Television Blackouts: De-marketing Oblivion?

Published on September 27, 2008 7:00 PM by dbo.

An interesting article came out this week from Crash Cameron of the Edmonton Sun, specifically the section on television blackouts and marketing.

  • Once upon a time, moving the entire CFL broadcast schedule to a cable network such as TSN would have caused a similar uproar. In particular, it would have been bad news for rural fans, of which there are still plenty for a little ol’ league like the CFL that can’t afford to ignore its grassroots.

(Think Saskatchewan and the Roughriders.) Of course, almost anywhere can get cable or satellite now, but the league still has to deal with the sticky situation of blackouts. Yes, putting butts in the seats is a bottom line for an enterprise that can quickly face bottoms-up, but isn’t reaching living rooms just as important in the long run? Wasn’t this a lesson learned in the dark ages of the 1980s when the league de-marketed itself into near oblivion? A generation of potential die-hards were easily drawn in by the football monster to the south, only to become NFL fans, instead. (And become Pro-Line die-hards. But that’s another story.)

So you’ve got the Hall of Fame Game with a notable lineup of inductees — not to mention a posthumous tribute to a genuine CFL legend, who not long ago coached a Tiger-Cats team to a Grey Cup win, then settled in the area — and it’s blacked-out in the Hamilton area?

I also thought the Hall of Fame game was once again a black mark on the CFL‘s reputation, despite the inroads they have made over the last decade. I feel for the people of Hamilton, years with little to cheer about on the field and a crumbling stadium, but the CFL deserves better. The crowd, however, will come back with a more stable program that doesn’t try to fix it all with quick solutions every year. A television audience can be lost forever, however, when you are not even on the air.

For the CFL to continue to grow, there are only two ways for it do so in a substantial manner. The first is to add additional teams and the second is to increase the number of people watching on television and therefore the value of their television property. Even though every team is currently not playing to full capacity, there is very limited growth opportunity in increased crowds. A stadium capacity of 30-35,000 seems to be the new accepted level for CFL clubs based on discussions around new stadiums. Franchises in cities with larger stadiums like Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto have additional room for growth and their attendance may increase beyond a 30-40,000 average as the CFL becomes more popular. However, as teams approach 100% capacity, they ability to increase ticket revenue plateaus unless ticket prices increase. There is a much greater reward from increasing television viewership.

Of course, in this situation, the Tiger-Cats had their worst crowd in years due to their on-field performance, which led to the blackout. But competing on television will be critical for the CFL‘s continued growth. Improved television production, an exciting product and adding new markets (Ottawa, Quebec City, the Maritimes) will help increase the number of people watching the CFL on television, but for now in order to provide the greatest opportunity for the highest television ratings, the blackout policy should be reviewed. Continued growth in television ratings is needed so the CFL is in a good negotiation position in 4 years when their current contract expires and every game matters.

This is not a call to eliminate blackouts completely. Blackouts should be available to clubs when attendance is below a certain level. However, clubs also have to give consideration to special games where attendance (walk-up sales) is not likely to be affected seriously by lifting the blackout while the affect on television ratings would be greater.

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Television Blackouts: De-marketing Oblivion? was published on September 27, 2008 7:00 PM by dbo.

682 words.

This article is categorized under Coverage and tagged with blackouts, growth and tv-ratings.