Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Toronto Star hears the Red Terror

April 12, 2006

Chris Zelkovich, the sports media critic at the Toronto Star (Canada's highest circulation daily newspaper) takes aim at Fox Sports World Canada:

Fox Sports World chewing off its own tail

Less soccer means shrinking audience

Apr. 7, 2006. 01:00 AM

When Canadian television thrust itself into the digital world in 2001, one of the early stars was Fox Sports World Canada.

Providing live sports to viewers who were underserved, mainly soccer and rugby fans, it established itself as the most-watched sports digital by far.

But that was then and this is now and the rabbit has become, if not a tortoise, then a gimpy hare. Fox Sports World still tops its digital sports brethren, but while the others have seen their paltry audiences improve the Global-owned channel's 24-hour average audiences have dropped from a high of 3,000 to about 1,600.

It's not hard to see why Fox is in reverse.

The channel's English Premier League schedule has been trimmed and its rugby lineup eviscerated. There's less live soccer at a time when a new digital channel, GolTV, is offering upwards of 10 live games a week and cable channels have increased their live schedules.

At times, Fox airs more on tape than the History Channel.

Its programming decisions have also angered some of its 630,000 subscribers. Self-described rugby nut Dave Fisher even launched an unsuccessful challenge to federal regulators when Fox dropped rugby.

Fox admits the past year hasn't been a great one, but promises things will improve.

"We want to make our schedule as robust as possible," says Global specialty channel spokesman Dan Kenning. "At the end of the day we want to make sure we're putting out stuff that people want to see."

Fox's problems began when Rogers Sportsnet boosted its English soccer schedule, dulling the digital channel's edge.

Things got worse last year when its American parent renamed itself Fox Soccer Channel and dumped all other sports. The Canadian guys decided against following suit, mainly because they had already applied for a licence change to add sports such as cycling and auto racing.

That application was subsequently approved but Fox has yet to add any new sports.

"When Fox Soccer Channel dropped rugby that put us in a bit of a bind because we were dependent on them for programming," Kenning says. "We've taken the step of looking for other sources internationally."

Fox isn't exactly moving quickly on this one. It did add National Rugby League games last month, but that hasn't satisfied fans who want more popular Rugby Union games.

Fisher says advertising the best rugby from around the world and then offering the NRL is like CBC promising fans Hockey Night In Canada and substituting field hockey.

Kenning admits some of Fox's decisions are financially motivated. That's why instead of airing three live English soccer games a week, as it did in the beginning, it often has only one.

"A lot of that has to do with economics," he says, noting that Fox will air four games live April 17-19.

Money is obviously a big factor in the small digital world, where no channel is making a profit. But a bigger issue is the Canadian television system that grants licences based on programming promises that are either never kept or broken.

For example, The Score was supposed to be a highlights channel and Sportsnet was supposed to provide hours and hours of university sports coverage.

The losers are viewers who pay for one channel and get another.

Source: Toronto Star

First off, I'd like to thank Mr. Zelkovich for addressing the story and actually getting a Fox Sports World Canada rep to comment. That's more feedback than I have received from them despite years of attempts. I am sure that comment about the NRL will raise the hairs of Russell Crowe and a few others, but for the record, I did confess, "I kinda like Rugby League – even if there’s negligible international competition and Canada doesn’t play the sport and the scrums they pack down are unmitigated farces." Just so you know.

And hell, I had no idea that FSWC had anywhere close to 630,000 subscribers in Canada, that is astonishing. If that is accurate, then it makes their failure to acquire or "afford" real Rugby Union even more inexcusable. I find it particularly pathetic that when Global specialty channel spokesman Dan Kenning raises the excuse of "economics" being a failure to acquire programming, he dodges the issue of Rugby Union altogether and promises to show more EPL soccer. Huh??

I've noticed in the past few weeks FSWC has added some Australian Rules Football (VRL or ARL or whatever they're calling it these days AFL) and Aussie League (NRL), but neither of those sports are played or have any profile in Canada, we want to see the game the WORLD plays and thinks about when they hear the word "rugby," and that is the sport of Rugby Union.


At 12:09 AM , Blogger Keith Campbell said...

Just one correction to your article. AFL or Australian Rules Football IS played in Canada. Sure it is not high profile but it is alive and well and slowly expanding.
Canadian Rugby Union is not exactly setting the world scene on fire either so dont get too carried away about its virtues.
How about being a good journo and do some proper research on the other sports played in Canada.

At 8:31 AM , Blogger the red terror said...

I find the irony of the comment, "Canadian Rugby Union is not exactly setting the world scene on fire," highly amusing compared to the profile of AFL in this country. Yes, there are a few Aussie Rules football teams in Canada. (I suppose you need two teams to play a game.) But the sport is not played at high school level nor university in Canada, and receives ZERO press profile here. At all.

Whereas rugby union is now played in both high schools and university leagues ~ for both men *and* women. Indeed, local rugby competitions attract greater press coverage than does the international level. Even front page coverage (at least twenty daily newspapers in Ontario featured front-page coverage of rugby last year; and I'm guessing Aussie Rules might've been lucky to appear on even one.)

Moreover, rugby union has a deep history in Canada ~ please consult the history of the CFL and take a look at the engraving on the Grey Cup. Moreover, moreover, the birth of both American football and Canadian ice hockey came *directly* from rugby union. Please do a search on McGill-Harvard.

The fact is rugby has a deep history in Canada, if not a huge profile; whereas Aussie Rules has DICK-ALL history *and* profile in Canada. The comparison is simply not there; the contrast certainly is.

I have actually played Aussie Rules, and enjoyed the sport, if not the humiliating fashion sense. Sleeveless basketball shirts, and shorty-short-shorts that look like they belong on Mexican cliff divers, no thanks.

Last point: I ain't a journo, I'm a professional artist that dabbles occasionally as an amateur armchair rugby blogger. Please check the banner and profile. I will talk about hockey and baseball when appropriate ~ or maybe not at all. That's is my perogative. If somebody wants to start a blog about Aussie Rules football, by all means they can knock themselves out, I won't stand in their way. Go Swans! Have a nice day!


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