The CFL Is Woke And Broke
September 1st, 2020 | JH
I’ve always wanted to like the CFL more than I actually do. The last game I attended was roughly ten years ago in Calgary. It was the annual Labour Day game between the Stampeders and the Eskimos. A friend of mine had relatives visiting from the UK and asked me if I wanted to come along with the three of them. I eagerly agreed and we made our way to McMahon Stadium on a beautiful late summer/early autumn afternoon.
The game was not exciting. The food was expensive and the line-ups to purchase it were long. The half-time show was a celebration of the World Skills competition that was being hosted in Calgary. I didn’t see it because I spent the entire time standing in line to use the open-trough washroom standing shoulder-to-shoulder with unhappy looking fans. When I got back to my seat, my companions were baffled by the half-time entertainment. Apparently, there was a rap performance of some kind. The people from the UK seemed to enjoy just how bad it all was.
The game plodded on and the last five minutes took a half an hour with all the time-outs and reviews and whatnot. Again, the UK visitors couldn’t believe how the game could be interrupted for so long. When it was over, we streamed out of the already half-empty venue and said our goodbyes and that was the last time I bothered ever going to a game.
The CFL is dying.
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For the past five years especially, the league has been trying to improve and expand and appeal to younger and more diverse audiences. These efforts have mostly been in vain, because a lot of what ails the league simply can’t be rectified. I’ve heard criticisms that there are too many Americans in the league, making the Canadian Football League nothing but a farm league version of the NFL. I’ve heard that the season goes too long into the winter and most people don’t want to “freeze their asses off” watching football in November. I’ve also heard that the league is too black. (I'll leave that statement without assessment.)
There are, however, some other, bigger and less shallow reasons the league is in trouble…
Covid-19 has done a brutal number on all sports. Mass gatherings of thousands of people in close proximity have become non-existent this year (apart from riots and looting) and it is unlikely that a return to normal will arrive anytime soon.
The CFL was looking to attempt some kind of truncated season in which everyone plays out of Winnipeg, but it looks now like the season is officially over. After being denied a $30 million interest-fee loan from the federal government, the league has decided to cancel football for this year and focus on returning to the game in 2021.
Will people return to the stadiums in ten months?
Even if our draconian Covid laws are completely lifted, compliant and terrified Canadians will likely not return to mass events anytime soon. Even if a vaccine is produced (unlikely) or the virus just begins to fade away as pandemics do, I seriously doubt the stadiums are going to be more than half-full for 2021. Worst case scenario, 2021 is a cancelled season too. Can the CFL survive another cancelled season?
Already people have forgone a summer of football and filled the void with other things. The habit of watching the sport has been broken this year and if it’s not readily available, then people who were once fans will begin to permanently drift away. Much like a strike, some fans will realize that they don’t miss following it as much as they thought and they’ll never come back. This will be bad for another big source of revenue:television sales.
The plan by these sports leagues to basically play the game to empty stands and then televise the game with sound effects of crowds in the background is truly pathetic. Nevertheless, it’s being done out of desperation, because the big money in these leagues comes from the television rights to broadcast the games.
In 2017, TSN signed a five-year exclusive deal with the CFL worth $40 million dollars for the rights to broadcast all the games. It’s hard to broadcast games if they aren’t being played, which was why the idea to try and cobble a season together was mostly for the contractual obligation of broadcasting.
Here’s a much bigger long-term problem… cable television is dying fast.
"The game was not exciting. The food was expensive and the line-ups to purchase it were long."
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Canadian households are cutting the cable cord. It began roughly ten years ago and it’s accelerating with each passing year. People are turning away from cable and replacing it with a variety of ever-increasing sources of streaming. Netflix, Disney +, Amazon, and YouTube seem to be the biggest attractors of eyeballs, and traditional cable television is consequently withering away.
As cable withers away, so too will the sports money for rights to leagues that are looking for a payday. TSN isn’t going to offer $40 million for a five-year deal if their subscriber base shrinks by hundreds of thousands of viewers with each passing year. Without the $40 million, the CFL can not continue. (Late in 2019, it was leaked that TSN was offering $50 million a year through 2025, but this was before Covid and nothing has been mentioned about this deal since then. It remains to be seen if this optimism is viable.)
This issue is probably the easiest to solve. The CFL could become a pay-per-view service, or they could launch their own stream on a platform like YouTube. Or they could sell their rights to something like NetFlix and hope they get the same money. The problem with these solutions is that it poses a risk. The risk is change.
People (especially older people, the CFL demographic) have habitually watched CFL games on cable television sports channels for the past 30 years. Asking people to make a jump to a new medium in order to follow their sport is a big ask. Hardcore fans will do it, but let’s be honest…most fans are not hardcore. They watch CFL if convenient. Someone in the habit of subscribing to cable tv and casually watching a CFL game because it’s available as part of the package isn’t necessarily going to subscribe to a streaming service in order to get their CFL fix. They could just as easily find something else to watch.
Canada isn’t an innovative nation, and the CFL is caught between two worlds. Stick with a declining cable service (and their half-hearted online subscriber options) or risk jumping to a streaming model… either way you’re going to lose fans (and revenue) without necessarily gaining new ones.
There’s an interesting chapter in a book by Chuck Klosterman regarding an exchange he had with Malcolm Gladwell back in 2010. Gladwell predicted that within 25 years (2035) football would cease to exist. Klosterman, being a huge football fan, was incredulous. He tried to counter Gladwell’s argument as absurd and the crowd sided with him at the time, but Klosterman kept thinking about the assertion. As he investigated it, he came to realize that Gladwell was probably right.
