One year later: CFL 2.0 off to very slow start
It’s been a year since the CFL introduced its 2.0 initiative, a bold venture designed to create new revenue streams from foreign countries without traditional ties to the league.
I recently used Google Trends to see if the league has generated more online search traffic from some of its targeted foreign markets.
Google Trends is a tool that allows users to see how popular different search items are over time. The top data value (100) represents the point at which a search item reached its maximum popularity, with the rest of the data being weighted against the top value.
Below is the Google Trend data from Germany, followed by Mexico and France. The solid blue lines reflects real data, while the dotted blue lines is a weekly projection based on incomplete data. As such, the dotted lines should be ignored.
The data from Germany and France is very similar with a slow decline over time. The Mexican data, meanwhile, reveals a large spike every year at Grey Cup while remaining relatively steady overall.
What’s missing from this data is any type of noticeable increase in search traffic since the CFL unveiled its 2.0 initiative one year ago.
Google isn’t a perfect metric for popularity, but the search engine is the most-used website on the internet for a reason. By its metrics, the CFL is no more popular in Germany, Mexico or France than it was five years ago — long before the conception of CFL 2.0.
I reached out to the league with my findings and was given some data for comparison.
Google Trends do not account for social media, which the league calls “a significant pillar in [its] strategy domestically as well as internationally.”
Thiadric Hansen’s sack of Mike Reilly from August, for instance, garnered almost 70,000 impressions on social media. The league has also seen increased traffic from Germany (68.4 per cent) and Mexico (36.2 per cent) on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
The CFL reiterated that the 2.0 initiative is still in its infancy, calling it “a gradual and exciting initiative to grow the game domestically as well as internationally.”
What the league chose not to comment on is the financial aspects of CFL 2.0. Retweets and shares are nice for exposure, but do nothing to fill the league’s pockets with cash.
CFL 2.0 is a financial initiative. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has spoken at length about opening new avenues for revenue by tapping into foreign populations. Canada is a relatively small market by global standards, which some fear will limit the future prosperity of the league.
Ironically, Canada’s Google Trends reveal that the league’s search traffic has grown steadily over the past five years.
The CFL is planning to continue its 2.0 initiative into next season, holding a number of combines in foreign destinations.
This is a big step in the right direction. The global players currently on CFL rosters don’t represent the best talent from their respective countries. Many players are in their late twenties and early thirties, which means they aren’t long for professional football.
The NCAA’s willingness to recruit European players in record numbers proves that there is legitimate talent overseas and the CFL would be wise to funnel some of those players north of the 49th parallel.
Sending individual scouts to Europe for weeks at a time would be expensive for CFL teams. Holding foreign combines — one-stop shops for scouts, coaches, and personnel people to observe talent — is a smart solution, particularly if the events could be streamed online.
But improving the CFL’s global talent is only one piece of a large, complicated puzzle. The 2.0 initiative has to make money — that’s its primary goal.
The CFL signed a broadcasting agreement with MVS in June, the league’s first Mexican television deal. MVS has shown one CFL game per week this year and will continue to do so through the end of the regular season.
Financial details of the agreement were not made public and ratings from MVS are unavailable.
CFL 2.0 remains in its infancy, something the league readily admits. It’s clear that Europeans aren’t ordering Bo Levi Mitchell jerseys in droves and it’s fair to speculate that CFL games haven’t become must-watch entertainment in Mexico.
If the league still envisions the 2.0 initiative becoming a legitimate source of new revenue — and by all accounts they do — there remains plenty of work to do heading into the second year of Ambrosie’s bold initiative.