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TSN should look to Score on soccer coverage

A straight-laced national broadcaster won’t be the death of footballculture in Canada, but it won’t mean the growth of it either.

Last week, I wrote about the TSN effect and how the network, when it puts its full promotional weight behind a property (no matter how backwater it is – read: CFL, WJHC) it can turn it into a corporate winner. In it, I revealed how TSN was the front-runner to win the MLS broadcast rights in Canada. Since then, that information has become common knowledge through various other media outlets.

Today, sources close to the situation further told me that MLS has favoured the TSN bid and its ‘game of the week format’ from the outset. Garber et al are said to not be looking for a big payday, but, instead believe that the national exposure TSN offers through its flagship program Sportscentre, will do more to reach into the corporate community here than any previous initiatives.

Corporate support is necessary, long overdue and eventually will be the force that carries Dwayne DeRosario and Terry Dunfield’s image into homes across Canada, but what about cultural support?

A growing game

Football supporters are a fickle bunch, and if TSN’s coverage doesn’t pass the smell test -- and certain Canadian commentators here have a reputation for reeking -- then it runs the risk of cutting off the bud of a blossoming football culture.

I can’t speak for Vancouver or Montreal (although, I expect it will be much the same) but I can tell you that the transformation in Toronto over the last four years has been remarkable. Watching casual sports fans turn into dyed-in-the-wool football supporters is something I never thought I’d see in Canada – let alone, the kind of support that bleeds for its hometown team.

And what helps that kind of support grow – and lord knows the cultural success here hasn’t been borne out of a winner on the field – is access to football media that accurately reflects, promotes and represents coverage in the way fans want to see the game.

If you’ll allow me to get philosophical for a second: when fans have a mirror to look into - see themselves and their team - it reinforces their views and makes their community tangible. Or to use corporate speak, drives brand loyalty.

I know of no football supporter in the world who thinks, acts and engages in a game in the way that a talking-head-suit does. Someone sitting behind the desk, who once a week spouts stats and statistics for that two-minute highlight package, will never represent or reflect the game. And I worry what effect that kind of straight-laced coverage – while corporately successful – will have on the growing football cultural here in Canada.

Look to Score

When TSN begins its coverage next year, if it is interested in fostering that ‘brand loyalty,’ they would be wise to study the way The Score handles its football coverage.

On the whole, the Score network has re-invented itself over the past two years – morphing from a traditional broadcaster with limited reach to a multi-platform property (TV, satellite radio, online and mobile applications) with massive scope. Always cut from a different cloth (if TSN was bound tight in Armani, they were rocking Banana Republic) The Score moved even further away from that traditional scores-and-stats approach and into the sports infotainment business.

Nowhere more effective has The Score been at reaching fans than it has with its football coverage. Through the Footy Show crew, The Score generates daily content that not only reflects the tone of the football culture, but also challenges it in ways the mainstream media here often misses. The stories they write, break and report appeal to football supporters because it comes across more like a conversation you’d have at a bar than one that you’d have in a boardroom. And while the focus generally lays with EPL, Seria A and the like, their daily radio show, TV broadcast and online videos keep the hardcore hooked.

If TSN is serious about getting into the domestic footie market and succeeding – it’s already shown it knows how to grow television numbers - it should consider that these sports fans are a different beast from those of the NHL or CFL variety and that it won’t be enough to have Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole spitting stats and clever quips once a week. They need to invest in the culture side of things, across many platforms (TV, TSN radio and online), to cultivate and cash in on the corporate side of things.

A straight-laced national broadcaster won’t be the death of football culture in Canada, but it won’t mean the growth of it either.

 
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