As we plunge head-first into the information age, fans of the CFL are clamouring for as much news and coverage as the league and its media can provide. Last Thursday's announcement by the CFL that tomorrowâs draft will be broadcast live via a webcast is being heralded by fans across the continent.
The Voice of the Argos Mike Hogan and former Stampeder-turned-Score broadcaster Duane Forde will offer pick by pick analysis here at CFL.ca and fans will be treated to interviews with league GMs and selected players whom have been chosen.
"The value of this webcast is that we can reach our fans in real time with in-depth coverage while profiling the League's up-and-coming Canadian talent," CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement, "This is part of our commitment to connect with our fans and offer them enhanced content by using our various media platforms."
The hype-machine was cranked into overdrive for last weekend's NFL Draft which was carried live on ESPN and ESPN Radio, and the NHL is gearing up for its June derby by announcing its final eligible-player rankings this week. Apparently drafts are becoming big business.
"It would be nice if our draft would get enhanced and catch up a bit with the other leagues, but I think this year with the webcast is a start," explained Winnipeg Blue Bomber GM Brendan Taman. "Frankly, we need to get more fans watching CIS football and then we could get a more stronger emphasis on the draft as well from a PR point of view."
For the past several years the CFL draft was held via conference call, and the media was allowed to dial in and eavesdrop. However, the fans were left on the outside looking in, and there was little in the way of analysis. The new format looks to be much more fan-friendly. A few decades ago, the draft was treated like a much bigger deal, but the idea was eventually abandoned.
"For many years the draft was held in Hamilton as part of league general meetings," recalled long-time Saskatchewan Roughrider GM Alan Ford. "It was held in the Arts Centre downtown close to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and a few hundred people turned out to watch. The league would bring in several potential first or second round picks (eight to 10) in order to give it some media attention. The reason it was changed to a telephone draft was simply money."
In 1995, roughly 1,500 fans turned out to Saskatoon's Centennial Auditorium to watch an NFL-style draft put on by the CFL, yet non-televised. That year the Grey Cup was to be held in Saskatchewan for the first time ever and organizers were hoping to 'glitz up' the draft and build some hype. But only a handful of the players selected were in attendance and the format was scrapped. The league went back to the conference call format the very next year.
"I definitely think a return to the previous system would be a good event especially in the West," reasoned Ford. "With the increased TV exposure of CIS football and the promotional help of the networks it could be a newsworthy event. I know it would be big in the West (i.e. Vanier Cup) but maybe you might have to host it at a CIS home site like Quebec City (Laval) in order to make it a big event in the East."
There's an argument that the CFL's effort to build up the popularity of the draft is being hindered by the fans' limited knowledge of CIS players. While steps are being taken to combat that (i.e. player profiles at CFL.ca), that really shouldn't matter. For instance the vast majority of the 15,000-plus who will show up in Columbus for the NHL Draft in June likely have never even heard of No. 1 prospect Kyle Turris.
It's all about hype, promotion and momentum. And Wednesday's CFL Canadian Draft should be one of the most exciting ever!
Rod Pedersen is the Voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Regina correspondent on The Score. Check out his daily blog at www.rodpedersen.com.
(The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of the Canadian Football League)