In today's guest blog, my fellow From Aways podcaster Alex Sheppard takes a look at the deal between CPL and Mediapro. Once the season begins I'll be posting more content from Alex as he covers the tactical and analytical side of the inaugural CanPL season.
You can find him on Twitter at @its_shep.
As Canadian Premier League staff, press, and honored guests journeyed into downtown Toronto for a “landmark” CPL announcement yesterday evening, confusion reigned amongst supporters across the internet. The CPL made the slightly puzzling and certainly tantalizing decision to release the details of the announcement in a press release a half hour before their live streamed event: a deal brokered by Canadian Soccer Business means that the CPL has entered a 10-year agreement with Mediapro to produce content for the league.
Yes, I know that sounds ambiguous. In reality, the press release issued by the CPL was long and convoluted, a haystack leaving supporters to frantically dig for any information on how they will be able to watch games. While specifics are still few and far between, we at least now have some idea.
Here is a primer for potential CPL viewers.
Who are Mediapro?
Simply put, they are a Spanish production company who produce a variety of content, but are mostly known for their work on sporting events. Any fans of LaLiga will be familiar with their work, as they currently are responsible for production of Spanish first tier matches. Put simply, they provide the equipment and staff to produce a full scale live production: from cameras, to audio, to sets, and more.
Certainly, this is a big get for the CPL, as Mediapro are a massive company with a great deal of experience. They have 68 studios in 36 countries, across 4 continents. They recently signed a new deal with LaLiga, and will assume production of the French Ligue 1 next year.
LaLiga’s presentation is impressive. Viewers are treated to impressive eye-candy with 360-degree video, live analysis and stats, replays from player-specific viewpoints that are presumably a product of witchcraft, and everyone’s favorite adorable spider-cam.
What is the agreement?
The agreement will run for 10 years, and gives Mediapro domestic and global rights to the Canadian Premier League as well as the Canadian Championship, League 1 Ontario, and all home men’s and women’s national team matches. While the press release didn’t include a specific dollar value of the deal, it is being reported that Mediapro is committed to investing $200m over the span of the 10-year deal.
It appears that Mediapro will offer an OTT streaming service dedicated to Canadian Soccer, possibly alongside a 24/7 TV channel. Mediapro are also responsible for, and open to, licensing broadcasts to any other platforms, which will be crucial.
What does this mean for fans? This is the real question for most. How can we watch the games? In honesty, the CPL event last night answered few questions and raised many more. This is in danger of becoming tradition. There was much fanfare, much back patting, a very long and very glitzy video, and a very bizarre cameo from Hristo Stoichkov(?!?!) which cleared up absolutely nothing but was welcome nonetheless.
One thing that we do know is that matches will be available on all platforms. You will be able to watch on your TV if that’s what tickles you, or on your desktop/mobile for cable-cutters like myself. It is unclear yet what platform this will be presented through, with suggestions of a brand-new streaming app and a dedicated TV channel being bandied about quite liberally last night.
It is important to note that Mediapro and the CPL seem very open to licensing matches and content to other platforms. No concrete arrangement was spoken of, but this leaves open the possibility of CPL matches on cable channels or streaming services you already subscribe to.
As well as match content, Mediapro went to great lengths to push their view that the match itself is only half of the story. It seems as though they have an ambitious plan to produce content around the clubs, players, and culture of our blossoming league. A 24/7, dedicated channel to Canadian Soccer seems to be the idea.
What does this mean for the CPL?
In a word: stability. A 10-year deal is exceptionally long for this type of arrangement: most major leagues world-wide would have a term around 3 years in place. While details of the agreement remain foggy, it seems the CPL has played a very good hand here.
The fact that a production company of this size will sign on for that term gives the CPL a massive financial boost. The threshold for sustainability for a new league has been widely suggested to be around 10 years, and this is a very positive step in ensuring we see that.
Financially, it is difficult to read much into the $200m number, as it is described as an “investment” by Mediapro. Some have jumped the gun and are suggesting that this is what Mediapro is paying for the rights, but that seems unlikely. The ambiguous wording to me would suggest that this could include production costs and other factors. That said, no matter how you shake it, a 10-year deal is a massive, massive get for a league that hasn’t seen a ball kicked yet.
So, what do I think?
You didn’t ask. But you know what, I’m going to tell you. While the dominant feeling on various corners of the internet last night was confusion, it should not be lost that this is a huge deal for a brand-new league. Even the most blindly optimistic CPL follower must sweat bullets when considering the barriers to long-term sustainability, but just the length of this deal goes a long way to put me at ease.
From a view standpoint, there is still a lot of potential for mismanagement here, make no mistake. The idea of a 24/7 Canadian soccer channel is appealing to me, but I am self-aware enough to know that I am in a small minority. It is absolutely essential that CPL and Mediapro find a way to get the odd game into the living rooms of more casual sports fans. If subscription to a whole new channel with very specific content is necessary, both parties would be shooting themselves in the foot. Or maybe each other’s foot, that sounds easier.
Likewise, a dedicated streaming service seems to be very much the suggestion. This is great for the close follower like myself, but will have to be priced extremely reasonably to attract those sitting on the fence. Initially, it is expected that the games will stream through the league’s app alongside this new streaming channel, with some games for free. This is better than everything being behind a paywall, but still doesn’t put the league on the screens of anyone who isn’t explicitly seeking it out.
One massive plus for me is the focus Mediapro wants to put on the stories around the game. While this may not bring in the more casual viewer, it is a dream for football romantics like me. A brand new league is an opportunity to do things differently, to allow unprecedented access, and the league seems to feel the same. We have seen the success of Netflix’s Sunderland Til I Die documentary, viewed by thousands upon thousands who may not care about Sunderland A.F.C, but love the stories behind the game. This is an opportunity to pull in followers who may otherwise be uninterested in a late entrant to the massive market that is global football.
Clearly, my concerns are all to do with reach. How do we get the CPL into the homes of Canadian sports fans? My fears are eased, yet again, by the long-term nature of Mediapro’s commitment. They know all this. I’m just a guy that doesn’t know much about much. They are smart and rich. If this league is going to be around and growing in 10 years’ time, Mediapro will be aware that it is in their best interests to maximize their reach. The most important bit of news we will see in the near future will be who they are partnering with, whether it be cable or streaming, to get the league on the casual viewer’s radar.
As stated, Alex Sheppard is a guy that doesn’t know much about much, but will probably write about it anyway. He hopes HFX Wanderers won’t put him through what his beloved Ipswich Town do on a weekly basis. You can follow him on Twitter at @its_shep for more CPL and general footy content.