Obstacles and Hurdles

Published on September 29, 2014 10:45 PM by dbo.

CFLdb was created to provide information on the CFL. I saw a need to have an easily found reference source for fans. Years later my estimate for the size of this need has only grown. It is apparent that the number of new fans coming to the CFL bring little or no understanding of football or the Canadian rules and the CFL regulations and there is a strong desire to understand. I believe education not only produces better fans, but solidifies their support of the CFL with their increased understanding. To me this is obvious as the need to educate the marketplace on any product to increase adoption. As much as the CFL has been able to address things beyond survival in the last decade, I feel they fail to address this need and place obstacles in the way of those trying to do the work for them.

Rulebook

The first informational/reference section added to CFLdb was the official rulebook in 2008. While an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) version was available on the CFL.ca from 2005 to 2011, the league provided an HTML version as early as 1996 through 2006, though not always updated every year (Source: Internet Archive Wayback Machine).

Aside: If you have a PDF or physical version of a rulebook prior to 2008, please contact me. See the list of years I am seeking for the Rulebook. I will be very appreciative and there might be a gift card of thanks in it for you.

In 2012, the league failed to update the online downloadable PDF version of the rulebook. Unaware of this, I did not purchase a physical copy and was unable to source an electronic version through my sources. Therefore, that version is missing from the CFLdb published historical rulebook versions. In 2013, I did purchase a physical version, though sometime later an electronic version was published online. This year the 2014 Facts, Figures and Records publication was finally made available for sale in September, but without a corresponding physical rulebook, which normally would go on sale at the same time (and be available in a bundle). At the time of this writing, the 2014 Rulebook is still not available online nor for sale as a physical copy.

I won’t suggest that the CFL has stopped providing electronic and physical copies of its Rulebook because making an easily searched and linked/bookmarked has cut into their downloads and sales. What is true is that providing this resource to fans has been an afterthought, and not very timely or available at all in recent years. If you make rule changes, not publishing the modified rulebook before the season is a disservice to the fan base, and ignores the fact many new fans are seeking resources to familiarize themselves with the game.

It is true fans can reference the 2013 Rulebook, which is available, for 95% of the rules. If they are trying to understand the introduction of challengeable defensive pass interference though, they cannot. The only reference available is the description in the reporting of the adoption of the rule changes, not the actual wording available in the rulebook. It looks unprofessional when the league, which must have a new version available to teams and officials, cannot provide a downloadable copy to fans before the season starts.

How can the CFL eliminate this obstacle?

  • provide a PDF copy of the rulebook on CFL.ca every year (if there are no changes, the copy should be updated to reflect it applies to an additional season/year) before the regular season begins.
  • consider publishing the rulebook in an HTML format so it may be referenced and linked to by section/article. I can help with this regard.
  • develop a CFL Rulebook app and/or electronic book or license the content to others to do the same so the rulebook can be at the fingertips of your thousands of fans in stadium or at home.
  • consider adding the rulebook into the Facts, Figures and Records publication again as the only physical version available to fans.

CFLdb believes it provides a free service to the CFL by converting the Rulebook to HTML format and providing an archive of previous versions (hoping to add to those soon). I also am happy to purchase both the Rulebook and Facts, Figures and Records on an annual basis, but I want to know I must (besides converting it, a physical rulebook has no use to me) so I may make one purchase and incur one shipping fee. However, if the CFL were to ask CFLdb to take down the rulebook section, there would be no argument or negotiation, I would do so immediately. I do not want to infringe on the rights or operations of the league.

Facts, Figures and Records

The Facts, Figures and Records publication is the annual official statistical record published by the league, with detail of the previous season and historical record information for the league and its predecessors. After little changes to the format and information since the first edition published in 1985, CFL Head Statistician Steve Daniel has undertaken an effort to modernize and update the publication in the last five years.

Always a reference guide for the media first and for fans second, it used to be found in finer bookstores across the country. My first purchase of it some 25 years ago occurred in mid-July at a local bookstore and my recollection was being able to pick it up early in the season for some time. As the book industry was disrupted with the emergence of large retailers such as Chapters and online retailer Amazon, the availability of the publication in bookstores became spotty until it finally ceased to be sold in stores (the last time I saw it at a Chapters I think was 2008 or 2009). I don’t believe it has ever been sold by Amazon, but has been available there from resellers and in the used marketplace. At the same time it became harder to find, it showed up later in the season, into August and September before it appeared on shelves.

Now, to my knowledge, it is only available directly from CFLShop.ca. With taxes and shipping, expect to pay about $50 for the book every year. Though the league controls the distribution channel now, eliminating the time to get through the publishing channels to the book stores, the availability dates continue to get worse, from early August last year to late August in 2014 (by the time I received my copy, it was September and the season half over). I understand the process to compile, edit, proofread and prepare the book is time consuming, but these dates must get better.

Beside availability, my other peeves with the publication are:

