BUSINESS

CFL partners with U.S. digital network to broaden its appeal to millenials

05/06/2015 06:14 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Newly minted CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge says once younger Canadians are exposed to his league, they'll be hooked. And he's looking to a U.S.-based company that brands itself as the "millennial voice and destination for sports" to help lure the next generation of fans.

On Wednesday, the CFL announced a partnership with Whistle Sports, a multi-channel digital network with millions of subscribers on various platforms including YouTube and Facebook.

"The idea is just to continue to expose it to as many people as possible . . . younger audiences have many entertainment choices out there right now but we feel very confident the CFL, once exposed to it, is an entertainment choice they're going to make over and over again," said Orridge, who took over the commissioner's office less than two weeks ago.

Since being appointed head of the league in March, Orridge has said that attracting younger fans is a top priority.

"I think that's hugely important," Orridge said in an interview. "Generations and generations in this country have grown up with the CFL and we want to continue that trend."

According to the CFL, Whistle Sports has "extensive reach across all major platforms among millennials ... including 31 million likes on Facebook, 16 million subscribers, 11 million followers on Instagram, six million on Twitter and four million on Vine."

"Partnering with them gives us the access to their audiences," said Orridge.

To mark the partnership, a video of Hamilton Tiger-Cats slotback Andy Fantuz breaking the world record for most one-handed catches in one minute was released. The video, which can be seen on YouTube, shows Fantuz making 50 one-handed grabs of passes from Calgary's Bo Levi Mitchell and Saskatchewan's Darian Durant.

The previous mark was 41 set in January by Iowa State receiver Tevaun Smith.

"Once again we're able to showcase the incredible athleticism of exceptional players," Orridge said. "I think sometimes their abilities are often either under-estimated or overlooked because they're so accessible or because they're such proud stellar members of our community."

Brian Selander, the executive vice-president of Whistle Sports, said the CFL deal offers his company something unique.

"Our rapidly growing global audience doesn't really recognize borders when they think about sports content," he said in an email. "Is it fun? Is it interesting? Is it positive and can I like, share and comment on it?

"When those questions are met, the views and fans follow. The CFL presented a really interesting opportunity to bring a new set of players and teams to the table."

Selander said additional videos featuring CFL players are coming.

"We've already done videos with 10 of the CFL's top players that will be rolling out as we get closer to the start of the season," he said. "The Andy Fantuz record-breaking video has already been seen by Whistle Sports fans in several countries.

"I think fans around the world will be looking forward to learning more about the CFL's players. Each of our pro league partners have a passionate fan base but being able to grab the attention of a fan early and giving them a way to share and engage only makes their connection to their teams stronger."

And Orridge said the CFL will be unveiling other programs aimed at attracting and keeping younger fans.

"This is just one of many initiatives to come," he said. "You'll be seeing more of this type of activity."