Category: Local

U Sports Football Deserves Our Attention

Negotiating a New National TV Contract Non-Negotiable


Queen’s Gaels wde receiver Chris Osei-Kusi is tackled by Toronto Varsity Blues defensive back Paul Kozachuk in a game in 2017. (Courtesy: U Sports/Martin Bazyl.

By: Ben Browne

What do many football fans on both sides of the border spend their late-summer-to-early-winter Saturdays doing, you ask?

Watching U.S. college football.

But there are many folks who prefer to spend that time viewing Canadian university ball. Unfortunately for them, however, their sole option to do so – at least for the Ontario conference of U Sports, the Northern equivalent to the NCAA – involves creating an online account and watching games online.

Simply put, our Canadian athletes deserve better.

For the last six years, Sportsnet has been the national TV rights holder for U Sports football (hockey and basketball, too). Knowing that, you might say, “What is there to gripe about?”

Well, for one, that contract expired in the spring of this year, and a new one has yet to be inked, and second, although Sportsnet held the rights, the extent of said rights only allowed them to air the National Final Four for football and National Final 8 for basketball and hockey.

That is inexcusable. That assertion is especially true when speaking about football because, with no disrespect intended to our University basketball and hockey programs, U Sports football serves as the largest springboard to the CFL in the country. 

We should be seeing our future CFLers shine. No questions asked.

Now, let’s not be naïve to the fact that this is a multifaceted arrangement that involves concessions from both parties – U Sports and the prospective rights holder – and lots of work on the part of U Sports to become a more appetizing property for that prospective broadcaster.

However, if you are one of those who follow the game, you know that there are plenty of athletes in our country who are deserved of national exposure. It is simply unacceptable that we are less than six weeks away from the Vanier Cup, and no national network has pledged to broadcast the game.

Of course, televising only the biggest game of the season is only the beginning. That isn’t nearly the level of exposure required to make a tangible difference (and don’t underestimate the impact that exposure can make on a young kid’s career and life). There needs to be, at a bare minimum, a “Game of the Week” that is aired nationally every weekend, as was the case on The Score Television Network in the early-to-mid 2000’s.

Quite frankly, nothing else should suffice if you’re U Sports. If that means having to spend more money (which it undoubtedly will), then sobeit. It would also make being the rights holder more profitable and worth it, for the lack of a better term, for whichever network steps up. While viewership was down for last year’s Vanier – 168,000 viewers in English Canada – part of the reason for that is the fact that it’s one of three nationally-televised University football games a year.

Three.

Most people can choose between that many NCAA games at one time on any given Saturday between the beginning of December and the middle of January. 

Part of gaining popularity is providing exposure, and a not-so-small part of providing exposure is ponying up to make it happen.

There are a slew of remarkable athletes across the country who are worthy of our viewership, and that should be more easily accessible than logging into an online webcast. The RSEQ (Quebec conference) has it straight with their local broadcasts on TVA Sports, and that’s something that the national body can use as a blueprint as to how to do this right. 

No one is saying every game needs to be aired nationally, but we can do much better than three country-wide telecasts a year. We have done better, and eventually, we will once again do better.