Aylward: To be seen or not be seen, Part 2: CIS in the 21st century

Mike Aylward is writing a three-part series. In Part 1, Mike polled media members and athletic directors on how Canadian Interuniversity Sport may get more media exposure. The football and hockey round-ups are farther down the page.

The CIS and The National Media: Television

As discussed in Part 1, the CIS and its member schools face a major challenge in the 21st century. How to raise the CIS profile in the national media consciousness in the digital age while facing a lot of economic challenges?

What is the state of TV coverage in the CIS right now? There is a lot of good regional coverage by various cable companies such as Shaw, Eastlink, Rogers, and Cogeco across the country.

Radio-Canada took over from RDS and is continuing the tradition of excellent coverage of Quebec conference football and is now applying to the CRTC for a license for a new French language amateur sports channel. TVA has also applied for a license for a sports channel.

Two English-language sports channel applications, one by the Canadian Olympic Committee and one by CBC SportsPlus, seem to be languishing in the application process at the CRTC. Hopefully, these channels will get their licenses and then, hopefully, they will broadcast CIS sports, although even if they do get licensed; there is no guarantee there. I noticed that in quotes from executives involved in the license applications for the potential English language channels; there was phrasing like “perhaps” when it came to the idea of broadcasting the CIS as part of their new channels’ programming. Again, hopefully they will get their licenses and hopefully they will cover the CIS.

What about CIS coverage in the Big Three English national sports networks; TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, and The Score? The CIS recently announced its new deal with TSN to air the men’s football bowl games and Vanier Cup and men’s and women’s basketball in 2010 and 2011; which had been covered recently by The Score. The Score continues its excellent University Rush OUA football coverage while Rogers Sportsnet will broadcast the 2010 men’s hockey championships.

Is the change from The Score to TSN a good thing? That is debatable.

(I digress here a little to add a bit of opinion.) On the plus side, TSN has the largest broadcast footprint of the three networks which should ensure good viewing numbers. They will also bring in excellent commentators and do top-notch technical productions.

However, The Score has been doing excellent work for football and basketball the past few years and what I really love about The Score is that they don’t come across as apologists for the CIS games. They know the athletes and they know the sports. TSN can learn from this over the next two years, which it did not do so well in past championship broadcasts and Rogers Sportsnet sorely needs to learn before the 2010 men's hockey championship. In last year’s championships Sportsnet would be showing a player’s photo on screen accompanied by five-year-old major junior stats from four or five years previous, and not stats from the player’s CIS career. Their production, commentators, and features were very good on the plus side.

An astute reader will observe that the only major networks covering regular season matches of any type is The Score in English and Radio Canada in French for football. This is something that the CIS hopes to change. However, with the economic realities of the present, how is this possible?

Part 1 of this series showed a sampling of ideas from journalists and broadcasters across Canada on how to address this situation.

Here is my suggestion on a very important first step for the CIS on how to make that change. As part of its Annual General Meeting in the summer of 2010; hold a two-day adjunct conference called something like, 'CIS In The 21st Century.' Invite the presidents of all national sports networks as well as the presidents of CBC and CTV and all the big regional cable TV companies. Top sports journalists and videowebcast company executives from around the country should also be invited.

Show these executives and journalists what Canadian Interuniversity Sport is all about and why it would be in their interest to broadcast and cover it in greater frequency and variety.

As a prelude to this conference, the CIS should send a survey to these executives and journalists asking them how the CIS and they can find new ways to work together. Surveys should also be sent ahead of the conference to all coaches, sports information directors and athletic directors, asking them how they think CIS can raise its profile with the national media and in the sports consciousness of Canada. Those these surveys to prepare for the conference and to make a plan on how to raise the profile.

For the conference; invite every SID and Marketing Manager and select top coaches like Dave Smart of Carleton and Gardiner MacDougall of UNB so that they can mingle with the executives and journalists and get to know each other. Run symposiums and workshops on what the CIS is doing, CIS athletes who have become successful in sports and business, new developments in sports broadcasting and marketing, etc.

Also invite CIS grads who have shone in sport such as Beijing Olympic wrestling gold medalist and Carol Huynh (Simon Fraser), double Olympic wrestling medalist and former CIS champion Tonya Verbeek (Brock), Beijing Olympics men’s eight rowing gold medalists Jake Wetzel, Ben Rutledge and Kyle Hamilton (UBC). Or how about former Western football player Vaughn Martin, now playing for the San Diego Chargers or hockey player Joel Ward (UPEI) now playing for the Nashville Predators? Or how about 2008-09 CIS Female Athlete of the Year swimmer Annamay Pierse (UBC), who holds three world records. Showcase what the CIS has produced in terms of athletics excellence!

Select grads who have gone onto coaching and business success also must be invited. Anybody ever hear of McGill grad Mike Babcock? Coach of CIS men’s hockey champs Lethbridge and also Stanley Cup champion coach of the Detroit Red Wings. Or Mike Keenan, who won a national title at U of T a decade before he won a Stanley Cup. Truly, this could be a very impressive list! Wow the executives and journalists with star power! Think Big!

Another group to invite would be representatives from national sporting bodies in Canada such as Hockey Canada, Canada Basketball, Wrestling Canada and pro leagues such as the NHL, the CFL and the NBA. Get everybody together in the same place and look to develop partnerships for the CIS. Work in the CIS Awards Show and BLG Awards as part of the overall event.

The final group to invite would be top executives from major corporations like Blackberry, etc. Show them why the CIS is a prime property for sponsorship.

Is this an ambitious idea? Yes! Is it needed? Absolutely! Will it cost money? Also, absolutely! I am sure with the kind of people outlined above to be invited to this conference; top sponsors would be very interested if approached in the right way. (Blackberry anyone?) Bring in a top event management company to make sure the event comes off smoothly.

The CIS faces a lot of challenges in terms of media coverage but it has to come up with creative and aggressive solutions if it wants to raise its profile.

The upcoming third part of this column will discuss the CIS and digital media; mainly webcasting.

(As a sidebar to this column, the new CIS website looks good. There are issues with some things like stats but I am sure those will be worked out. Congatulations to site administrator Jason Ilacqua for all his hard work; and to CIS communications manager Michel Belanger. Jason and Michel work very very hard for the CIS in often thankless positions and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their continued efforts.

One small suggestion: in the CIS Webcasting Section; try to get the info up for the other companies that are webcasting (not just Streaming Sports Network Canada) as well as the school produced webcasts. Also, get every radio show and broadcast info up there; the CIS site should be broadcast central for the CIS (as well as the conference sites). I am guessing this is on the To-Do List; but that’s my suggestion.

Again, the site is a work in progress but it’s a great step in the right direction.)
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  1. Nice work Sager. At one time I thought that the model for CIS growth was embodied in what the CFL's Als did in Quebec. However, in many ways the development of football in Quebec seems to me to have been a cultural movement rather than a smart business plan.

  2. At SFHS: This was Aylward's writing, just to be clear ... I forgot to post using the "outofleftfield" acct. we have for guest or group posts.