Monday, February 28, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Marketing

I am of course primarily a Rider fan but I love the CFL as a whole. So I find it great to see other teams doing such awesome things. Ottawa is doing the Behind the R series which is giving an incredible view behind the scenes (much watch if you haven't checked it out). Edmonton ran a promotion for $99 season tickets targeting families. BC has a family zone with $10 tickets and $85 for the season and is starting to hype a big party for the season opener. The more each time succeeds, the more the league succeeds and I think that is great.

It got me thinking about what the Riders are doing from a marketing perspective to keep pace with their competitors and attract new interest and fans. The answer is unfortunately nothing.

As is too often the case in Riderville since 2007, the Riders are resting on their laurels and adopting a “if you build it, they will come” approach. Take a look at what percentage of games have sold out since the new stadium opened and you’ll see how well that approach is working. I would describe it the way Chris Jones describes Darian Durant… moderately successful. Sure we are doing above average in terms of CFL teams but we have sold out 2 games in the past 2 seasons… seasons that featured us fishing 1st and 2nd and earning home playoff games. And that’s “announced” sellouts by the team. Actual butts in the seats are always much less that what ticket sales are.

So if moderately successful is what you want then by all means, continue resting on your laurels. But the fan base is not getting younger so at some point it will become a big enough problem to matter financially. Do you want to be proactive about that? Or wait until its too late?

Here are my thoughts on what the Riders should be doing to help market the team.

 Hook The Kids

Any moderately useful marketer knows the power of a child nagging their parents. To grow the next generation of football fans you gotta get them hooked at a young age. Its clear that the new leadership in BC and Edmonton have clued into this. But as it stands the Riders don’t seem to care. Its expensive to go to games. Its expensive to feed them even the lowest grade popcorn and hotdogs. Also, how prominent are kids during the in game entertainment? Not very. Go to a Regina Pats game and they get it. Every break kids are plastered on the jumbotron. That is crack to a child. My son has been coming to games with me since the new stadium opened. You know how often in that time the cameras or prize giveaways have come to the second deck in that time? Once. It used to be a regular thing in the old stadium but now the Riders rest on their laurels and put in minimal effort. And given the high price of seats, where do lots of non-season ticket holding kids sit? The second deck. Make kids (all kids) the focal point of the game day experience and it will pay dividends both in long term fans and short term ticket/food sales. My kid would damn near pay for a chance to dance on the Jumbotron. 

Also don’t limit it to game day. If you are from Regina you know the massive success of Flag football. The spring league is one of the biggest on the continent. You know what all those kids are walking around wearing as living billboards? NFL logos.  Guarantee most kids could name more NFL teams/players than CFL ones. The CFL used to sponsor fall flag and my kids used to have CFL gear to wear around. But they pulled out of that a few years back for reasons I don’t understand.


This is tied to getting kids/families in the stadium. Its bloody expensive to go to a game. To get into a game is $60-100 easy and that only gets you the right to buy insanely expensive booze and food.  Any time you don’t sell out it’s a wasted opportunity (and as mentioned, we are not selling out). Much like other teams are doing we need a set of really cheap tickets (like $10) to get people in the door. We also need a value menu. I’m totally cool with high priced options (I mean occasionally a guy just wants a 2 foot hotdog) but have a small value menu: $1 pop, $2 popcorn, $3 hotdog $5 draft beer. Not only will this make the games more affordable for new fans, it would also suck more money out of existing guys like me. Most games I spend $0 on food (mostly out of principle). Give me a value menu and you would bleed my dry toonies at a time.

Market your stars

I want you to honestly think about which Rider players have been the most hyped. Its Dan Clark and Jon Ryan. Now I get the hometown connection but can you imagine an NFL team with their centre and punter as the most hyped guys? 

Who should we be hyping? Obviously Fajardo. Dude is not only the face of the franchise he’s immensely likeable. When “Sprinkles of Jesus” became a thing it wasn’t the Riders who seized on the marketing gold, it was a local podcast, Piffle Podcast, that made shirts for charity. Guys like Leonard, Shaq, Moore, Duke, Moncrief their faces should be plastered around. These are the playmakers that people will notice when they come to the game. Whatever happened to Fantuz Flakes, All-Dressler chips, or the infamous Dressler teaser-pleaser Humpty's commercial… hell look at how iconic the Jurasin bandana was (the fact that I can’t buy one today at the Rider store boggles my mind).

Yet we have spent too much of our efforts hyping the likes of a fullback called the Canuck Truck, 4th string receiver Jason Clermont in addition to the aforementioned mediocre punter and moderate liability of a centre.  

Not going to go too far down this rabbit hole but you have to admit that for a sport that is predominately played by African Americans, we sure give a disproportionate amount of marketing attention to white players in Saskatchewan.

