Saturday, 4 April 2015

CIS fights an uphill battle for exposure

Jon Ryan launches a punt for the U of Regina Rams in 2000.
    Canadian Interuniversity Sport is uniquely Canadian – it is a league that contains a large number of the country's most talented athletes, but it is also a circuit no one talks about.
    Actually, there are people that talk about the CIS, but they usually are a stakeholder being a program's staff member, a player or a friend or family member of a stakeholder. There is a niche audience that follows the teams in the CIS. Those audiences can be bigger in centres like Saskatoon or Thunder Bay, but are smaller in bigger cities like Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
    One of the disappointing things about the CIS on a subjective level is it appears its audience hasn't grown over the last 20 years.
    If an athlete from Canada does something special in the United States in the big old National Collegiate Athletic Association, it seems Canadians are more likely to take notice of that person as opposed to if someone does something great in the CIS. It seems to go back to the notion that Canadians don't like to brag about great moments inside of their borders.
Jesse Ross speeds down ice for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    There was a time in the 2000s a CIS all-star team would take on an all-star team of NCAA players in men's hockey. When the CIS teams earned some victories in those clashes, there were observers who would try to wave it off saying the CIS team was stacked with older players from the major junior ranks. In an attempt to make that put down, there was also a concession made that the players in CIS men's hockey are actually pretty good.
    For an example of lack of attention, the Carleton University Ravens men's basketball team make for a prime case. Out of all the CIS teams in the league's various sports, the Ravens are the most successful program having won 11 of the last 13 CIS men's hoops titles. If you go out on any street in Canada outside of Ottawa where Carleton University is situated, how many people could name one let alone two members of the Ravens.
    The most known post-secondary hoops player in Canada likely comes from the Medicine Hat College Rattlers of the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association, which is a league that is a step under the CIS. The Rattlers men's basketball team roster contains a 6-foot-6 third year forward, who has drawn national attention due to the fact his last name that is spelled exactly like a swear word.
    Guilherme Carabagiale Fuck (pronounced "Foo-key") became an all-Canadian all-star in the CCAA ranks. The Brazilian product, whose last name is of German origin, has been featured in numerous media outlets in Canada due to the spelling of his last name. Big award winning credit should be given to Medicine Hat News sports staffers in editor Sean Rooney and reporter Ryan McCracken for how well they handled this story.
Matthew Busse hammers a kill for the Huskies.
    As a result of the national attention, a random person on any Canadian street has a better chance knowing there is a college level player in Medicine Hat whose last name is Fuck as opposed to naming one player on the Ravens roster. On the plus side, all the staffers from Medicine Hat College who have been interviewed about Fuck say he is a first rate individual.
    A CIS athlete would draw the same attention of he or she was the subject of this type of unique story. It is unfortunate a CIS athletes' stellar exploits wouldn't draw the same attention.
    Players from the CIS's football league might get a little more exposure due to the fact those athletes are trying to earn spots in the CFL.
    The most famous CIS football grads made their names in the NFL in current Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, who is a grad of the University of Regina Rams, and former veteran Chicago Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who is a grad of the University of Manitoba Bisons.
    The status of both was elevated due to the fact they played in the biggest professional league in the United States, which has huge media exposure. As a result, the attention they received when they return to Canada is heightened, which as a by-product did give more attention to the CIS football programs they came from.
    The CIS can't rely on Canadian media outlets for increased exposure, because those outlets have been significantly slashed for staff and resources over the last two decades. Also, those in Canada in independent media also have a limited number of hours in a day to cover anything, which results in those outlets focusing on subjects of interest.
    The mainstream media outlets in bigger centres will focus resources towards covering the NHL, because that is where you get the most bang for the buck due to the fact that league has a huge captive audience.
Dalyce Emmerson drives for a score for the Huskies.
    Overworked media outlets like weekly publications in small towns might pick up a feature here and there of a CIS athlete from the geographical area of the small town, but that is also a hit and miss proposition.
    In order to increase its own brand, the CIS likely has to take their media relations and sports information departments up another level.
    The NFL was a leader in the late 1990s, when its teams began hiring print and broadcast media professionals for the various websites run by each club. In 2003, the NFL also launched its own television network.
    Of course, the CIS does not have anywhere near the billions in revenue the NFL draws. If the CIS tried to start a television network, there would be a lot of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hoops to jump through let alone of satisfying the logistics of running a station, but it would still be a good idea to strive for.
    Currently, the media relations and sports information departments in the CIS can't even stack up resource wise to their counterparts in the NCAA.
    You quickly glance at the website of the Florida State University Seminoles, and you can see a number of the Seminoles teams have their own exclusive media contact person.
    Even programs that don't have the resources like a program as big as the one the Seminoles run have multiple people in their media and sports information departments. A few of these programs have the ability to send regular updates to media outlets from the home regions its players might be from.
    For some NCAA programs, if they have a player from Brandon, Man., that NCAA program might send regular updates to the media outlets in the Brandon region about the athlete from that area.
Tyler Chow rumbles downfield for the Huskies
    Too many of the CIS teams have media and sports information departments that might have one or even two people dealing with a program that has anywhere from six to 20 varsity teams. 
    Those staffing levels were about the same about 15 years ago before social media exploded.      It is quite easy to see those in media and sports information departments in the CIS will quickly run out hours in the day to do anything.
    Over the past 20 years, the product on the fields, courts and ice surfaces in the CIS has increased greatly. Players train like professionals year round. The number of full-time coaches and coaches that are paid by CIS programs is also at all-time high.
    The league is not some over glorified recreation league. It is major league at the amateur level.
    In major junior hockey in Canada, a number teams have put more resources into media relations departments, which has seen an increased number of staffers producing video and print features on players for websites. The mantra of even community owned clubs is they must step up like that to promote the team.
    The programs in the CIS have to do the same and employ more media professionals, which could start with even just two or three extra people. The players and coaches in that league have come up a level, and the media relations and sports information departments have to do the same. If not, the profile of the CIS won't have a chance to increase.
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