Selling CIS

How to Get People to Attend Canadian Interuniversity Sport Games

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

It’s the little brother to the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States, and Canadian Interuniversity Sport features the best collegiate athletes that Canadian universities have to offer.

Alas, if you hear people tell it to you, teams are having a hard time getting fans out to games.

We sought out sports editors from student newspapers across Canada, and a few of our own Concordia Stingers athletes, for their takes on how they would go about making CIS appealing to sports fans. A common theme stood out: marketing. You’ll see this word throughout, and some suggestions on how to go about it.

That isn’t to say the CIS hasn’t done anything about getting people to watch. Beginning in 2013, they signed a television contract with Sportsnet that will allow them to broadcast championship games for university football, hockey and basketball set to expire in 2019. TVA Sports signed a similar, four-year agreement this past October.

Championship games in most sports will always bring people together, whether on television or in person, but what about in the regular season? One thing that’s for sure, it’s a problem that isn’t limited to Concordia.

“The CIS needs to step up in terms of its marketing. In my opinion, that’s where the difference lies between the NCAA and CIS. They need to have high-profile regular season games televised, and not simply conference championships. These athletes perform at a high level, games are genuinely entertaining, and some of the individuals will go onto become the next ‘big thing’ on the national scene, so why not increase both the team’s and individual player’s recognition?

One person who has it right is Jim Mullin. He’s the producer of Krown Countdown U, which airs weekly recaps of CIS football during the season. Just recently, KCU started promoting CIS basketball and hockey on their page as well, which is a huge step forward. Mullin and KCU also partner with Shaw TV to provide a ‘Canada West Football Game of the Week,’ which airs on TV. It’s little things like that—which provide fans the ability to sit down and watch a game from the comfort of their own home—that will start the trend in the right direction in terms of increasing appeal.”

Mike Still, sports editor of The Manitoban

“One thing that I always wanted as a player was televised games. Being watched on TV would be amazing. Also, promoting sports all around the campus, which Concordia does a horrible job of doing. Lastly, reward our fans with t-shirts and prizes for coming to the games and supporting their teams. Constantly remind people that there is an upcoming game that they do not want to miss.”

Michael Fosu, Concordia Stingers men’s basketball player

“Publicity. Broadcasting. I never see a commercial about the CIS. Come on, CIS is big, man. But we don’t see that around here, especially in Quebec. RSEQ needs to be viewed too. We have good girls playing ball, we have good guys and lots of talent. Advertising. It’s the only thing we can do. Just invest a bit of money to show that we’re pretty good.”

Marilyse Roy-Viau, Concordia Stingers women’s basketball player

“I think people will go to a CIS [game] because their friends are going. We have a campus club called The Calendar. It throws a lot of parties and events like that and as soon as they get involved in promoting a game, people want to get involved because The Calendar is a cool club on campus, and they know that their friends are going to want to go. I think social media, putting it out on Facebook, putting it out on Twitter. If you walk to a friend and you say ‘Hey, do you want to go to a game on Friday?’ I think that’s what really brings people out.”

Koby Michaels, sports and recreation editor of the University of British Columbia’s The Ubyssey

“I think one massive hurdle that CIS athletics faces is the lack of a hype machine like their American counterparts have. I think this mostly stems from finances—money rules the world, and in the CIS, there isn’t much money to go around. With more money, there could be better facilities at school.

This means better players, a better product, and more fans to fill the stands. A legitimate television deal would be massive in helping new fans come aboard. Plain and simple, the CIS product cannot be enjoyed if it is largely invisible to millions of Canadians.”

Spencer Murdock, sports editor of the University of Ottawa’s The Fulcrum

“CIS sports definitely has the potential to reach more homes and a greater fan base. It all comes down to the power of advertising. Athletic and recreation departments need to create better partnerships with the CIS to make these games reach record audiences.

Streaming is great, but more games need to be on TV. The unfortunate reality I hear from many university students is that advertising isn’t done well enough to reach them and make them want to care about these sports. Making it more affordable and accessible will definitely help to bring more sports fans. I believe a similar culture with university sports can be built in Canada, just like we see in the NCAA. It won’t come easy, but it can happen. It all comes down to engaging the student body and fans understanding the quality of talent we see on our courts, fields and tracks.”

Sofia Mohamed, sports editor of McMaster University’s The Silhouette

“It’s deeply a cultural thing that creates the huge disparity between the CIS and the NCAA. Culture that is rooted in generations and generations. I think advertising and consistent televising would definitely help, but it’d have to be something built over time. I don’t see an immediate quick fix. A lot of OUA/CIS crowds only really come out when it’s a big game, but sports events are sparsely populated otherwise. I think part of it could also be that these athletes aren’t going to the NBA/NFL. NCAA schools know that some of their players will reach the league so that increases their desire to get attached to them early.”

Jaycee Cruz, sports reporter at McMaster University’s The Silhouette

“If I were to give one solution to make a small step forward, it would be that upper administration needs to get more involved with promoting and marketing their teams. It can’t be just the athletics departments. Quick example: if you go on the [University of Waterloo] home page, there is no mention of how any of the varsity teams are doing.”

Norman Masanga, sports editor at the University of Waterloo’s Imprint

“We as universities need to do a better job at setting our product—I use selling in a loose way—making our product made aware and making sure how good of a competitive level it can be regardless of the sport … It’s making sure we’re a little bit more relevant in people’s set of options to do. As far as we’re concerned at Concordia, we just continue to have a dual-campus reality. It’s part of our fabric, it’s part of our personality. It’s also part of an ongoing challenge to get people out to Loyola [for games].”

Patrick Boivin, director of Recreation and Athletics at Concordia University

With files from Vince Morello