 So there you have it. What are your ideas for the Riders to better market themselves?

Monday, February 21, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: What If?

With a bit of a lull in terms of CFL news with free agency activity slowing down, I thought I’d take the chance to do something different.

I’m a big Marvel fan. Recently they did a series call What If? where they explore alternate universes based on one key event going different than it did originally. I realize that heartbreak isn’t exclusive to the Riders but there is healthy dose of it in our history. The plane crash of the 50s, 1975 and 2009, just to name a few. So the concept of What If? Just fits so well with the Riders.

Today will look at 5 such scenarios and the alternate universes that are out there. (I'm leaving out 2009 intentionally. A) its almost too obvious and B) I still like to repress pretty much every memory of that season) 

What if Paul McCallum makes the kick?

The year is 2005. Henry Burris is playing arguably his best game ever in green and white. The Riders have pushed the heavily favoured BC Lions to overtime. McCallum is lining up for an 18 yard FG. Of course we know he tragically missed. But What If he made it?

There is an alternate universe out there where McCallum makes the kick and we win the game. We go on to defeat the Argos in the Grey Cup, snapping the drought at a measly 15 years. Not only does McCallum go on to unquestionably surpass Ridgeway as the greatest kicker in franchise history but he also remains beloved by all and manure stays in its rightful place. But in this universe, McCallum isn’t the only one with a drastically different fate. In this universe, Henry Burris is revered as a Rider legend and one of the most beloved heroes in franchise history.

What if Kevin Glenn doesn’t break his arm?

I firmly believe the Riders still win the ’07 Grey Cup even if Kevin Glenn plays (just in a very different manner). But I will readily admit that the Bombers’ chance of winning would have gone from negligible with Dinwiddie at the helm, to very possible with Glenn. So what if Kevin Glenn played?

There is an alternate universe where the Bombers (and not the Riders) end their streak of no cups in 2007. Kevin Glenn (with a Grey cup ring and Grey Cup MVP to his name) is regarded among the best QBs ever in the CFL and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame is not in question. In this universe, Milt Stegal even knows what a Grey Cup ring is. In this universe, it’s the Riders who wallow another decade plus before winning another Grey Cup.

What if Marcus Crandell’s hamstring holds up?

The year is 2008. Fresh off winning MOP, Kerry Joseph has been shipped to Toronto and Marcus Crandell is set to lead the Riders' bid for a repeat. His hamstring lasted about 47 seconds into game 2 and it eventually led to Darian Durant’s debut in the CFL. That would be the springboard to a long successful career for Durant (or moderately successful by Chris Jones standards). But what if Crandall had finished that game.

There is an alternate universe where Darian Durant never plays in 2008 and returns to the US to find a non-football career following the end of a season where he watches Crandall and Jyles get reps ahead of him (that is a form of torture so harsh that its outlawed by international law). Crandall guides the Riders to a forgettable 9-9 record and loss in the Division finals. The only upside to this universe is that Michael Bishop never becomes a Rider.

What if the play that never happened, never happened?

The year is 2014. The Riders are defending champions and sit at 7-2 heading into Banjo Bowl and are once again the best team in the CFL. On a play that never officially happened, a Winnipeg D-lineman blew passed a useless Dan Clark (he was an absolute trainwreck as a guard, moving to centre saved his career) and hit Darian Durant, snapping a tendon in his elbow. The Riders would go on to win just 3 of the remaining 9 games and lost to Edmonton in a game where Kerry Joseph was determined to set an all time record for interceptions thrown. But what if Durant didn’t get injured?

There is an alternate universe where a healthy Durant leads to Riders to continue to steamroll the league. They go on to win back to back Grey Cups. In this universe, Durant is unquestionably one of the greatest Riders ever. In this universe, Chris Jones even upgrades his assessment to “fairly” successful. But it’s not just Durant’s fate who has wildly alternated by the play that never happened. In this universe, Cory Chamblin (as the only 2 time Grey in franchise history) doesn’t have his famous 2015 collapse and has a long tenure and finishes as the best coach in franchise history.

What if Simoni Lawrence played by the rules?

The year is 2019. With one vicious head tackle, Simoni Lawrence sets in motion a series of events that saves a wallowing franchise and launches a career (it also may be indirectly responsible for a global pandemic but I digress). His headshot on Zach Collaros ended the QBs’ time with the Riders and made way for Cody Fajardo to become the franchise QB in Riderville. It also led to Zach Collaros being traded to Toronto and eventually Winnipeg and winning back to back Grey Cups. But what if Simoni was a cheap shotting douchebag?

There is an alternate universe where Cody Fajardo is a mildly successful insurance salesman in the States who is no more than a footnote on the CFL history books. Zach Collaros leads the Riders (not the Bombers) to a Grey Cup win in 2019. In this universe, Simoni Lawrence is the world’s nicest guy. The Bombers still haven’t won a Grey Cup and everyone outside of Manitoba is generally very happy about life.

