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  • Reeve Batstone

A Banner Game

Photo: courtesy Toronto Argonauts

Congratulations to Ben Grant (and the Argos' ownership for having the insight to choose him) on his new role as colour commentator on Argonaut radio broadcasts. An enlightened choice, Ben is a natural.

Congratulations as well to the Argonauts on a season opener to remember. The Grey Cup banner event and victory over their arch rivals could not have gone better.

Chad Kelly showed poise and wisdom playing within himself while the offence ground out a win with the support of an outstanding defence. Kelly made no catastrophic mistakes, did not turn the ball over and ran deftly inside the redzone, earning his three touchdowns. In short, the Argos did not beat themselves while the Ticats lost their composure and eventually their starting quarterback (although they had two fewer penalties than the Argos). Kelly must remain healthy for the Argos to win consistently and he needs to slide earlier to give himself up or this will end in disappointment. He took more big hits than necessary and still has lots to learn. Kelly completed 61% of his passes for a solid 93 passer rating. On the other side Mitchell had an embarrassing passer rating of 50 while Mathew Shiltz had a stellar 124 passer rating while the game was no longer in doubt. The Argos out-sacked the Ticats 2 to 1. The Argos knew they would need to be able to run the ball, with a veritable rookie under centre, and they did so.

It's been two years since perennial Argo nemesis, Simoni Lawrence, has made any big plays against the Argonauts and he was virtually invisible Sunday, with only one tackle. Nevertheless, JB was prescient in his prediction about the talented but volatile, former Argo, Chris Edwards. He was perhaps the Ticats best defensive player and blitzed like he was shot out of a cannon. His penalty for a late hit on Kelly was also in character.

Meanwhile, the Argo who replaced him, Adarius Pickett, was the best defensive player on the field despite dropping a certain pick six and finished with eight tackles. He led an Argo defence that won the turnover battle and limited James Butler to 4.1 yards per carry. Mission accomplished.

The defence frustrated Bo Levi Mitchell and eventually knocked him out of the game following a Wynton McManis hit. His replacement, Matthew Shiltz, looked markedly better although he entered the game as it was nearing garbage time.

The Kelly to Coxie connection was very productive. Clearly, they have some chemistry.

Unfortunately, the Argos blocking on kick returns remains a big problem. The Ticats kick coverage dominated the Argos return unit. The Argos punt coverage unit returned the favour limiting the Ticats to 29 yards on 6 returns with considerable credit to punter, John Haggerty. Haggerty was perhaps the special teams player of the game.

The Argos took too many penalties (nine). They need to get this under six per game.

The Ticats struggled offensively but they are too talented a team to fade away. They will be a force to be reckoned with this season, but perhaps with Shiltz at the helm, not Mitchell. Anyone who has read my articles over the last two seasons knows that I feel that BLM has lost his consistency and he is now playing behind an offensive line that will give up a lot more sacks than Calgary did. We saw the consequences of that Sunday. Playing from behind all game is especially risky. I honestly think that they could be a much bigger threat with Shiltz than Mitchell. Time will tell.

Slow Mo

Last week 3DownNation reported, with some considerable nuance, that the CFL's TV ratings on TSN were down 12% the first week, year over year. No one should be surprised. It's simply a continuation of a trend that has been underway for more than a decade. I have dissected the reasons previously, if you are interested in why this is the case you can look at my previous blogs Capital Appreciation (Sep 12, 2022) and/or Back up plan (April 30th). Suffice it to say that this is not an aberration, the ratings have fallen, on average, 8-10% per year and will continue to do so unless the CFL drastically changes its media and platform strategy, and adds a tenth team to fix its "Where's Waldo" broadcast schedule.

Surely, there are things that TSN can do to improve its broadcasts now, such as deploying super slow motion but they won't improve viewership numbers much. They will, however, signal that TSN respects its Canadian football viewers. They use super slow mo for MLB, NHL and NFL broadcasts. The technology has been around for years. Why isn't it used for CFL broadcasts? Its absence was put into dramatic relief on Friday evening during the Bombers-Sask broadcast. Repeated replays of a Dalton Schoen TD catch included a completely blurred out replay which should never have made it to air. Not professional grade.

