Published on November 16, 2008 5:03 PM by dbo.
I’ve covered two areas of scheduling a CFL season that are important for the league to help increase interest in the league throughout the season. In this last post on this topic I will rant on some other areas I’ve not touched on and wrap up the series with a summary.
The CFL still does a very poor job working with Football Canada and the amateur levels of football in this country when it comes to scheduling.
While I try to avoid comparisons to the American league, the NFL has an understanding where they do not step on the other levels of football in their country, allowing football to be strong from the grassroots level up to the professional ranks. The NFL schedules games on Thursday nights, Sundays and Monday nights until later in the year when other levels of football have concluded, leaving Friday nights available for high school football and Saturdays for College Football.
The CFL does little if anything to work with other levels of football in this country. Attempts at cooperation on scheduling the professional and college championships have failed. The CFL will hold games on all nights of the weekend from Thursday to Sunday throughout the year, and also take all holiday Monday days as well.
I am not arguing the CFL needs to give up Labour Day for colleges or other such specifics. What I do believe is that the league, as part of its scheduling schizophrenia the past 25 years, has never achieved any consistent schedule that other levels of football can depend on. This scheduling disease has come from armchair analysts, who in looking for reasons for poor attendance and television numbers have placed the blame on everything from weekend cottagers to the competition with the NFL on Sundays.
Still laden with an inferiority complex (partially instilled by Eastern broadcast partners), the CFL still does all it can to avoid competing directly with anything, especially an NFL game. How long can this continue with the continued rise in popularity of the CFL in attendance and viewership? Certainly other reasons for this rise are in play than just nothing else is on. Playing this shell game with the schedule only hurts the league in establishing itself in the habits of Canadians. The return of Friday Night Football has shown this and given a chance to compete regularly in strong slots the CFL will be able to see growth there as well.
Late in the season, for unknown reasons, the league often fails to use it’s facilities. With three domed stadiums in the country and better odds for nice fall weather in the East, the league plays three of its last four games in prairie cities in 2008 and two of four in 2007. It seems to reason that outdoor prairie stadiums are better utilized in the summer months while domed stadiums in Toronto and Vancouver are more attractive to fans in the fall as people don’t like to spend their summer days indoors. If so, home schedules should reflect this. There will be a need for rotation of games to break any repetitiveness in the schedule, but when fighting fan perceptions of comfort, looking like you understand that issue can go a long way.
Until 2008, the CFL Playoff dates have been as consistent as Jerry Seinfeld brushing his teeth with both playoff weeks playing on Sundays except for the one American expansion year anomaly in 1995. This year, with TSN taking over the playoff and Grey Cup broadcasting, the league has decided to move the playoff dates to Saturdays. Although denied by the network, Saturday scheduling is to avoid splitting audiences and competing with TSN‘s parent broadcast company CTV’s Sunday afternoon NFL broadcast and Sunday afternoon NFL games in general.
Hopefully this one year experiment is over after this year. It is apparent that Canadians have other activities on Saturdays, whereas Sundays are more available for leisure time. I know from my own social circle that Saturday games had an affect on people’s ability to watch the games this year. A Saturday shift affects everything from team preparation to media coverage to the anticipation of waiting the weekend to sit down on a Sunday to watch some football. A conclusion Saturday evening of the games leaves you wondering what to do with the rest of the weekend, instead of preparing for the work week. I am sure it cuts down on the office discussions on Monday as well as Sunday’s events are much fresher in people’s minds. I do not see Saturday games ever growing to the level of Sunday games so I see no reason to give them a chance in future playoffs.
Game start times can be even more of a mystery with the CFL. Take this year’s Finals for instance. Locations for the games are know well in advance, but the standard East start of 1:00 PM EST and West start of 4:30 PM EST are used. Broadcaster requirements and desire not to compete against Hockey Night in Canada may be the reason for this. I argue that when the East final is under a dome, the game would be better scheduled for later in the day. Moving up the outdoor West final can also help the comfort of the fans by allowing the game to complete under sunlight. TSN is dictating these start times, but the CFL must push for options that will benefit attendance and viewership, like splitting the games between Saturday and Sunday if that allows later starts.
Strange game times are also prevalent in the regular season. Friday Night Football provides consistent start times, even in the cases of double headers. Some strange start times are 4:00 PM EST for Sunday afternoon games in the East in the summer. Why wouldn’t these be later? Stadium availability and broadcast schedules both affect the day and times for games, but the CFL still needs to do more to standardize its schedule outside of Fridays so people know when the games will be on without checking a schedule.
The CFL has developed a consistent schedule in the past decade. This year’s playoff scheduling shift to Saturdays is the only radical change in CFL scheduling in a long time. I’ve discussed the options around bye weeks and concluded the CFL is using the best options available to it but should review other bye week options when in a nine-team league configuration.
To maintain the CFL‘s growth, the league will have to increase its marketing of games for both attendance and viewership. While increasing competitiveness will help increase interest, the CFL and member clubs cannot be lax in building demand and interest early. Key to this, with tickets becoming harder to obtain, is to ensure ticket buyers cannot wait until the last minute. Mixing up some traditional dates and building on big game dates across the league will also help achieve a greater demand for tickets and events to watch on television.
Finally, as consistent as the schedules have been for the CFL, the league still needs to address some issues, like cooperation with amateur football in this country. Establishing a Football Day in Canada will go a long way to achieving this. It would be nice to see the CFL adopt more standard dates and time for games and not shy away from all competition. Hopefully in the second year agreement with TSN the CFL can be given more of a primary league status on the network instead of being bumped around by NASCAR, tennis, boxing and any other of TSN‘s commitments. A commitment from the broadcaster, the league and its member clubs to say these are the days and times we are going to play would provide a nice consistency that can only help people find the league.
All of this isn’t performed in a vacuum. Unfortunately many clubs are not primary tenants in their stadiums and this causes undesired wrinkles in the schedule. The CFL schedule maker has the toughest job of all leagues and will continue to evolve the schedule to meet the needs of the fans and attract new ones.