CFL Entry Draft? Woe Canada

By Jason Menard

If the National Football League entry draft is a two-day information orgy, then the Canadian Football League’s version is more akin to a teenager’s first time in the back of a car – unmemorable and over before you know it. But, in both cases, it’s all about passion – a fact that the CFL’s brass and TV executives should take into strong consideration.

Sure, it’s not fair to compare leagues. It’s not even a matter of comparing apples and oranges. They’re both potatoes – just one league is known as small potatoes and another is the province of Prince Edward Island . Unfortunately, when you decide to run your draft in the same week as your south-of-the-border brethren, then you’re inviting those comparisons. And, in this case, the CFL gets mashed.

It’s too bad, really, because there are a significant number of people out there – at least those north of the 49 th – that consider the CFL game superior to that played in the United States . Sure, the quality and size of athletes may differ, but 12-man football, played on a wider field has more than its share of converts.

And ask CBC how much they love the Grey Cup! They’re consistently amongst the top-rated broadcasts on Canadian television. The interest, albeit intermittently, is there. So why does the league feel the need to scrimp when it comes to promoting its future.

NFL fans pore over Web page after Web page, searching out the most obscure facts about a player their team may pick in the seventh round. Major sports news outlets dedicate copious resources and staff to not just cover the event, but build it up into the orgiastic frenzy it becomes. Overhyped? Probably. But it’s an event that sells hope, promise, and potential for a brighter future for all of the league’s clubs.

The CFL’s draft? Well, fans will have to head to the Web to catch it, because there’s no TV. Not that there’s anything to see. While the NFL brings its decision-makers to a central location and ensures that most of the potential top prospects come along for the ride, CFL franchises participate in a conference call to select their future crop of Canadian stars.

Efficient? Yes. Compelling viewing? Only for those who like to watch paint dry.

There is interest in the CFL in this country. A former football wasteland like Montreal now is one of the league’s model franchises and the game is a hot ticket in a city that, arguably, has significantly more entertainment options at its disposal than any other Canadian metropolis. Toronto , under the amiable Pinball Clemons, has begun to make a comeback – no doubt buoyed by the club’s recent successes. And TSN’s Friday Night Football broadcasts are a staple of the network that offers a visual representation of the potential that exists league-wide.

So why not take a chance and highlight some of our young Canadian talent on a day where the future of the league is being decided? In the short-term, you may lose money – but this is an investment in the future of the league. The seeds of interest sewn today will grow into a passion for anyone who loves the game of football.

One of the problems is the CFL draft is about Canadians. These players form the backbone of the league, due to its import cap, but are often chosen from less-sexy positions like offensive and defensive line and linebackers. In large part, the marquee talent – especially quarterbacks and running backs – is culled from U.S.-bred players who weren’t able to crack an NFL franchise.

Yet, these very players who are being drafted are the same players that many future fans go to school with, or live in the same community as. There’s an innate interest for fans of a university’s football program or members of a community in watching one of their own succeed. And when that affinity is set up right from the outset, then a reason to watch the games themselves becomes vested in these people, who very quickly will become fans.

And there’s a chance to sell the storied history of our great game. Players play, but people sell, and getting to know the faces behind the mask and the innovators behind the game will enable people to grow more attached to the game.

We’re seeing what the seeds of interest have sewn in Quebec . Their minor league football program – in large part prompted and supported by interest in the Montreal Alouettes – is one of the finest in the country and has produced a university powerhouse in Laval . That same passion could be stoked across this great land of ours.

Expansion is a wonderful thought, and there are many reasons why there should be a team in Halifax , Quebec City, or even London or Kitchener . But the foundation for that future growth must be cemented in passion. If there’s a hunger throughout the country for the game, then delivering the product gets that much easier.

It’s all about stoking passion — so how about letting fans be voyeurs on the future?

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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