Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Same Song Over And Over

With the recent Clarkson Cup game being seen by a reported 175,000 households in Canada, one could look at that number and be very happy with fact that a game that broadcast in the Vancouver market at 9am on a Sunday was able to garner that many eyes on Sportsnet. The bigger picture says that there are just over 37 million people in Canada, meaning that 0.47% of Canada watched the game on Sportnet - less than half of a percentage point - and that's rather awful when one hopes to gain the attention of advertisers and networks. Today, in the Calgary Journal, an article written by Bill Atwood ran where he spoke with four women who collectively wondered why there was so little professional media coverage.

Ignoring the fact that Mr. Atwood misspelled Laura Stacey's name twice and doesn't know the difference between "Finish" and "Finnish", he spoke to Jayna Hefford and Venla Hovi who provided perspectives from within the league, but also spoke to two bloggers whose names would admittedly be unknown to many hockey fans. What disappointed me most with Mr. Atwood's article is that he literally seemed to put in as little effort as possible in looking at the reasons for the lack of coverage, and the two bloggers' positions are about as far from the actual problem as one can be.

If one takes a really long look at how newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and television networks operate, a very large portion of their operating budgets are derived from advertising. If you noticed your favorite magazine getting thicker and heavier, it's likely not because there are more stories being reported, but because there are more advertisements being printed within the covers. The same goes with radio whose advertising budgets make up for a significant portion of the money spent on radio talent, and TV networks constantly check ratings in order to adjust their advertising rates per show in order to squeeze maximum value out of interested parties.

Here's the thing: this isn't new and this isn't some wildly profound finding. It's exactly how the businesses work, and I've been a part of one of these industries for the better part of a decade. I know how these women feel because our advertising revenue on our little radio station doesn't come anywhere close to providing us the ability to go one road trips or even pay for our trips to the national championships.

That's the reality that we live in, so we make ends meet in other ways as most of the radio DJs on our station's airwaves are volunteers. All of our programming on our station start the fiscal year with a total of $0.00 for marketing and supplies, so our show hosts often use their own resources to play music, run contests, and offer freebies to listeners. The Hockey Show is no different as everything we do - travel, contests, giveaways - comes out of our own pockets.

And that's where the catch comes in. Sportsnet is looking at two-hour time slot they give to the CWHL for its four games, and it knows it's going to lose advertising revenue that it desperately needs by having just 0.47% of the country watching for those two hours. It's not that Sportnet nor TSN don't want to have women's hockey on their channels as they constantly battle for the rights to the Olympic Games where they know they can sell the game with ease. Instead, it's much harder to sell the CWHL nationally when there is almost no interest in the league outside the local markets as proven by the consistently low numbers that are turned in on those broadcasts.

Atwood writes, "Sportsnet’s coverage of the CWHL only includes four games a season, including two regular season games, the league’s all-star game, and the Clarkson Cup championship final. By comparison, Sportsnet’s NHL schedule this season includes 150 nationally televised games, 150 regionally shown games, and every game of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs," and he's correct with these numbers. The difference is that Sportsnet and TSN can sell their NHL coverage to advertisers with ease because it's always in-demand in Canada whereas the average sports fan - whose attention the CWHL is trying to capture - can't even name a player from the Boston Blades nor can name a defender on the Toronto Furies.

"But that would come if they provided more coverage!" you exclaim. And yeah, you're probably right except that Sportsnet is a business and I can't name many businesses that enjoy giving away profits. The same goes for newspapers who have limited room for column inches and boxscores because they need to supplement the pages with advertising. Even if a league has money such as the newly-founded Alliance of American Football, they don't get any coverage either unless something significant happens in that league that warrants a one-time interest in the league. That's the reality of the current state of mainstream media - if it doesn't sell, it doesn't run.

"I think sometimes it's the chicken and the egg. How do we get more attention and generate more interest and create more value if people don't see the sport in a big way?" Hefford asked rhetorically to Atwood.

"We're always looking to get the game out there [whether that is] broadcast or streamed games. Because that creates value for us," says Hefford.

It might be time to start promoting the work done by others. There are good bloggers and good media people who are doing exceptional work that don't get recognized by the CWHL because it wasn't done under their purview, and that's an opportunity wasted. Some will likely demand payment, and I know that the league likely isn't in a position to do that. But for someone like me who interviews stars from the CWHL on my radio show, I would do this simply for a little recognition on the league's website.

It makes sense for the league to bring these people into the fold a little more because they are passionate about the game. They're the ones who have bought into women's hockey in terms of being an incredible sport, and are working to expose the league and the players to more fans who may not be as well-versed in the game.

Instead, the CWHL has closely guarded itself against any sort of promotion or criticism with deafening silence and ignoring any stories that promote the game and players. Retweets rarely happened. Cross-promotion never happened. If the story wasn't generated by the league, it wasn't promoted by the league.

Call that "opportunity wasted".

I don't know how to change this without major changes at the top of the power hierarchy at the CWHL. Personally, this would have been something to latch onto early on where stories and broadcasts were being promoted all over the place. If anyone even had whispered the name "CWHL", it would have been retweeted, shared, and shared again.

But that never happened. Not once. And now the same old song-and-dance is happening again this summer as the players and league wonder why they aren't making a bigger footprint in the Canadian sports landscape. You've made your bed poorly, CWHL, and now you're asking why you have to sleep in it? C'mon.

Help us help you, CWHL. It's an easy start to getting noticed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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