 a year for the ability to watch games. Now they would get all the extras included with the streaming service on top of the games for the same price.
Lastly, and this is the biggest one they could acquire: they could become the exclusive home of U Sports football.
Many Canadian football fans lament the lack of coverage for Canadian university football and this would be a way to rectify that. Just like with the CPL and OneSoccer, you have most of the games exclusive to the service but allow for some of the bigger games — like the national semi-final bowl games and Vanier Cup — to also be broadcast on regular television.
It would give fans of U Sports a dedicated home and give it some of the attention it deserves — a win for both sides and could be a big draw for some fans.
Games aside, OneSoccer has a plethora of quality content, including pre and post-game shows, a nightly talk show called OneSoccer Today, and exclusive behind-the-scenes content like documentaries that the CFL could desperately use to up its profile.
The lack of dedicated coverage even from TSN, especially when it comes to pre and post-game analysis, is something I have heard fans complain about for years. If TSN isn’t willing to provide it, and they have shown they aren’t, then the streaming service could.
OneSoccer employs a host of knowledgeable soccer people, and while TSN has a robust staff of really good football people, they don’t have them all. There are more than a few people out there that I can think of that could be used for the streaming service to offer smart, thoughtful, and thorough analysis before and after games, or on a nightly show.
The idea of the service also producing behind-the-scenes content so you can get to know the players and coaches more should be very enticing. Stuff like that would likely lead to many fans who want to know these people on a more personal level ponying up the money to see it.
TSN did a wonderful series of documentaries in the lead-up to the 100th Grey Cup, but that was nearly 10 years ago and we haven’t seen them dedicate much time to stuff like that since. I truly believe there is a market for that type of content, and look no further than how popular NFL Films and WWE Network’s documentaries are for proof. Fans love getting behind-the-scenes access and if TSN won’t provide it in a meaningful way, that is where the league could step in a fill a void.
Another big feature could be classic content. The CFL recently debuted their Grey Cup On Demand Portal to a lot of fanfare, and TSN even aired older games last summer showing that the appetite for classic content is there.
But why stop at just Grey Cups? The CFL has decades of footage that could be put up on the streaming service for fans to watch. They could create new, original content by inviting players back to talk about classic games or plays, not just re-air what people have already seen.
The possibilities are endless.
The CFL wants to create more revenue, maybe even has to create more revenue to survive, and they are looking for any avenue to do that. Following in the footsteps of another Canadian pro sports league and creating their own over-the-tip streaming platform could be one way of achieving that goal.