EDMONTON (CUP) — If you’ve tuned in to any of Canada’s sports networks this year, you’ve likely seen something better than poker, bass fishing, and world’s strongest man competitions. The 2005-06 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) season received broader coverage on Canada’s three major sports networks (TSN, The Score and Sportsnet) than ever before.
All three networks aired CIS football throughout the season. TSN aired its regular slew of national championships–most recently the men’s hockey championship. The Score gave men’s basketball the most extensive coverage of any sport, airing live quarter- and semi-final games along with the championship showdown between Carleton and Victoria..
CIS media and marketing representative Michel Belanger said that the increased coverage has been part of an ongoing process for CIS. They’re trying to build a regular-season following by getting their product on the air as the buildup to the playoffs increases. He cited the high ratings of the CIS football bowl games and the Vanier Cup as proof that this plan is working.
“It’s all about getting our product out there,” Belanger said. “Maybe I think [CIS football] is bigger than it really is, but I like to think that our football is now at a level where people know what it is. CIS football has now become, we like to think, a household name.”
It seems that the next sport Belanger is talking about making bigger would be basketball. Due to TSN’s commitment to airing the women’s world curling championships last weekend from Grande Prairie, CIS was forced to look elsewhere to have their basketball championships aired. While they may have turned to the network out of necessity, CIS may have stumbled into a perfect pairing with The Score, who gave the basketball Final Ten the league’s most in-depth coverage of any of their sports’ playoffs this season.
“It’s a bigger deal for The Score to show our Final Ten than it is for TSN,” Belanger added. “[TSN is] fitting it into their busy schedule. For The Score, it was a big deal for them. When TSN shows the games, they do an amazing job, but they’ll [The Score] show the games and the highlights at night and that’s it.”
“TSN covered the [men’s hockey championships], but The Score covered some regular season football and they picked up basketball for the first time,” said The Score’s Jordi Weidman, the Edmonton correspondent for the network. “I’m not sure what the next step for them is. I could see them [covering university sports] a little bit more in the future, too.”
Weidman, a U of A engineering student before pursuing a career in television and radio, agreed with Belanger’s assessment that The Score and CIS are a great pairing.
“The Score wants to expand their live element, and instead of just going back to the studio and showing highlights, they want to show some live sports, too,” he said. “It’s a good partnership in that way and it matches The Score’s demographic.”
Recently, Saskatchewan Huskies head coach, Dave Adolph, called CIS the nation’s best-kept secret. Weidman echoed the coach’s sentiments on Sunday night, but thought that people are slowly coming around to it.
“I don’t think it’ll take that long for it to catch on, though,” Weidman said. “Last year, in a lockout year they had 11, 000 [fans in attendance at Rexall Place] and this year they had 7,000 competing with the Oilers [who’s game against Colorado was televised Sunday night]; I think that’s pretty good.”
Weidman added that, for CIS to continue to grow, it has to become recognizable to people outside of a university’s student body-something that he credited the U of A for doing well.
Belanger is confident that CIS is taking the appropriate steps to get their product exposed to a larger market, and in the next few years, he expects its popularity to grow.
“We think there’s something there and we’re going to make it happen. I’m pretty convinced that we’re going to have basketball on TV next year. It’s about getting our product out there. The more people that see our product, the more people will watch.”