Do you have any "What Ifs?" to add to the list?

Monday, February 14, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency So Far

When it comes to free agency there is only one of 2 reactions that ever occur in Riderville. Either we start planning the parade route based on how many great signings we have made or we question the competency of the GM for not doing anything and assume the sky is falling. That’s it. There is no in between. This year we are leaning to the latter.

Before I get into my thoughts on how the Riders have fared so far in free agency let me just point out that if your team is super active in free agency it probably means you were terrible last year (i.e. Ottawa and BC). Good teams, by their nature have less holes to fill and need to be less active. So if you are measuring success by the number of signings, you are in for a disappointment down the road. Many years the Bombers “won” free agency only for their season to end in disappointment. More recently they have opted for stability, similar to Hufnagel’s approach in Calgary and they are winning. (Side note it seems that Toronto likes Hufnagel’s approach so much that they also have adopted a policy of signing only Stampeder players).

Those expecting big Rider news this week have clearly been underwhelmed. O’Day opened with 2 massive signings Tuesday. Signed a receiver we are likely to cut in camp on Wednesday and actually cut a player Thursday. But you have to look at the whole of O’Day’s work, not just what he did this week.

Wisely deciding that continuity was important for a team that as been to back to back West Finals, O’Day did the bulk of his work in December. He locked up Ferland and the white Johnson (a young interior that should continue to improve). He kept Terran Vaughn, who when healthy is a legit starting tackle. He kept Shaq, Moore and Duke, along with McInnis and Picton. He made sure that AC Leonard stayed in the fold coming off his best season ever. He kept key Canadians in Teitz, Edem and Oneyka. He brought back Dean and Marshall. He made sure everyone’s favourite kicker stayed in Green and White. He kept a strong core in tact and as a result didn’t have to be super busy come free agency.

Bringing back Derrick Moncrief is massive. He’s one of my favourite players in recent years. He locks down one of the toughest positions on defense. As a reminder, last year that spot was an ever changing roulette wheel that included Hendy, Oneyka, Dearborn and Bouka. The stability and excellence that Moncrief brings will be a huge plus. Given that we re-signed Dean I was surprised to see us target Darnell Sankey. Makes me think that a) Dean came relatively cheap and b) he may not be ready for week 1. Never a bad thing to add the league leader in tackles to secure the middle. Sankey is a playmaker. Think back to last year when we were looking to replace Judge/Elimimian/Moncrief and the only experience LB we had (Dean) blew his achilles. We are miles ahead of that and LBs will be a strength for us this season.

But I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass (odd expression by the way) and say that the Riders have improved as a team. I would say, at best we have maintained.

Offensively, a full season a Duke is certainly a plus. I have zero concerns with Morrow if he’s our starting RB. Vaughn helps the OL but there are still concerns there. Yes we added Na’ty Rodgers but he comes from Ottawa… the only team to allow more sacks than the Riders last season. So our O-line is still the big question mark. We also have no proven depth at QB… though honestly its not like Mason Fine is much of a difference from entering 2021 with Harker. So based solely on Duke, I’ll say the offense is slightly improved from 2021.

Defensively though it’s a different story. As mentioned our LBs are stacked and will be solid. But we lost a ton in the other positions and didn’t add any replacements. Along the line we lost Micah, Henry and Woodard and have signed zero replacements. AC is a stud and I like the potential of Marino, Robertson and Lanier in year 2 but at this point I would have to say our line is a downgrade from last season. Not doom and gloom, but a downgrade. Overall the secondary is solid with Edem, Webb, Clark and (sigh) Marshall. But we lost both Gainey and Purifoy. That’s 2 starting HBs. Webb takes the place of one of them no problem but the other? We currently have nobody else who has played HB on the roster (except Marshall but he is a trainwreck at HB). So again 4 out of 5 is pretty solid but our secondary at this point is not as good as last year. Jason Shivers showed last year that he can cobble together a solid D with whatever rag tag roster you give him so we are in good hands despite the uncertainty.

There are still some names out there in free agency that could help us. Also don’t forget that the season doesn’t start next week and we still have new recruits and the CFL draft to fill out the roster. He’s a few areas I would like to see us address.

O-line – As mentioned, tackle is still a concern. That might have to be addressed through recruiting (we did so well at that last year) as the only vet left out there is Justin Renfrow. We have also been linked to negotiations with Nolan MacMillan. I see him as a better Boyko. Primarily a guard but can play tackle in an emergency. Would be a nice depth add ideally as a back-up.