Regarding Genius and TV deals, perhaps Genius can be put to work promoting CFL games on CBS. This is where real opportunity lives. That is if the TSN broadcast crew avoids any reference to the myriad of obtuse player categories in the CFL ratio lexicon. Can you imagine an American tuning into CBS trying to process a description of Americans, Globals, Designated Americans, Naturalized Americans and Designated Nationals?! It's the kind of material fit for the Simpsons (remember the CFL draft episode?). CBS' picking up CFL games rounds out the participation of the three main American networks covering CFL games over the years. NBC began by broadcasting CFL games in 1954 and ending by the late 50s. ABC broadcast the 1962 Grey Cup. NBC returned briefly in the early 80s when the NFL had a work stoppage. ESPN broadcasted games more recently. None of these experiments were well promoted by the host networks and disappeared ignominiously. The CFLs schedule of games, scattered across the week, does not help.

The CFL is getting in its own way again. Instead it needs to pivot from the doomed Global strategy and re -deploy these resources to promoting the CFL on CBS. If that viewership can be grown, the franchise valuation that MLSE would like to see the Argos achieve (relative to TFC) could become a realistic goal. Americans love forward pass football. Instead of the CFL trying to create a TV viewership in countries where our football is invisible, it needs to tap into it in a large country that is already passionate about it and the source of half its players. It's not rocket science but the CFL's rocket is not pointed towards the right country. Confront the difficult truth, double down on Canada through expansion, promote the game in the US on CBS and move on from the sunk costs of the Global initiative.

MLSE is probably better positioned to promote CFL games in the US than the league office as it has direct access to many American players on its NBA, MLB, and MLS teams who have some pretty significant social media followings. (Lets also not forget their good friend Drake). These employees represent a huge opportunity if approached properly. Anyone following what Amar Doman is doing in BC would know the value of a well chosen game day concert. GTA native Drake has 117 million followers on Instagram. The Weeknd has 41 million on IG and is the first music artist to exceed 100 million monthly listeners on Spotify. To put this in perspective, these two Canadian artists have a regular following that exceeds the television audience for the Super Bowl in the US, by as much as 20 million. By comparison the CFL has 197,000 followers on IG and the Argonauts 90,000. The Raptors have 3.9 million followers and Blue Jays 1.5 million.

To paraphrase Amar Doman recent comments to the TSN panel, "we don't buy businesses, we grow them by investing in them for the long term". If you want a half billion dollar CFL team valuation you are going to need a US TV contract in the quarter billion dollar range. (The MLS streaming deal with Apple is worth $250 million).

Since their games are being re-broadcast on CBS, I have one more suggestion for the TSN broadcast crew. They should not fail to mention what college or university American players have come from. This is done religiously on NFL broadcasts. TSN doesn't do it enough. The CFL should also ensure that the folksy Matt Dunigan does the colour commentary for games shown on CBS. He translates the Canadian game very well for an American audience.

Groundhog Day

Regarding expansion, it's time the Commissioner stopped talking about it and just focussed on doing it. Confusing communications around this have been a case study of the wrong kind. Just over a year ago he was asked, by 3DownNation, what the chances of expansion to the maritimes were in the short term. He replied, 'they are 11 out of 10." Expansion to Halifax was first publicly encouraged 50 years ago. It came after the first Trudeau government blocked the World Football League from coming to Toronto in 1973. Consequently, Johnny Bassett and Leo Cahill took NFL stars, Csonka , Kiick and Warfield to Memphis. Despite lots of bold predictions there has been no material progress towards expansion in Halifax in half a century. It's not how credibility is built.

I long to be, Alberta Bound?

Finally, in my January 22nd article, Goodbye Leo, I described the spin off value of territorial exemption draft choices, an enlightened practice which was abandoned by the CFL many years ago. There remains a strong pull for players to return to their hometowns and provinces. You sometimes hear it referred to as the hometown discount. The Argos benefitted from it this year with LB Jordan Williams telling the BC Lions that he needed to move closer to home which led to his trade to the Argos. We also saw it a few years ago when Argos all star centre Sean McEwen returned to Alberta and signed with the Stamps. Later, Argo Teren Churchill made a return to Alberta and was traded to Edmonton. The Argonauts have another all star offensive lineman from U Calgary who will be coming off his rookie contract after this season, Peter Nicastro. With apologies to the late Gordon Lightfoot, lets hope he is not Alberta bound as well. Speaking of Alberta, the Argos started three former Stamps in the secondary Sunday in Daniel, Metchie and Amos. Metchie is from Brampton. It works both ways.

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