TFC struggles on TV
Over the previous weekend past we finally got around at our place to getting firmly into the 21st century by ordering digital cable television from the cable company (since they are the worst firm on earth for customer service I will not give them a shout out here). After plugging and unplugging, splicing and clipping, I finally got the thing working and now we get all the channels available in Toronto to see soccer. Now I can hopefully stay out of the pub for a game or two a month and justify the additional expense on the cable bill. Home games are expensive enough and away games at the pub can certainly add up to a nice chunk of change as well. Having now at the least option to see all of the TFC away games from our living room is certainly a nice option to have.
And having so much soccer now at the click of a button got me thinking about the documented struggles Toronto FC has had since day one trying to draw viewers on television. TFC in Canada is broadcast on three channels, via the CBC, Rogers Sportsnet and the in-house GOL-TV. As well TFC games (when not conflicting with Blue Jays games) are broadcast live on AM radio by the Fan 590 in Toronto. On his blog over at the Toronto Star a bit over a week ago, Chris Zelkovich, the paper’s sports media columnist, wrote a piece about the very poor television ratings Toronto FC has been getting as of late and what might be behind the CBC’s continued faith in a product that to date at least has not been a good gamble for them in the ratings. I encourage you to read it. Here is the link:
The ratings at Rogers Sportsnet are even more dismal than CBC’s are and the MLSE owned GOL TV channel does not publicly release what are likely to be poor ratings the way CBC and Sportsnet do. As a fan I am concerned with this trend as I wish of course to see the club, the league and the sport thrive in Canada. Getting more fans interested in Toronto FC through the medium of television is going to be of critical importance if MLSE wishes to grow the brand and the sport.
I have a few observations & suggestions from a fan/TV consumer perspective to make to the club and the broadcasters, that may help them improve the product, improve ratings and hopefully make a profit while doing it.
Production Values: CBC Sports is a world class broadcasting outfit. They do an overall excellent job from a technical standpoint of presenting a soccer, or that matter any, sports broadcast. Frankly Sportsnet and GOL TV have a way to go to compare. CBC has additional cameras and microphones that make their broadcasts look that much more professional. The old adage of you have to spend money to make money comes into play here. On Saturday past for example if you look a the highlights from the Red Bulls/TFC broadcast on CBC you will see De Rosario’s goal highlight be shown by a camera team rolling down the west side of the stadium on rails I believe. Here is what I mean:
It looked the way a soccer broadcast should. Some of the road games Sportsnet broadcasts look worse than Community Access TV. The better it looks the more seriously it will be taken.
On Air Talent: CBC does a good job again here with the likes of Nigel Reed, Brenda Irving and Scott Russell. Jason DeVos is frankly excellent and is growing as a broadcaster. He knows when to let the game do the talking much better than a Craig Forrest does for example on Sportsnet. And both Nigel Reed and Luke Wileman, in my humble opinion, are better play by play men then Gerry Dobson will ever be.
Context: MLS is a relatively unknown league outside the already committed fan base. Yet I see sportscast after sportscast on both Sportsnet and CBC that make nary a mention of Major League Soccer. The acceptance of the television product often comes with the acceptance of the league itself as a product. The NFL knows this and so does the EPL. CBC and Sportsnet, if they are serious about the growth of their product need to get with this as well. A few extra seconds on their own sports news programs would go a long way to nurturing the interest they wish to tap into. There are not a lot of league games on television that do not involve TFC so the amount of knowledge about the league overall is often very poor among the casual television viewer. This can reinforce the notion that the overall MLS product is not worthy of viewing in comparison to say the EPL or La Liga.
Patience: TFC is a Toronto team and there is no Canadian representation in MLS outside of Toronto. Vancouver and Montréal coming into the league in 2011 and 2012 respectively gives the CBC (and of course Sportsnet and GOL TV to a lesser degree) hope that North American top flight professional soccer can be a product that draws enough eyeballs to justify the investment and faith placed in it to date in future years. The World Cup has been a success for the CBC and I am sure that they feel that soccer is a product they can get a good return on investment from over the long run. Over the shorter run TFC’s ratings on CBC have simply been dreadful being beaten 8-1 in viewership on some recent occasions by the CFL. TFC ratings on Rogers Sportsnet have often been very much worse. They have a lot of away matches on their broadcast schedule and they are unfortunately drawing very low numbers. GOL TV does not release publicly at least any viewership numbers. Vancouver and Montréal are on the way of course, but they are not here yet. No one outside of the hardcore knows much of anything about the MLS. In all three cases I say in for a penny in for a pound. The Whitecaps and Impact coming into MLS joining Toronto may very well be the game changer.
Branding: GOL TV should be re-branded as TFC TV. I for one think this is a no brainer. It fits into the corporate “style” of current channels Leafs TV and Raptors TV and I think it would allow the club to build upon a lot of the positive branding it does in the city and online.
Scheduling: Being the Great White North and all it is pretty hard to expect huge ratings on a Saturday afternoon for anything this side of the Olympics or World Cup to be anything huge. People just want to be outside on a sunny Saturday and with other sporting/programming commitments it is hard I guess for the CBC to do anything on say a Saturday night, especially with Hockey Night in Canada starting up again real soon. That means games on Saturday afternoon on CBC for the foreseeable future. It is what it is. The pro of course is national television. The con is an afternoon game here and there in July or August. If this grows the ratings nationally and allows the club to earn more for TV rights then that is good for TFC. I for one an willing to put up with a few of these matches each year.
What do you think?
Comments are always appreciated and welcome.