Receiver – I’m pumped about our top 4. Duke, Shaq, Moore and Schaefer-Baker. Man if Cody has any protection at all that’s a dangerous combo. But I also remember that last year I was pumped about Shaq, Moore and Williams-Lambert and 2 ended up not finishing the season and one missed significant time. My point is, depth is going to be needed. There are some intriguing names still out there that would bring great depth probably at a reasonable price. A few former Riders are out there. Ricky Collins just keeps producing everywhere he goes. Armanti Edwards and Kenny Stafford are also vet options. Possibly also DeVier Posey.

D-line – Nevis Drake is still sitting out there. Man do I want him. Some other options along the edge like Thiadric Hansen, Cordarrow Law and Chris Casher to help with the loss of Woodard. We will need to look to the draft to add some Canadian depth here.

Secondary – Most HBs have been snapped up. Jamar Wall is an intriguing name. At 34, I’m not sure if he intends to keep playing. But he is a guy who can play safety, HB and cover LB. Jeff Richards is really the only other true HB on the market. There are also a number of cornerbacks out there and for the right price they could provide great competition in camp. Guys like: Frankie Williams, Jonathan Mincy, Jonathan Rose, in that order of preference.

Defensive Canadian Depth – With 3 defensive starters last seasons, we routinely rostered 7 Canadian defenders. We currently have 11 total on the roster and that includes 5 draft picks/new recruits who have never taken a snap. Getting Lokombo on the field is a big plus and I’m a believer in Cimankinda but it would be nice to have an actual competition in camp and some depth there. Draft will be the primary way we address this but a couple vet Canadians from free agency would be nice as well.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Week

By the time Tuesday finally gets here all the excitement about the opening of free agency might be gone. Most players have already announced the deals they totally can’t officially sign until Tuesday. It will just be a steady string of press releases making official deals that we’ve know about for days. By this point if you’re a free agent who hasn’t signed you gotta start wondering if there will be any cash left for you.

It's been a busy few days so let’s get you caught up.

Who we kept

The big news of course is that we kept Duke… and paid him handsomely. His one year, $260K contract makes him the highest paid receiver in the CFL. Honestly did not think O’Day would pay him what it would take. I’m happy he did, he just hasn’t been the type to sign these “highest paid” deals. With Duke, Shaq and Moore we have one hell of an offense brewing… assuming we find a way to actually pass block.

We kept Larry Dean. Assuming he’s healthy its an important signing as we need a strong veteran presence in the middle. We also re-signed Pete Robertson. I’m really excited to see what guys like Robertson, Woodard, Lanier and Marino can do in year 2.

Who we lost… it’s a growing list

Gainey is reuniting with Jones in Edmonton (sounds like Mak Henry too). Micah is off to Hamilton. Purifoy is getting paid to return to BC. Powell is going back to Ottawa. Jon Ryan is… well he’s just not coming back.  

Gainey is not surprising… though I felt a lot better about letting him go before Purifoy also left. I’m a big Purifoy fan so he’s a loss and his versatility is going to be tough to replace. I enjoy Micah’s 1 year here followed by 1year signing somewhere else pattern and look forward to his return in 2023. He is also a loss but we are betting on AC and the new recruits being ready to carry that line. Powell is not much of a loss. I like him but he is not a good age for an RB and should be replaceable. As for Jon Ryan, I get the sentimental aspect here but from a purely performance standpoint he was a mediocre CFL punter who was among the top paid at his position and was closing in on 40. What part of that equation says re-sign him? He is a great person and his overall football career is damn impressive but he never finished above 5th in net punting as a Rider.  

Who we should be targeting

We have 3 primary needs and a couple less pressing ones heading into Tuesday. We still need an offensive tackle. Options are essentially limited to Rykar Matthew (please, please, please) and Justin Renfrow (still better than watching Boyko and Jefferson embarrass themselves). We need a halfback. Options there include DeShaun Amos, Richard Leonard, Nick Taylor, or Jeff Richards. Amos would be the top target. Leonard strikes me as a slightly more likely/affordable. We also need a cover LB. Moncrief, Darby, Cioffi, Unamba and Levels are all options. 

Assuming Marino stays healthy we don’t need at DT but it would be nice to add one. Steven Richardson is the top option but he should get paid so a more value option may be Drake Nevis or Woody Baron. Also we will need to add some Canadian special teamers with both Herdmans, Dearborn, Francis and Bouka still unsigned. We do get Lokombo back and there is still the draft but we are a little thin there.

Some chatter linking us to Darnell Sankey. He’s a phenomenal player but I’m sure I see him as priority in terms of spending with Dean and Teitz locked in at LB. I mean I'd take gladly take him but not the biggest area of need. 

Be interesting to see what O’Day has up his sleeves tomorrow… though in all likelihood all our signings will be leaked within 5 mins of me posting this if history is any indication.