The CFL’s official partnership with data and technology firm Genius Sports was universally billed as a business coup d’etat this offseason, but fans of three-down football have yet to see the tangible results.
That shouldn’t be cause for concern according to commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who joined the Football North podcast hosted by 770 CHQR’s Jock Wilson this week.
“Genius has been everything we could have hoped for. They’re positive, professional, and they’re dynamic. They’re helping us in the US right now on our US broadcast rights negotiation. Again, just another area where they have brought value,” Ambrosie shared.
“For the fan who’s wondering what Genius is all about, what I can say is they have outperformed in every respect in the early stages of our relationship, and we have high expectations for the future.”
The news that Genius is assisting with an American television deal is a welcome revelation for CFL fans. The 2022 season has been broadcast on ESPN2, ESPNEWS, and ESPN+, with whom the league has been partnered in some capacity since the 1980s. However, the financials of the current US TV deal, which have not been publicly reported, are far from a lucrative source of revenue — a glaring deficiency in an era where football-hungry networks are funding their own alternative leagues to generate content.
Rectifying that situation is in the best interest of Genius Sports, who profit from that revenue by virtue of their stake in the league’s new commercial arm, CFL Ventures. However, the highly-touted partnership with the UK-based company was promised to extend far past rubbing elbows with American TV executives, with talk of everything from tailored marketing research to revolutionary new broadcast technologies, as well as spearheading the CFL’s approach to legal sports gambling.
While none of those advancements have been obvious to those following the league, Ambrosie believes the perceived lack of activity can be attributed to a communication failure.
“Interestingly enough, I think what that original press release perhaps lacked is setting some expectations,” he admitted. “Because what we learned in those earliest days with Genius is that what we really needed to do is create a strong foundation on which the entire future marketing effort could be built.”
That work has been going on continuously behind the scenes, with Genius Sports developing what the commissioner describes as a “giant data reservoir” of fan information that will be used to formulate outreach to each individual.
“In the old days, somebody would send us a newsletter and they’d send everybody a newsletter, the same one, and then you would troll through that newsletter for things that were of interest to you,” Ambrosie explained. “What Genius has helped us to see is the opportunity for us to actually send everybody very specific things, very specific to their interests.”
As an example, Ambrosie speculated that fans could soon be sent marketing material when players from their college alma mater are playing in their city. The goal is to move boldly into the mobile marketing age and find ways to connect with the vital younger demographic.
“They’re getting most of their information to their mobile device and they tend to consume that information differently,” the commissioner noted. “They’re more inclined to be able to be targeted because they have very specific areas of interest and you’ve got to be able to give it to them the way they want.”
That includes greater access to legal sports gambling, which has become a key focus for the league since the floodgates opened in Ontario. With other provinces soon planning to follow suit, Genius will be at the forefront of the league’s continued expansion into the single-game betting arena.
“What we really want is tens of thousands of fans with a $10 bet on their team or some element of the game,” Ambrosie said. “That’s going to make the game more exciting for them. We know that’s been transformative in the world of sports.”
The commissioner is not alone in his continued optimism surrounding the Genius partnership, with all nine team presidents continuing to sing the deal’s praises, but those watching from afar will need to see something meaningful before making a determination.
According to Ambrosie, that will only be possible with a little patience first.
“It’s a really interesting idea to want to build a customizable marketing program for your fans, but unless it starts with a good foundation, you’ll never get where you want to go,” he stressed. “What we’ve been hard at work on for most of the last 12 months is we’ve been really working on building that foundation.”