Published on July 26, 2014 2:03 PM by dbo.
The hot topics for pundits early in the season has been the lack of scoring, excitement and competitive games brought on in their opinion by the rules, flags, officiating, style of play, instant replay review and penalties. The analytical fans, on the other hand, are disturbed by an early drop in attendance. One leads to the other it is assumed. But can the effect really be seen that fast? What could be the cause of a decline in attendance with the CFL on an upswing? Time to rant and ramble.
Duane Ford misses football, or the Canadian-style football he used to know. Fast paced, high-scoring offences. Lead changes. Unpredictable. He blames two things: officials forced to call penalties with no judgement leeway in the interest of player safety and because replay can fix it as well as the dual between coaches turning their instant replay challenges into the biggest gain. The game is slowed down and the excitement of a play, penalty calls, and team’s momentum slowed down as we wait the result of the challenge.
I can’t disagree with Forde on what has become of instant replay challenges and review. Changes being made without any testing on the impact of the game. A belief that being perfect is better for the game than being entertaining. When instant replay was being introduced and adjustments to challengeable plays, command centre review, challenging penalties were made, Forde didn’t speak out for the changes, but he didn’t speak against them either (in writing).
Chris Schultz pins the blame on penalties and video review challenges, specifically on defensive pass interference. Schultz also didn’t speak for the change, but didn’t say anything against it either (in writing as well). Rob Vanstone calls the CFL a struggle to watch and blames penalties and the players for the low scoring, sedative affairs. Not video review since he has always been supportive of it and expanding its options.
Now the horse is out of the barn, some people want to close the barn door, some pretend the horse is still inside. Those with more stature than lowly database site operators must be vocal about the cons of these changes when they are proposed. Otherwise you get these one-sided rushes to implement with no debate. “We’ll be the first!”
The biggest concern for me is the CFL moving towards this corporate league, unaware of what they are actually selling (entertainment) and letting coaches and general managers (and outraged fans) adjust rules for their agenda, not the good of the game. It starts with education. It is a game. Do you pay to be entertained, or for the outcome to be a perfect, mathematical representation of the two opponents?
American coaches (and GMs) have come to Canada for the past two decades and slowly but surely evolved the game towards the southern brand. The core rules have been untouchable, but the last 20 years there has been a shift to eschewing offence (”Hurry up offence! It doesn’t give our defence enough rest.“) while stressing defence ("The offence has an unfair advantage! That’s not pass interference!"). Compared to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when those coaching knew they were in the entertainment business, not the football business, coaches today want to win and keep their jobs in whatever way possible, because winning is entertaining.
Coaches are so afraid of losing and having the blame pinned on them, they avoid risks and play the percentages. There are no surprises, no comebacks. A team comes out flat, but halftime they going through the motions looking forward to next week. A coach takes a gamble, so close to successful, and it is seen as the difference in the game, the media, bloggers and twitterverse jump all over him. Fail again and they are going to call for your job. Only some see the excitement the coach is bringing to the game and their 4-1 record.
Much finger pointing has taken place over an attendance average this year that is down both year-to-date and against the final 2013 average. It’s Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Ottawa’s and Hamilton’s fault (the East) despite Ottawa and Hamilton not adding to the attendance average yet. It’s BC’s, Calgary’s, Saskatchewan’s and Winnipeg’s fault. Attendance is off in those centres, with the Lions only drawing 25,000 for a Friday night game to honour Geroy Simon with the dome open.
Lots of things are factors in attendance. Weather, team record, and opponent. There is also a slide for teams after events like hosting the Grey Cup or opening a new stadium. It would be nice if Canadians would support teams through thick and thin, any kind of weather, and whoever they are playing. In general, Canadians are band wagon jumpers. We pay to watch winners, not to be entertained.
What other things could be factors this year? The labour strife, though there was no action, may have turned some people off. In Toronto, so much talk about relocating the team to a new stadium may have an effect on the core fans, why not wait until that is settled. We are always making choices about our expenditures and maximizing our high standard of living and happiness. Toronto is also coming off the 100th Grey Cup in 2012 and $500,000 in marketing money. Their second year renewal seems to have a much higher drop off, so people aren’t seeing the value, for whatever reason. The product on the field matters, characters matter. The 1982 Argos would probably draw more fans today than the current team, so that says something about the product.
It will only get worse. Hamilton is in 6,000 seat Ron Joyce Stadium for 2, 3, maybe 4 games. After the impact of their playing at 13,000 seat Alumni Stadium in Guelph last year, they will continue to pull down the average. The good news is these impacts are not because of lack of fan interest, and the Tiger-Cats are set to be compensated for Tim Hortons Field not being ready.
So they are game excitement and attendance are definitely related. Games need to be fast, exciting, hopefully with lead changes, close from start to finish and under 3 hours. Not drawn to a crawl with penalties and reviews. Commercial timeouts and injuries slow down the games enough as it is. Not all games will accomplish this, but the majority should. The CFL needs to remember what its purpose and product is. Not employment for coaches and players. Entertainment for fans.