Commissioner Randy Ambrosie says CFL versions of ‘Drive to Survive’ series, kids-only broadcasts in the works

Photo courtesy: CFL

We are living in the golden era of content production and it looks like the CFL might finally be getting with the times.

During a stop in Calgary as part of his annual cross-country road trip, commissioner Randy Ambrosie shared that the league is exploring an opportunity to produce behind-the-scenes content in the style of Netflix smash-hit documentary series Formula 1: Drive to Survive.

“I’m happy to say, without providing any detail at all, that we are working on a concept right now that we are very excited about and could be something that could really engage a lot of fans,” Ambrosie said.

Since the release of its first season in March of 2019, Drive to Survive has captivated viewers and driven interest in the sport of racing. That has led fans of the CFL to speculate that similar content could be extremely beneficial to the CFL, an idea also parroted by the upstart XFL.

The Ottawa Redblacks have already taken the lead through the creation of their own YouTube series Behind the R, but a league-wide series could go a long way towards attracting new fans.

“My wife and I have friends who are, frankly, just not really sporty at all and they’re big F1 fans because of that show, as an example. We’re thinking about how we might use something along that line, probably different, but the same sort of fan engagement tool,” Ambrosie admitted.

“That is the modern world we live in and you have to consider all of those options. We happen to be in a really interesting discussion right now with a group that have a concept that we’re very excited about. That could be our CFL version of that. I’m told it’ll be the number one show in the world.”

While that may be tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, the NFL’s long-running training camp reality series Hard Knocks has shown that viewers lap up the type of underdog stories abundant in the CFL. However, that can only attract a certain demographic of viewers and the league will be exploring other avenues to entice younger fans.

The NFL had massive success with specialized children’s broadcasts on Nickelodeon this season and the CFL may soon have the capacity to create similar content thanks to their partnership with data and technology firm Genius Sports.

“In our CFL stadiums, they’re going to install these incredibly sophisticated cameras. This sounds dramatic and I might not be perfectly accurate in my description, but they literally capture thousands of frames a second,” Ambrosie explained.

“It’s the technology that will allow us at some point on TV to have that the player’s running 24.5 miles an hour. It’s the augmentation capabilities where for a younger audience, you can do the slime trail.”

“You probably saw the NFL do that with their Nickelodeon platform. It’s going to be an opportunity for us to consider having a second feed that’s entirely about kids, so when the ball’s in the air, it’s a green slime trail or a red slime trail, perhaps depending on who’s playing and who’s throwing the ball.”

The technology, known as Second Spectrum, is just part of what Genius is bringing to the table, in addition to advancements in the league’s tailored marketing and betting portfolio. It could be the most noticeable change for long-time CFL viewers however.

Both behind-the-scenes content and kid-focused augmented broadcasts would be a massive step forward for the league, but both would require significant financial input to pull off effectively.

The CFL has never had a great reputation for putting their money where their mouth is, but perhaps that too is changing with the times.

Abbott is a UBC student, youth coach and lifelong CFL fanatic. He specializes in coverage of the CFL draft and the league's global initiative.