Thursday, June 20, 2019

CFL Needs to Do a Much Better Job of Marketing Itself

The article below is a reprint from 2016 written by @JasonGregor. Though his article is dated, I think this his opinions are very insightful and worthy of a reprint, especially when we see each week stadiums that are nowhere near filled to their capacity. 

"The Canadian Football League needs to understand how to market itself, and realize it's losing fans, not gaining them."


While other leagues are finding ways to become more inclusive, the CFL is seemingly becoming more exclusive.

More and more teams are limiting dressing room access to media, which means fewer stories for fans to see, hear and read. It is laughable how behind-the-times the league is when it comes to dealing with the media, who are an extension of the fans.

Last week, the decision-makers at head office decided to part ways with freelance writers Justin Dunk and Rod Pedersen.

Dunk is a good young reporter who covers the league very well and who has broken many league stories. He will still do this, just not for the league-run site.

Pederson, the longtime voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, is a huge supporter of the CFL and is not afraid to share his opinion. He is well-known among CFL fans, and even those who disagreed with him would read his stuff.

Pedersen teed off on CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge a few weeks ago on his own blog, and I’m sure that’s why he isn’t writing at anymore. Pedersen didn’t need the gig, he has a lot going on, but the CFL needs people like Pedersen, who are hugely passionate about the league, because the harsh reality is that number is shrinking, not growing.

Pedersen took issue with the Orridge after he said the Roughriders “compromised the reputation of the CFL” after being fined for roster violations and practicing with ineligible players. So what? A little controversy is never bad.

However the commissioner and league should look in the mirror when mentioning the idea of compromised reputations, because a few weeks after the Riders were fined $60,000, the CFL decided to change the rule regarding coaching challenges in the middle of the week after one game had already been played. Why does a professional league change a rule in the middle of the week?

I’ve always been a fan of the CFL, but I find my interest in the league is slowly fading. Not because of the players or the game, but because of how the league is run. And the response I get from many fans on my radio show is their interest in it is dwindling as well.

The Edmonton Eskimos are the defending Grey Cup Champions, but they haven’t made any gains among fans this season. There was excitement in November when they won, but it fizzled out quickly, and they were unable to build on it heading into this season.

If a championship can’t ignite some new passion in your city, I’m not sure what can. That is a major concern, and the league needs to take a long look inward during the off-season and find some ways to attract new fans to and keep loyal fans interested.

They need leadership from the top, and since he’s been hired, Orridge simply hasn't provided any. Instead, we've seen numerous, glaring mistakes.

Last year during Grey Cup week, the league unwisely decided to unveil a new website. However, it wasn't even complete when it went live two days before the Grey Cup. They looked amateurish.

There was the coach-hiring debacle in December, when Orridge put a freeze on coaching hires after some teams poached coaches from other organizations. There were no fines or penalties. He just stopped teams from filling out their coaching vacancies.

The charm of the CFL has always been the personalities of the players. They aren’t paid millions. They aren’t mercenaries. They come from various backgrounds, and often, you saw them become part of the community. Fans related to them and respected them.

However, nowadays, fans know less about the players than ever before, despite there being more platforms for the league and teams to promote their players.

The CFL unveiled a new website, but there are rarely any features on the players. They might want to think about checking out websites of the other pro leagues in North America and take notes.

Those leagues are either promoting their players themselves or having their broadcast partners do it for them.

The Calgary Stampeders have won nine games in a row. I haven’t see one fun or unique interview with a player about their streak.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers resurrected their season with a seven-game winning streak.

They play each other this week. It is the biggest marquee match-up of the season and you can’t find anything about on the front page of on Tuesday morning.

The NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA promote the heck out of their stars and their rivalry games.

Sell yourself. If you don’t do it in 2016, you won’t be successful in any business.

You can listen to Jason Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on TSN 1260, read him at and follow him on Twitter @jasongregor

Canadian Football in Milwaukee? It Almost Happened

Just a few weeks after Brett Favre made a frantic headfirst dive into the County Stadium endzone to beat the Atlanta Falcons and close the book on the Packers playing in Milwaukee, there was talk – serious talk – of a team relocating to Milwaukee to replace the departed Packers and keep the Cream City in the pro football business. Of course, no NFL team would be willing (or allowed) to encroach on Packerland, but the Canadian Football League (CFL) was more than willing – eager even – to plant their flag in Milwaukee.

