Last night, 58 young men managed to turn years of hard work and sacrifice into a fulfillment of a dream; to have a chance to play professional football. The 2014 CFL Draft was held last night and fans were invited to watch the first round live on TSN, then the remaining rounds would be streamed on their website.
Football fans north of the border were salivating for their first real taste of the 2014 football season. This was the perfect opportunity for the league to showcase a draft class which was not as deep as years previous, but still plenty exciting. The league and TSN just signed a new long-term broadcasting deal and this was the first major CFL event of this new era. So naturally, there was a fair bit of expectation to deliver a touchdown here, so to speak.
Instead, TSN and the CFL dropped the ball. Over and over again.
Having just watched the NFL Draft on TV the week previous, perhaps I have been spoiled by how slick and professional the NFL does events like this. The first round was broadcast on ESPN (and on TSN2 here in Canada) with the remaining rounds on the NFL Network. The first round showed each team’s draft pick being announced by the league’s commissioner and introduced for the world to see.
There was ample time to discuss each team’s pick as well as announce any last minute trades. It gave viewers a chance to identify with the young hopefuls and if you were a fan of a particular team, you finally have a chance to see where your future was going. The NFL Draft got the saliva jets going for a lot of their fans and for them, September can’t come fast enough.
Now cue the CFL Draft TV show…which was, to say the least, a visual gong show.
Obviously, you simply cannot compare the two leagues when it comes to how they approach the draft. The CFL doesn’t hold the draft in an auditorium or arena and invite people to watch it live. But it can control how the product is presented on TV. Up until they went live on the air, the hype was that of Ottawa drafting first overall and who would they be taking with said pick. Then all of a sudden it was announced that Ottawa had traded the first overall pick to the Calgary Stampeders.
This turned out to be the first of many trades made within the hour-long TV show. It also made for a very difficult hour of viewing, as the talking heads had a hard time keeping viewers informed as to who was moving where. All of this was going on, mind you, while teams were on the clock to make their selections. There was zero sense of cohesion among the panel of football analysts and it made for a very difficult watching of the show. It really came across as them trying to jam everything into 40 minutes of actual TV coverage and left many fans wondering what the heck was going on.
Also extremely unusual was the commissioner of the league, Mark Cohon, only announcing the first overall pick and then he was gone. Again, the NFL Draft had their commissioner announce all 32 picks in the first round, whether the player was attending the event or not. Cohon announced the first pick and then the panel was left to announce the remaining picks, almost as an afterthought.
I mean, was there something more pressing for the CFL’s commissioner? Did he want to go watch the Rangers/Penguins game? Was this simply not a good day for him? Would he have preferred waiting another day to do this? After all, this day is kind of important. In years previous he announced every single draft pick, even if it wasn’t a grand presentation. Yes, he doesn’t get to have a young man come up and give him a big bear hug like they do down south. But how about showing a small token of respect for these kids and the fans of this league?
So after what felt like the longest hour of a lifetime, viewers were invited to head over to TSN.ca to watch the remaining rounds via a streaming internet feed. What happened next was a fumble that quite possibly made the event look even more ridiculous than before, which was no small feat.
In order to view the streaming feed, you had to log on to TSN GO, which is a new application that the network is rolling out in order to enhance the viewing audience’s TV experience. Only problem was, you had to subscribe to either Bell TV or Rogers TV in order to access this. Many viewers, including most of Western Canada, do not subscribe to or have access to these companies.
Therefore, they would have been unable to watch the remaining rounds of this draft. Disregard that TSN broke away from the draft coverage after one hour in order to air a pre-taped documentary on tennis. I’ll let that one sink in for you all.
So now, at a time when fan interest is starting to climb with this draft and provided the one hour debacle didn’t completely turn them off from this whole process, you now ask these same fans to finish watching online but don’t give the vast majority the possibility of doing so? Unless they have the right TV provider, which somewhat goes against the whole idea of the Internet in the first place.
TSN finally saw the errors of their ways as they finally opened up the streaming to people who had a computer. Or if you actually downloaded the TSN GO app on your smartphone, you could also watch the stream there. So yours truly sat there in his living room, watching a TV show on a 5 inch screen in order to find out who would be joining the ranks of the Montreal Alouettes.
To recap: You essentially tell the people that make up your fan base, who have no choice but to invest in this monopoly to see what they want, that they have to play by some draconian rules in order to willingly participate and prop up not only your business (TSN) but the business that you are partnering with (CFL)?! This is all while fighting the notion from CFL naysayers that this is an amateur league.
Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is why we can’t have nice things.
So how do the league and its partner network fix this? How do they prevent these sorts of shenanigans from ever happening again?
It was just recently announced that TSN was adding additional channels in order to offer viewers more access to several sporting events, much like how Rogers Sportsnet has multiple channels. It would behoove TSN and the CFL, if only for one day, to dedicate one of those channels next year entirely to the CFL Draft.
The WHOLE draft, not just the first round. They are going to be looking for content to fill these channels anyways, since there’s no more NHL on TSN and Rogers Sportsnet has the exclusive rights for the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts. So why not broadcast all seven rounds on this particular channel.
And if people would prefer to watch it on their home/work computer, LET THEM. Don’t make them jump through hoops and sign up for some ridiculous app in order to do so. Just simply say, “Go to tsn dot ca slash cfl and you can watch it live.” TSN already does similar to this for the NHL Trade Deadline so don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it’s impossible.
Here’s an even more novel concept….do what the NFL does! You fly in the top 60 prospects to Toronto for the day, have them be at the ready so when the commissioner calls their name they can come up on stage, shake his hand and then hold up a jersey of their new CFL team. And if fans want to come watch it live at an auditorium or arena, why not let them? If fans are willing to come from all over this nation to watch a Grey Cup in sub-zero weather, surely some diehards would be willing to come watch a live draft show.
I tweeted out yesterday that when things happens like they did, it makes it very difficult to argue against the detractors who deride the CFL as unprofessional and amateur. When my buddies and I can conduct a fantasy football draft with more order than a professional league, something is terribly, terribly wrong.
Full blame has to fall 50-50 on the league and the network for a shoddy overall presentation of a sport that hundreds of thousands of fans adore and support. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; If you start treating events like this as an afterthought, eventually so will the people whom you need to support it.
I’ll be back later on with a full-blown analysis of the Montreal Alouettes’ off-season as well as what to expect for training camp this coming June. As always, you can follow me on twitter for more news and developments.