Is there a downside to the CanPL media deal?

Mediapro image of camera framing an auditorium.
Spanish producers Mediapro have signed on to create CanPL content and manage broadcast rights.

On Wednesday night, the Canadian Premier League (finally) announced its TV deal–sorta–and, aside from it being a tad confusing, it’s more substantial than anything anybody was expecting. Alex Sheppard at From Aways has the most definitive run-down of it I’ve read–go read it.

The deal with Spanish producers Mediapro is a $200-million investment over ten years, includes some sort of dedicated channel, sub-licensing options, and, of course, an app. Somehow, we still don’t actually know where the opening match will be shown, but it will be available.

That is, any way you slice it, a lot of money for a league that hasn’t kicked off yet, in a country that doesn’t historically support men’s football as well as it does women’s1My guess? We’ve heard hints of CanPL being interested in developing a women’s league. Mediapro is a Spanish company, and the Spanish women’s program, as well as women’s soccer globally, is entering what could be a golden age. Getting in on the ground floor of what could end up being a very good women’s league down the road might be part of the play here.. Per capita, the money is substantial–not far off what MLS currently does in what is a much smaller Canadian media market.

So why the stormclouds? Well, this is soccer–behind the euphoria there’s always a stormcloud lurking, some concern we’ve overlooked. So consider this a trigger warning for the downside of what is basically a very, very good deal.

First, as Sheppard astutely pointed out, the $200M was announced as an “investment”. The nice thing about funding announcements is you can roll in the cost of purchasing office chairs to make them look more substantial, and everyone goes home more excited because who doesn’t love a good office chair? This isn’t quite a rights buy–but it’s still pretty good.

No, my concern is more with the term. And again, let’s be real clear I’m reaching a bit here. But this is the kind of deal your favourite NHL team’s GM hands out on July 4th. All of a sudden, you’ve got a new defenseman, your team are Cup favourites again… then you look at the term and realize that, three years from now, you’re watching the draft lottery with bated breath.

The mainstream–and probably quite logical–read of the Mediapro deal is that it gives the CanPL stability for ten years. That, alone is worth it.

However, ten years is a ridiculously long time in the media landscape. What does 2029 look like? It’s my area as a sci-fi writer and even I don’t know! Flying cars? Can I watch Wanderers – Cavalry up close on my holodeck? Probably not quite2You’d be surprised how close a basic “holodeck” type interfacee–room-scale virtual reality–is to reality. I’ve been in one. Not cost-efficient reality yet, but if VR has a future, sports is part of it.. But ten years ago, Twitter was new and niche, “Hockey Night in Canada” was a CBC institution (though it had just lost the theme tune to TSN–stormclouds, stormclouds), and soccer fans in Canada still watched a lot of dodgy streams.

Predicting the future is impossible, and media companies tend to be particularly bad at it.

These are two of my favourite graphics:

 

Train infrastructure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was absolutely integral to daily life. It lasted 30-40 years at its peak. Things that seem permanent at the time, things in which loads and loads of capital is invested, are often the least permanent of all.

Almost overnight, the New York Times went from an all-text front-page to photos. Likewise, when I was in journalism school in 2008-12, social media was an afterthought–a lot of the profs didn’t even pay it any heed, and I didn’t touch online media until third year, and only then because I specialized in it. All the while news companies were giving their content–and their profits–away for free.

Film poster for "Messi".
Yes, we got Messi. The film, produced by Mediapro.

Ten years is a long time. I think the Canadian Premier League has made as safe a bet as you an make in this day and age. Streaming seems, for sports, like the way to go. Much as there remain access questions for casual fans who watch mostly TSN/Sportsnet, more and more people are cable-cutting, especially among the younger cohort that CanPL needs to really excite. Mediapro is, as media companies go, reasonably stable and competent. You probably know it best as beIN Sports, but it’s a larger company that’s been around since 1994 making films and TV shows (including The Young Pope on HBO), among other digital knick-knacks3Including a fairly significant eSports presence in Spain, for what that’s worth.. This is a company that has proven it can adapt. That might be more valuable to Canadian soccer than the $200M it just invested.

So the question for me, out of the media deal, isn’t just what CanPL gets today. This isn’t really a rights deal, and it’s important to understand that. We don’t know–and won’t until things get going not just in April but into seasons two and three–exactly what shape this partnership will take. If it grows and adapts, that’s a very good thing, and something Canadian soccer does not have a great history of achieving on its own. If it stalls, however….

We’re now stuck with Mediapro for ten years. I can’t think of too many better companies to be stuck with, but then I might have said that about Netscape in 1999. Or Vine in 2012. The deal is very, very good for Canadian soccer. I can think of about ten separate reasons why, most of which have been written about elsewhere. Access, infrastructure, longevity, security, experience, adaptability–and none of this comes without some risk. This is a new league, and we have to welcome risk, but we should still be aware of it.

Canadian soccer owes some thanks to Mediapro for $200M of faith, but if the league does grow beyond our expectations, it might be reasonable to expect more. There’s nothing entirely preventing Mediapro from investing more, but neither does CanPL (and its business arm, CSB) have many options to offer a competitor. We have rather put all our eggs in one basket, albeit a very pretty one.

About Dylan Matthias 43 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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