CFL invites fans (and sponsors) to pre-season events

Title sponsor Mark's will use the event as an opportunity to tap a younger demo, while the CFL is hoping to up engagement year-round.
Junior Turner, Travon Van

For the first time, the CFL is pulling back the curtain on many of its pre-season events such as its National Combine and the Canada West Passing Showcase, inviting fans in Regina to observe the experience.

Those and a number of other events will be part of the first annual Mark’s CFL Week, a fan-facing event set to take place March 21 to 26.

Christina Litz, SVP of marketing and content at the CFL, told MiC the week is part of an effort to engage more fans year-round, with a secondary goal of building the viewership audience for next season.

Other events that will be part of the week include a photo and video shoot (featuring more than 50 players) for TSN/RDS/Adidas to create promotional material for the upcoming season, a ticketed reception naming the 2017 class of the CFL Hall of Fame, the annual rules committee and competition committee gatherings, public speeches from the league’s head coaches and a FanFest event  featuring autograph sessions and a chance to take a photo with the Grey Cup.

Footage from the event will be streamed live every day at 4 p.m. CT on the CFL’s Facebook page, hosted by the CFL’s online weekly recap show Snap Wrap host Brodie Lawson. No official television broadcaster has been announced yet.

Canadian retailer Mark’s has signed on as the title sponsor and will showcase the week in its flyers and in-store, with the Mark’s social team providing coverage at the actual event.

Mark’s has been a sponsor of the CFL since 2014, but the company’s VP of marketing David Lui said this is the first chance for the retailer to engage with CFL fans this early in the year.

“Our partnership has always been built around from Labour Day onward, but we’ve been talking with the CFL on a number of occasions to stretch how we put CFL in the forefront of people’s minds early on in the years,” Lui told MiC.

He said the week is also an opportunity to engage with a younger demographic, which is part of Mark’s evolving strategy. The brand currently tracks most with men aged 30 to 49, with a sweet spot around 35 years old. Lui said the retailer is hoping to bring that age down slightly, which is why it has also been engaging in more digital and social content in recent years.

In particular, said Lui, the Mark’s #FanCam hashtag that it pays to promote around tentpole CFL events has been a successful initiative for the brand and has generated thousands of engagements on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He said the brand has not yet decided on whether or not the hashtag will be promoted at the upcoming FanFest, but it will be involved in other aspects of the week, including offering contest prizes to fans.

Mark’s worked with Touché on the sponsorship.

Other sponsors of the week-long pre-season event include Molson, which will sponsor the event’s “fan cave,” with additional experiential activations from Kal Tire, Athabasca University, the Canadian Armed Forces and Wilson.

As the event draws closer, the CFL may promote it with a small out-of-home campaign in the city of Regina, said Litz. However, she said it’s doubtful that the CFL will use a paid boost to promote the Facebook live streaming since CFL’s social engagement is already high. The CFL’s Facebook page currently has more than 260,000 likes, and the announcement video for the Mark’s CFL Week was viewed 5,600 times in the first 24 hours.

Last year’s Grey Cup broadcast fell slightly in average audience, with an AMA of 3.65 million on TSN and 254,000 on RDS (the 2015 broadcast reached 3.8 million on TSN and 230,000 on RDS). However, regular season games rose slightly on TSN, up 3% overall, 7% in the 18 to 49 demographic.