What the future holds for MLR coverage in Canada

The Toronto Arrows on TSN is one of the newest trends happening in Canadian sports. For a new league like Major League Rugby, to find itself on the television sets of one of the two main sports channels in Canada is almost unheard of.

In regards to rugby union, (The Sports Network) TSN it is an extremely important broadcaster in Canada, and for this partnership to grow between, not just the Arrows, but also potential pro-Canadian rugby union teams as well.

Toronto Arrows on TSN: the present and future MLR coverage

At present – ​​Toronto Arrows TSN season reached wider audience

Right now, nine of the sixteen games were shown live on television on TSN this year. Additionally, all 16 games were shown live on the TSN.ca/TSN App, which requires additional money to pay (as it is not part of the cable coverage). Streaming sports is an increasing segment of the market, and a way for fans to watch rugby ‘on demand’.

However, all in all, it is a beneficial deal for the Toronto Arrows TSN relationship.

This broadcast deal has been in effect since the 2020 MLR season. Before that, games were shown live on GameTV. Yes, both networks can be shown live on TV, however, many more people watch TSN on cable and it is also where popular leagues like the CFL are shown.

The notable games shown live on television included the Arrows playing their first home game outside of Ontario in Langford, British Columbia, against then the defending MLR Champions, the LA Giltinis. Other matches included the first home MLR game in Toronto since 2019 which took place in April of this year against Rugby ATL. That fixture was played at York Lions Stadium.

Other feature match coverage included the dominant home win against a very good New England Free Jacks team and also the Fire and Ice Cup loss in Georgia against Rugby ATL. The Fire and Ice Cup game in Atlanta was the only road game that was televised nationally on TSN.

International coverage: Rugby Canada shown on TSN

It is a great platform to build on, not just for the Arrows, but also for Rugby Canada [the national governing body]. For example, some of Canada’s games were shown either live or delayed coverage on TSN. Thankfully, the former has been more common than the latter (in terms of watching Rugby Canada men’s and women’s games on live TV).

Regardless, even if it is not on TSN, fans can watch the Rugby Canada games live on TSN.ca/TSN App, just like with the Arrows.

Coverage in 2022 included all four games of Rugby Canada’s men’s and women’s national teams’ friendlies shown live on TSN. A feature game included the Canadian women’s teams’ wins against Italy and Wales, in preparation ahead of the Rugby World Cup in October.

Note: MLS on TSN will be no more next year

MLS on TSN was something that seemed like it was going to exist forever. This is especially true when the Canadian men’s soccer team made the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986 this year. Then, there is the Canadian women’s soccer team, which won gold in Tokyo 2020. This is what MLS commissioner Don Garber said about the move according to Adam Laskaris of Daily Hive:

“Apple is the perfect partner to further accelerate the growth of MLS and deepen the connection between our clubs and their fans,” said Don Garber, MLS’s commissioner. “Given Apple’s ability to create a best-in-class user experience and to reach fans everywhere, it’ll be incredibly easy to enjoy MLS matches anywhere, whether you’re a super fan or casual viewer.”

Regardless of why this move was made, it gives the Arrows a big opportunity to get more games on TSN. Their only established pro sports league program is CFL on TSN now. The big competition for the Arrows to get television rights on TSN will be the National Lacrosse League. For people who don’t know, lacrosse is considered the summer national sport of Canada, and box lacrosse is the much more popular form of lacrosse in Canada.

Also, the NLL has five teams in Canada while the MLR only has one Canadian team. Even still, it would not be surprising if the Arrows will get more home games on TSN next year. A lot of the other sports leagues like the Canadian Premier League and the potential CCCRL league, are on the outside looking in. This is a golden opportunity that the Arrows could pounce on.

Future: getting more pro-Canadian rugby union teams

This is an obvious one, but one that has to be precedent in the minds of stakeholders. The most obvious one is replicating the format seen with MLS on TSN. Major League Rugby eventually expanding to three Canadian teams is something that can realistically happen. In particular, Vancouver and Montreal are the cities that make the most sense.

According to KRLD NewsRadio 1080, MLR commissioner George Killebrew, mentioned Vancouver as one of a handful of cities interested in having an MLR team: “Cities like Las Vegas and Sacramento, Albuquerque New Mexico, Vancouver British Columbia, Honolulu Hawaii are all cities that we have had discussions with that are really trying to get their act together in order to join the league at some point.”

Killebrew also mentioned South Florida and midwestern cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City that are also interested in getting an MLR team. So, Vancouver still has some competition before obtaining an MLR team.

Other cities in Canada that have been mentioned previously are Halifax and Montreal. As of right now, it looks like only Montreal has been rumored to be interested though. Still, putting more MLR teams in Canada could have its advantages. The reason is that the American talent pool is unlikely to be stretched further as the potential Vancouver team would have mainly Canadian players on the team.

Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver consist of approximately one-third of Canada’s population according to Jordan Press of CTV News. Also, even though Montreal does not have the rugby tradition like Toronto and Vancouver, it does have a larger population than Vancouver. Montreal can also sell media rights in English and French, which would be beneficial for a league like MLR. It also opens the possibility of games being shown on either RDS or TVA Sports, two of the major French-Canadian sports networks headquartered in Montreal, Quebec.

With the Arrows on TSN, it makes all of this possible. Replicating what the MLS did for about a decade is something they should look at.

Threats – Streaming Services vs. Cable TV

Streaming services represent what the long-tail theory stands for. This term was invented by Chris Anderson of Wired in 2004. This was at a time that shops like Blockbuster were still very popular throughout the world.

The theory, which came from Vilfredo Pareto, said that only 20 percent of major studio films will be hits. However, the real answer because of niche media is that according to Van-Adibe, “is 99 percent.”

Those who will not adjust, have suffered greatly. Blockbuster, which was extremely popular worldwide at the beginning of the Millennium, is now reduced to one store. This is because of sites and companies like Netflix, which offer the world a large library of films and videos.

This is a debate that has been growing for some time. Soccer fans in Canada are the ones that have been most affected by this, both positively and negatively. TSN lost their rights to both the English Premier League and will also lose the MLS rights next year. However, there are also benefits, seen with OneSoccer, which covers the Canadian Premier League, and CEBL+, which covers the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

It is something Canada could consider if and when they can get a pro rugby union league. In fact, Canadian rugby union fans have already experienced this with FloRugby and The Rugby Network. FloRugby was the only way Canadian rugby fans could watch the team in their World Cup qualification games for 2023. Unfortunately, Rugby Canada failed to qualify for the Rugby World Cup for the first time ever last year. This is while all the MLR games not involving the Arrows are shown on The Rugby Network in Canada.

Overview – Toronto Arrows on TSN can lead to increased rugby coverage

Turning Toronto Arrows on TSN to MLR on TSN is probably the best way to move forward. This can only happen if more Canadian MLR teams are added.

Sportsnet NOW has some rugby union rights in Canada (for example Premiership Rugby and the United Rugby Championship according to The Rugby Lineout), but they are already carrying important rights like the Toronto Blue Jays and the NHL. It would make a lot more sense for TSN, who recently lost the rights to MLS and also will not have the NHL rights, to be the ones to make this happen for MLR in Canada.

Club rugby union has never looked so optimistic in Canada, and there is now a platform for future Canadian MLR teams to be televised nationally in Canada.

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The 2023 MLR season start date is still TBC.

β€œMain photo credit c/o Toronto Arrows (May 19, 2022)”

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