  • publishing current season information that is useless and out of date by the time that it is published. Pre-season rosters have replaced rosters as of May 15th in early versions of the record, but printed book is no longer the only way to publish information anymore. Why include (and delay publication) for information that will be useless by the time it is in the public’s hands (if the media receive a version during the preseason, why can’t that fluctuating data be provided online and in PDF supplements?)
  • Team sections have been revised and reduced in recent versions of the book. Key information is included, such as executive, coaches, club data and business address. However, stadium capacity is not accurate. Teams know how many tickets they can sell, systems are computerized. There is no excuse for round numbers or inaccurate figures. If you can’t publish accurate numbers, don’t publish anything at all. In the 2014 edition:
    • BC Place Stadium is listed with a capacity of 56,000. As a round number and because of doubts of other stadium numbers, I doubt this represents the exact number of seats available.
    • McMahon Stadium is listed with a capacity of 35,650. Their 2014 Labour Day game was reported as a sellout with 35,400 fans so I suspect a reconfiguration and reduction of seats has occurred unless they had over 1,000 singles left.
    • Commonwealth Stadium is listed with a capacity of 59,537. We know that with the installation of new seats, the capacity was reduced to 56,000, though that number looks rounded and is questionable without confirmation to back it up.
    • Tim Hortons Field is listed with a capacity of 24,000. Again, I don’t trust round numbers.
    • TD Place is listed with a capacity of 24,000. We know sell-outs have been announced as high as 24,327.
    • Mosaic Stadium is listed with a capacity of 32,848. We know sellout crowds reach an announced attendance of 33,427.
    • Investors Group Field is listed with a capacity of 33,500. We know capacity to be 33,422.
  • Despite progress in modernizing the document, information goes missing. In the 2014 version, 2013 Grey Cup rosters are not available that I can find. Previously published under player participation, they went missing in 2014.
  • Lack of consistency in information presented. Regular season player participation provides games player and games started. Playoffs and Grey Cup only games played. This is important because this information is hard to find in the permanent record, and without it in the official publication, it will become lost to time.
  • a lot of work has gone into verifying, correcting and standardizing the historical information. However, discrepancies exist when information is published on multiple pages (player status differs between profile and player participation pages, player name used differs). This is due to the tracking and publication method. A single source of truth is required to eliminate typos and other errors creating these discrepancies.
  • Facts, Figures and Records is still only available in printed format, updated once a year. Not going electronic means the league is missing great opportunities in publication schedules, frequency of updates and publishing workflows.

How can the CFL eliminate this obstacle?

  • eliminate publishing any data the affects the publication date like current year preseason rosters. The book should be a record of the previous year and league records and achievements.
  • I understand much work is ongoing to update data. However, ongoing work to update information cannot affect the publication deadline. What is not ready must be deferred until next year and the existing information published (with a note if necessary).
  • on an annual basis, request official stadium capacity from each team. This should take less than an hour of work per team to determine and respond.
  • take the next step in statistics evolution and move to a single truth platform that can publish the data in multiple formats.
  • realize the CFL is in the entertainment business, not the publishing business. Physical copies should be restricted to a publish run for internal and media use if necessary (if it is found that e-book is not a feasible format for internal and media distribution yet).
  • publish an app/ebook version and improve the online availability of data for fans. To adapt to the online and app world, old formats and structures must be let go and the user experience developed for new media. Take advantage of the formats to produce updates more frequently rather than just annually, reach more people, be greener and develop workflows to reduce the labour involved in publishing statistics and records.
  • provide easy access to data feeds to anyone. If necessary, by subscription. Free access or a nominal charge will encourage many creative people to access and develop apps, contests and all kinds of new ideas that will bring exposure to the league. Twenty years ago I was a subscriber to the league statistical package that came by mail once a week. I would gladly pay the same to receive the information electronically today.

Education, Communication and Transparency

Besides rules and stats, making other information available or keeping it up to date is an afterthought to the CFL. Information on CFL terms, dates (trading deadlines) and regulations (CBA, by-laws, constitution) is muddled at best. Despite growing popularity with the growth occurring in new fans seeking this type of information, there is no effort to provide any of it. It is left to sites such as CFLdb and others to fill that void. By turning that role over to third parties, the CFL no longer controls the message. Without official sources to link to, it appears the CFL is hiding something, ignoring the need or is indifferent to educating fans.

It continues with the ability to contact the league. It is a frustrating experience for fans who want to communicate ideas, questions or constructive complaints. The league has made strides in meeting with fans in person and using social media, but otherwise the league and its employees appears to be unreachable to normal fans. I see this in the number of people contacting CFLdb believing they are contacting the league, despite all kinds of warnings that this site is independent.

As much as the league stresses its grassroots and being a fan’s league, at the league level it is still a secretive organization that attempts to control the information available and spin the message rather than let it speak for itself. To really be seen as a different league, it must truly be transparent.

How can the CFL eliminate these obstacles?

  • produce tutorial articles on aspects of the game to supplement the (current) official rulebook
  • produce a CFL Quickstart pamphlet to distribute at games or events to provide a quick primer to new fans. Avoid comparisons to the NFL. These are new fans who don’t have an understanding of football.
  • create a process to consistently communicate (and provide a source) for upcoming dates and deadlines and other information.
  • publish the league constitution, by-laws and CBA. If the league finds them embarrassing, it shouldn’t. If thinks them to be secret, they are out there already.
  • create a role to be the fan liaison, an expert on the league, publishing and updating information on the rules, regulations and being a central contact person. They can review incoming emails, filter them and pass the good ones to the appropriate departments — officiating, marketing, statistics and records, the commissioner, etc. — for a response. By actually examining the questions received (and the searches occurring to reach and on the site), a list of frequently asked questions can be developed and maintained.
  • improve the SEO and find-ability of information on CFL.ca.

It is all about process. These are not technological issues. It is simply giving someone the job to focus on things from a fan perspective, with new fans treated as more important than existing fans. Be welcoming, informative and helpful and those fans will be fans for as long as they love the game. I hope the CFL can grow to take on this role from the third parties who struggle to fill the void today.

I do not direct this criticism at any individual within the CFL office. I am sure everyone there works hard every day, does the job assigned to them and goes the extra yard when dealing with the public. I hope that the idea that a fan (customer) focus needs to be reflected in many aspects of the league comes through, and that an iterative approach to change is adopted with the status quo never accepted and someone always asking what do we want to do to make this better and how can we do it.

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Obstacles and Hurdles was published on September 29, 2014 10:45 PM by dbo.

2,655 words.

This article is categorized under cfldb.ca and tagged with cfl, league, rulebook and statistics.

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