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I talk to CFL fans all the time. It’s one of the best parts of my job. But there is one thing they say that always throws me for a loop.
A fan will preface his or her comment with the phrase, “I’m just a fan, but….”
Just a fan? Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fans are the most important people in the CFL.
I’m indebted to our league governors for this opportunity. I’m honoured to know our players. I’m amazed by the work done by our Coaches, General Managers and football personnel.
But our fans make it possible for each of these groups to do what they do. You pay our salaries. You cheer us on. You keep us accountable. We have an obligation to be proactive and open when it comes to keeping you informed.
Our strategic plan is a good example. I recently shared it with our Board of Governors and I’d like to touch on some of the highlights for you, the CFL fan.
It’s our vision for what I call CFL 2.0. I call it that for a reason: if Apple had stopped at just one version of the iPhone, I wouldn’t kick myself so hard today for not buying stock in it twenty years ago. The CFL, like all businesses and all leagues, must evolve. It has to get bigger, better, stronger.
CFL 2.0 has four main pillars: operational excellence, international presence, regional market strategies and football participation.
Here’s a short summary of each one:
Operational excellence is a fancy term for what so many fans talk to me about at stadiums, on the phone, or in emails or letters. It’s how we can do everything better.
It’s boosting ticket sales with national programs, like Family Day games and Thursday Night Football concerts.
It’s using data and analytics to better understand what each fan wants – and deliver it.
It’s making game day the best day, by providing fun for everyone, from kids and families to millennials to veteran season ticket holders.
It’s making sure our product, the great game of Canadian football, is at its fast paced, entertaining best.
When I talk about expanding our international presence, I’m talking about building bridges with the more than 30 other countries, outside of North America, that play gridiron football.
It means helping those leagues, some firmly established and others that are just emerging, to grow and develop by sharing the expertise of our coaches, officials and staff.
It could mean inviting the best players from the world beyond the U.S. and Canada to vie to play in the CFL.
And it may mean linking CFL teams to affiliated teams around the world.
The way I see it, the more we share the CFL with the world, and the more the world comes to the CFL, the more we can expand our fan base beyond our borders and among those Canadians who have an increasingly global view of sports and entertainment.
The most successful sports leagues in the world have an international strategy. The most innovative businesses see the world as their market. It’s time the CFL stopped being everyone’s favourite local underdog and sought its rightful place among the world’s most successful and most innovative.
Survey after survey confirms that Canada’s stature in the world today is second to none. What better time to step boldly onto the world stage?
When I talk about developing better market strategies here at home, I’m saying something that’s simple and profound at the same time: One size does not fit all!
This was certainly true when I was an O-lineman getting dressed for a game along side much smaller defensive backs. And it’s true when selling our game here in Canada.
For years, the CFL has marketed itself in the same way in all parts of the country.
Slogans like This is Our League largely worked in places like Regina, Winnipeg and Hamilton. Not so much in bigger cities like Toronto and Vancouver. And perhaps almost not at all in Quebec, given its’ unique culture and history.
We need to develop market sensitive strategies that complement each other without being identical. As I write this, I’m meeting with football leaders in Quebec, trying to better understand the market there.
I’m also trying to figure out how we can better plug into, and learn from, the very vibrant amateur football scene in that province.
That brings me to the next pillar: Growing participation in the game at a young age is absolutely critical to growing a pipeline of not only new players but new fans.
To do it, we have to change the narrative surrounding football. We need to emphasize how safely tackle football is coached and taught today. We have to emphasize there are also great non-contact alternatives available for young and old, female as well as male, players, most notably flag football.
We have to talk loudly and proudly about how our game promotes physical activity and fitness, teaches teamwork and discipline, and is so fun and so social to play.
Many of our clubs do a great job funding and supporting amateur football. This year, we will continue to expand our CFL-NFL flag football program. But there is so much more to do.
Our fans have an important role to play in all of this.
You can keep giving us your feedback and your ideas. You can tell us what you like, and don’t like, about our game and our game days. You can confidently embrace the idea that we can engage with other football leagues around the world without endangering any of our own unique identity. You can share with us your sense of your market: let us know what you think will bring out your family and friends to a CFL game. And you can stand up for our game and encourage kids to get outside and play football, whether it’s tackle, touch or flag, or just throwing the ball around.
In the CFL, our fans are number one, and that makes you an important part of CFL 2.0.