More and more evidence has come forth showing the long-term health impacts of repetitive head injuries. This culminated in the 2015 film with Will Smith titled, “Concussion”. The NFL knew that many players were getting permanent brain damage from the sport but covered it up in order to avoid lawsuits.
Word got out about head injuries and the sport carried on, nonetheless. But a strange thing has been occurring since then. Fewer and fewer kids are playing football. As Gladwell predicted, if parents actively discourage their young kids from playing pee-wee football, then the leagues begin to shrivel and die. The chain reaction then moves up as those kids age. No pee-wee football, then there’s no little league football. No high school football leads to no college football. Eventually you get to the professional leagues and there’s no feeder system to get people to that level.
It also affects the culture. If kids don’t play it, they will grow up not watching it. Pep rallies for big high school football games will be something that teens in 2035 won’t be able to relate to. Having a broad impact on the culture can create a lot of casual fans. How many people get together to watch the Grey Cup, but secretly don’t care about football? Without a system that provides broad opportunity for football to become a part of the culture, the sport will become fringe, like volleyball or roller derby.
Klosterman suggests this might be football’s future. He thinks if…IF football survives it will be more like the UFC tournaments… popular BECAUSE of its violent and dangerous outcomes. He thinks it could start becoming more violent and more dangerous, because it will self-select for participants who don’t care about the ramifications and will seek out the opportunity to play where such opportunities exist.
Klosterman is writing with an American perspective. Maybe the NFL could pull this off, but Canada? Is there going to be enough economic support for extremist football in a Canadian market? I seriously doubt it. When the infrastructure falls apart so will the sport of professional football. If it exists at all it will look more like modern rugby leagues than the mainstream CFL we have today.
4. Get Woke, Go Broke
The great awokening has been afflicting all major sports and the terrified leagues are all too happy to demonstrate their supplication to the politically correct mobs. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter riots in the US the whole sports realm has decided to jump on the bandwagon.
To be fair, I suspect that many normies have been fooled into agreeing with the literal interpretation of the term “black lives matter”, without being fully educated into understanding that Black Lives Matter, the organization, was founded by Marxists looking to use race issues in order to destabilize society and inject radical left-wing ideology and anti-white hatred into the power structures of western civilization. An organization like the CFL should not involve itself with these issues… period. The cancelling of the 2020 season saved us from watching athletes taking knees and whatnot, but nevertheless, the league has already jumped on the woke bandwagon and is trying to peacock their progressive stripes to a mostly conservative audience of baffled fans.
The Edmonton Eskimos changing their name is probably the peak of capitulation to the woke mob mentality. In 2015, the Edmonton Eskimo organization surveyed Inuit people about the name, and they approved of it. This is common amongst Indians throughout North America. They usually have a good sense of humour about the whole thing and don’t mind any recognition regarding these names. (Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Blackhawks, Braves, Eskimos, etc.) But liberal, white, progressives can’t abide. Thus, the Edmonton Eskimos are changing the name, and if naming conventions hold to CFL traditions, it’ll likely be something weird and uninspired and uncommercial, like the Ottawa Red Blacks…the worst name in the league. (Come to think of it, they probably wouldn’t use that name today for the same woke reason the Eskimos are finished.)
There’s been other issues as well. The relentless Pride celebration at CFL games is horribly out of place. Christion Jones getting fired for tweeting his belief in traditional marriage was ridiculous. He should know not to comment on it, but for the organization to be that sensitive to a fairly normative tweet is revealing. The CFL is desperate to present its gay bona fides. But why?
I know gay people who watch CFL games, but while they’re doing it, are they really interested in ensuring that the league is championing their proclivities? I once watched a game with a couple of lesbians and they were more concerned with how stupid measuring out the yards gained with a stick and a chain was then they were about whether or not the league was sufficiently demonstrating its commitment to celebrating homosexuality.
Sports is supposed to be unifying entertainment devoid of politics. When leagues begin shoving ideology in the face of their fans the division begins. The CFL has always had a more blue-collar, down market, nuts and bolts fanbase and alienating them with woke politics isn’t smart business. I get that progressivism is the ascendant culture of our age, but the CFL is in the business of selling entertainment, not ideology. Expanding the audience comes with making a good product, not demonstrating correct politics.
Lastly, there’s a strange large-scale decline happening to professional sports all together. This isn’t just a CFL thing, but the CFL may be the first large scale victim of this decline. In short, people just don’t seem to care like they used to.
I remember growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. Kids used to avidly follow professional leagues, collect sports cards and play sports in droves. Seemed like everyone had a team to support. I was the odd man out in not enjoying hockey, so I randomly selected the New York Islanders as my team just to be a part of the crowd. Being from Saskatchewan there was an expectation that everyone was a Rider fan. People knew the names of even second-tier players.
Nowadays I’m well into my 40’s and from old friends, to new friends to neighbours and colleagues…nobody my age or under seems to really care about sports…any sports. They don’t watch, listen or follow professional sports the way someone my Dad’s age does. My nephews have zero interest. My next-door neighbour is 70 and being from South America he follows soccer intently. He also watches golf and tennis. I’ve never heard his sons talk about doing the same. Don’t take my anecdotes alone, check out this link for some data.
Maybe professional sports are simply playing out the clock. After all, they’ve been criticized for generations for being frivolous, and overcompensated. Much like rock stars and Hollywood actors… perhaps the athlete hero having fame and fortune is a declining sunset industry. Sports were always meant for children anyway. The idea was to provide games that kids could play in order for them to burn off energy and learn some good life lessons, like teamwork, along the way. Once kids became adults it was expected that they’d put aside childish things and assume the responsibilities of adulthood.
If we’re heading back in that direction, then the CFL will likely be the first league but not the last... to die.
Read the next story from September 2020: Canada's Constitutional Monarchy Is A Waste Of Money
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