Monday, 8 December 2014



$5.2 Billion: Ain't That a Punch in the Head


Perhaps only bookies perceive a relationship between pro sports and logic. Fans certainly don’t because passion and devotion combine to create their core essence. Logic is always the first victim of blind faith. That’s the nature of the game. However, when corporations act like loaded fans (drunk and rich), you have to sit back, scratch your head and look askance. Do not try this while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer.


Chevrolet paid British football team Manchester United $559 million (US) for the right to place its ‘bowtie’ logo on the Red Devils’ jerseys for seven Premiership seasons. Europeans cannot buy a Chevrolet vehicle, the brand does not exist on that continent. The strategy according to Detroit is deviously clever: by piggybacking on a fading international sports brand which plays its home games in the north of England, Chevrolet will garner unprecedented exposure in the massive and untapped Asian market. Makes perfect sense provided convergence converges as conceptualized; Wile E. Coyote might whisper, ‘Genius.’


Closer to home we must quizzically consider Canada’s Rogers Communications, a media conglomerate that may have made the same expensive mistake twice.


Rogers mistook the red, white and blue National Football League shield for gold. The Buffalo Bills recently gassed a long-term, lucrative deal with Rogers to play one meaningful regular season home game in Toronto. Football fans shrugged. Spenders in Canada’s largest market were not seduced by the presence of the legendary NFL brand. Beyond the curious and Rob Ford there was little demand for a bad foreign team with tenuous regional ties to Ontario’s capital city playing lousy American football.


The good old hockey game is the best game you can name and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game.’ Rogers went all in on Stompin’ Tom’s sentiments. Perhaps there was a stray elbow to the head. The biggest ongoing business story in Canada is Rogers paying the National Hockey League $5.2 billion dollars for 12 years of exclusive broadcast rights (with some exceptions). For a media provider in a winter country seeking content for its various outlets and devices, the deal seemed a dream come true. NHL hockey! Platforms! Convergence!


While it is still early in the first period for Rogers, the Globe and Mail Saturday reported that the eyeballs promised to sponsors are myopic; they’re not seeing as much as Rogers previously advertised despite the ref cam. This is troubling news if you’ve chosen hockey as your designated convergence agent, cross-platform driver and subsequently inflated your ad rates accordingly.


What shines on the NHL shield is just silver paint. Fans live and die with their teams; the league itself and its 29 other clubs, especially the bad ones, do not matter. The league’s expansion into non-traditional markets does not equate to the growth of the game. It remains a regional sport, albeit a popular one in a big, empty, regionalized country like Canada. Rogers is broadcasting more games on more channels on more nights than ever before. Yet Rogers may have overestimated the sport’s blanket national demand. The fact is that a Mountain Time Saturday night game between Edmonton and Calgary doesn’t matter to anybody outside of Alberta; the tilt's not an NHL game so much as it is the Oilers versus the Flames. A Canadiens fan will not watch the Leafs unless they’re playing one another. Sidney Crosby cannot appear simultaneously in all seven Canadian markets seven nights a week. Very few folk watch hockey just because there happens to be a game on, some element of any particular game has to matter to the viewer.


Rogers’ other sports property is the Toronto Blue Jays. Historically the company has been loathe to spend to compete in the stacked American League East. The company has failed to transform Canada’s sole Major League Baseball club into a beloved national brand. Maybe it’s not so difficult to botch a monopoly after all.

Despite its heavy investment in games, the company seems blind to the nuances of sport in general, those ethereal things that enthrall students of a game and enhance the small joys of fandom. The sense is that Rogers doesn’t quite get it. The company’s cable and wireless customers complain that Rogers doesn’t quite get those aspects of its business either. Of course, it’s impossible to be all things to all fans.

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