CIS media coverage could take off

New television initiatives and Streaming Sports Network expected to expand athletes’ airtime

Streaming Sports Network Canada, which broadcast this men’s basketball game between Queen’s and the Ottawa Gee-Gees last Feb. 8, is planning to more than double their live webcasts of CIS sports this year.
Streaming Sports Network Canada, which broadcast this men’s basketball game between Queen’s and the Ottawa Gee-Gees last Feb. 8, is planning to more than double their live webcasts of CIS sports this year.
Queen’s flanker Alistair Clark breaks a tackle in an August 30 exhibition game against West Point. The men’s rugby squad will host the University of Ulster at Coleraine Saturday in an exhibition match at 2:30 p.m. at Kingston Field.
Queen’s flanker Alistair Clark breaks a tackle in an August 30 exhibition game against West Point. The men’s rugby squad will host the University of Ulster at Coleraine Saturday in an exhibition match at 2:30 p.m. at Kingston Field.

As part of a plan to expand coverage of CIS sports, Canadian universities may soon be able to upload and share video footage of their games at thescore.com.

John Levy, chairman and CEO of Score Media said expanded web coverage will likely include opportunities for students or athletics teams to submit highlights and clips.

“The way technology is now, you have people on the campus with very sophisticated digital HD cameras with the ability to upload maybe not the whole game, but content from different athletics events within the university,” he said. “I think that’s very possible and will happen over the next years, and I want that to be a part of what The Score does.”

Levy said The Score wants to increase their amount of CIS content given the response to their University Rush football telecasts, begun in 2001.

“It’s a great product for us,” he said. “We’ve been building it for the last number of years, and we continue to be excited to provide that level of programming at the university level. … We have an extreme interest in doing as much as we can at the university level. That’s a big draw for us.”

Levy said The Score wants to move beyond just showing football games and the basketball championships.

“It’s not about just doing the major sports,” he said. “We want to get involved with the universities all across the country at all sorts of levels. … The more we show, the bigger we can grow the audience. It takes time, but there’s certainly interest at our level.”

Levy said his network is also planning to expand their coverage of CIS sports on their highlights shows and their website, thescore.com.

“A lot of what we do isn’t just broadcasting the games,” he said. “Our network is more about the stories around the games, and universities are a hub for sports activity. … We want to plug into that more directly. I’d love to have reporters feeding into our network from every university across the country.”

Brad Greenwood, Queen’s Athletics and Recreation’s manager of marketing, communications and events, said any increased television presence would be a tremendous boost for both Queen’s and other CIS schools.

“It would be absolutely huge,” he said. “I think part of the problem with the lack of television coverage around CIS sports is that it doesn’t allow for the general fan base to create any sort of affinity with our athletes.”

Greenwood said the department has looked into webcasts as a way to promote their sports and athletes.

“The problem is, unless [fans] have a chance to come see [the athletes] live, they simply don’t see them,” he said. “We’ve talked about issues like that in the past around possibly webcasting games, but there they are webcasting home games, where it is an opportunity for people to come and see them. We need to have the coverage on the road.”

Greenwood said expanded web coverage is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t compare to the exposure that would come from network television.

“There’s no question that exposure to the sport at the CIS level, no matter what form you can get that in, is better than what we have today,” he said. “Yes, it’s a step forward, but I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to replace network TV at this juncture.”

Streaming Sports Network Canada, an Internet-based network that, for the moment, focuses on CIS sports exclusively, is also aiming to give schools the chance to gain exposure.

SSN Canada president Bengt Neathery said the change will mean far more coverage of a wide variety of sports across the country.

“We have a video upload system, an image upload system so schools can take control of their own content,” he said. “A coach or a sports manager or whoever it happens to be can upload their own interviews that they want to do, or pictures of players in action, whatever it happens to be, and that will be reflected on the SSN site as well to give more of a homegrown community feel to it.”

Neathery said his network expects to stream anywhere from 400 to 750 live games this year from a variety of sports, including football, basketball, volleyball, rugby and hockey. He said the response from schools has been overwhelmingly positive so far. “It’s been excellent,” he said.

Neathery said the network is subsidizing production costs for schools to try and get more universities involved.

“Any school that wants to get in, even if they don’t have the capacity to live-broadcast their games, we’d of course be willing to have them create stories, do videos and send them up to us, and obviously the more of them that do that, the easier it is for us,” he said. “We’d like to see a broadcasting unit, if you will, at each school that is sustainable, sustained by advertising and sponsorship at each school so the product is consistently coming out.”

“Right now, we do subsidize universities for their sport streaming program, so whereas it might cost about $4,000 or $4,500 to actually do the streaming, we subsidize about 80 per cent of it, so the actual cost to the school is only about $750.”

Neathery said the changes will include a blog system that he hopes will attract regular contributors from schools across the country.

“Basically, it’s going to be an easier way for different people who know the CIS or the different sports to make comments or do regular reporting for the site,” he said. “On a national level, we should be able to bring people in, bring the content in from any city anywhere and make it simple. We’re using technology to overcome some of the barriers we have in a country of this size.”

Neathery said Queen’s hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, though.

“We had an agreement in principle signed with them last year, and I’m not sure what happened, but they wanted to have more on the viewership numbers from our side and more marketing support from us,” he said. “We definitely would like to reopen the discussions with Queen’s.”

Neathery said he’s hopeful Queen’s Athletics will support

the plan.

“We’re still looking forward to working with Queen’s.”

CBC SportsPlus: another source of CIS coverage?

The CBC’s application for their own cable sports channel, CBC SportsPlus, was approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in late August. The CRTC mandated that the channel has to have 30 per cent amateur sporting content, measured weekly and 80 per cent Canadian content, measured annually.

Scott Moore, the executive director of CBC Sports, told The Journal that he’s still interested in CIS content for the new channel.

“We feel that Canada’s athletes, both amateur and professional, are under served,” he said. “I think CIS sport is something that’s under-televised at the moment, underserved perhaps, and it would be an area that we would be perhaps be interested in.”

Moore said the channel, which is scheduled to launch sometime next year, might include some broadcasts of Olympic sports like swimming at the CIS level, but they would be more likely to focus on sports that already have an established audience, such as football, hockey and basketball.

“In any type of broadcast, you want to go with what makes sense for your viewers,” he said. “There’s only so much convincing you can do.”

Moore said he hasn’t had discussions with CIS officials or other content providers yet, though, as the CBC is still focusing on lining up carriers for its new channel.

“We haven’t really started talking with rights-holders yet,” he said. “We’ll start that process probably in the next month or two. First, you need to make sure that you’re going to have carriage with the cable channels, the CDUs (cable distribution undertakings), and then if you can get that, you want to be able to tell them that you’re going to have great content.” Moore said CBC’s unique combination of a conventional channel with a digital sports channel will provide them with an edge in any rights negotiations.

“We have an interesting advantage now that we haven’t had before, and that’s the combination of an over-the-air network with a specialty channel.”

—Andrew Bucholtz

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