The writing was on the wall for Milwaukee NFL football by the early 1990s. With expansions planned at Lambeau Field – including the addition of nearly 100 new private boxes – it no longer made financial sense for the Packers to continue their 60-plus year tradition of playing a portion of their home schedule in Milwaukee. The timing was lousy in more ways than one for Milwaukee. The Packers had finally reached the end of their quarter-century post-Lombardi slump and were about to begin an equally-long run of success. The departure also dealt a financial blow to the Brewers and ensured that the Packers would not play a role in their quest for a new publically-financed stadium.

But while the NFL regarded the Packers shift as a move in the right direction for one of the league’s landmark franchises, the CFL saw it as an opportunity. An exclusively-Canadian enterprise since its founding in 1958, the CFL limped into the 1990s nearing financial disaster. Nearly every one of the league’s teams were having money troubles by 1993, when CFL officials embraced the idea of expansion into the US marketplace as a summertime pro football league as a potential saving grace.

In 1993, the league expanded into Sacramento and, in 1994, added franchises in Shreveport, Las Vegas, and Baltimore. The Baltimore franchise – unofficially branded as the reborn Baltimore Colts – were by far the most successful of the American teams, averaging over 37,000 fans per game. The Las Vegas Posse, on the other hand, was a failure in all respects. They drew fewer than 10,000 fans per game – including a low attendance of just over 2,300. They finished the season with a record of 5-13 and were so financially strapped that they were forced to hold team practices in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel. By the end of the season, the franchise was looking for a new home.

In Milwaukee, real estate developer Marvin Fishman began making phone calls. Fishman had been among the original owners of the Milwaukee Bucks and had tried to win an American Football League franchise for Milwaukee in 1965. He loved the idea of introducing Canadian football to Milwaukee and CFL officials were similarly excited about the idea of moving into the Cream City. Milwaukee had a built-in and eager fanbase cultivated by the Packers and a high-capacity facility in County Stadium. Just after the new year, the Milwaukee Journal reported that the only thing standing in the way of Milwaukee joining the CFL was the seemingly pedestrian finalization of a lease between the new team and the Brewers. Fishman, who was poised to become a partner with the existing Posse ownership, prepared to announce the move.

But it was not quite so simple as that. For one thing, Milwaukee was a poor fit for Canadian football. Literally. While the standard NFL playing field of 120 yards just fit onto the grass at County Stadium, the 150 yard-long CFL field would have required major renovations to the bleachers. But CFL backers were confident that a waiver from the league could allow a Milwaukee franchise to play on a smaller-than-regulation field.

Furthermore, Fishman had overestimated the Brewers’ interest in sharing their home with a CFL team. He had hoped that the Brewers might require only a token yearly lease payment – something along the lines of $1 per year – in order to take in the additional concession and parking money from nine CFL home games per year. But the Brewers did not see it that way. Packers games had been regular sell-outs and provided excellent concession revenues during the off-season. But the CFL season ran July to November, meaning the Brewers would have to deal with the bi-weekly wear and tear to the field for most of the summer and could potentially lose out on lucrative weekend home series (CFL games were played on Saturdays) to accommodate the football club. And looking to the future, the Brewers wanted as few complications as possible with their plans for a new baseball-only facility – one that would likely mean the demolition of County Stadium. If a CFL team called the stadium home, an argument could be made for keeping it standing after the Brewers left, possibly upsetting plans to built a new ballpark near the present stadium site. The Brewers countered Fishman’s request for free rent by asking for more than $40,000 per game in rent – a figure that the Posse group could not hope to pay.

Throughout the spring of 1995, with the Packers gone and the Brewers out on strike, talk lingered of the CFL in Milwaukee, either through expansion or relocation. The Shreveport Pirates – coached by former Packers head coach Forrest Gregg – were rumored to looking at Milwaukee, as were the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That August, CFL commissioner Larry Smith toured County Stadium and proclaimed it a perfect site for CFL football. “It’s a fantastic market that already has a football tradition,” he said in a press conference in the stadium parking lot.

But as he spoke, the CFL’s American experiment was already doomed. The Las Vegas Posse, unable to find a suitable home after the Milwaukee deal fell apart, had moved their operations to Miami and planned to rejoin the league in 1996. But the 1995 season – in which the CFL featured five American teams, including new franchises in Birmingham and Memphis – would be the last for the CFL in US. Admitting that American interest in the Canadian version of the game was too sparse, the league retreated north of the border for the 1996 season and has since remained there. The 1994 Packers-Falcons thriller remains the last pro football game played in Milwaukee.

Originally Posted