SBD/November 13, 2012/Franchises

Canadian Franchises Say Focus Is On Fans, Less On Other Business Ventures

Following the CFL Toronto Argonauts' recent postseason win, Toronto sports fans are “celebrating their highest profile playoff victory in years, but the precarious state of the city’s professional franchises came into sharp focus Monday as team executives vowed to spend more time wooing fans and less time building condos,” according to Steve Ladurantaye of the GLOBE & MAIL. MLSE, Rogers Media and Argonauts execs said at the PrimeTime Sports & Entertainment Conference that they have “spent too much time with off-field distractions and need to start fielding contenders if they are going to prosper in a fast-evolving social media world.” MLSE President & COO Tom Anselmi said, “Where we are going next as an organization is to step back a little bit and really focus on the core business -- the teams, what they are doing, our relationship with the fans and what we are doing in our community.” Argonauts Exec Chair & CEO Chris Rudge said that he has “never faced a challenge as great as getting Torontonians excited about three-down football after years of waning interest.” Rudge said, “You have a highly mixed cultural environment that is probably unlike any other market in the world. Look at our fan base -- we have too many people who are older white guys whose tickets have been in the family for many years.” Rogers Media President Keith Pelley, whose company is a part owner of MLSE and also owns the Blue Jays, said that it is “increasingly important for teams to focus on making their teams ‘fashionable.’” Pelley said, “There are only four types of fans. But the group which I think is most important are the people who just come because it’s fashionable. And social media can make something fashionable or not. As well as winning” (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/13).
GAINING TRACTION? In Toronto, Morgan Campbell noted the growth of the two-day event “reflects the growing profile and popularity of professional sports industry boardroom players.” Conference co-Chair and OHL London Knights Governor Trevor Whiffen said that the event in its fifth year has “a record 350 delegates registered, making the Prime Time conference the largest event of its kind in Canada.” Whiffen said that as its list of attendees has grown, the audience “has broadened, encompassing not just high-level executives but entrepreneurs, agents and students who aspire to careers in the sports industry.” He attributes the event’s growth “to a pair of factors.” One is social media, while he also “credits the increased visibility of the business behind pro sports.” Campbell notes in recent years “similar but smaller events have sprouted on campuses on both sides of the border” (TORONTO STAR, 11/13).
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