Four down-crusher: Derek Dennis believes CFL marketing, not rules, the root of league issues

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The Canadian Football League still appears to be toying with the idea of adopting a four-down style of game, but one of the league’s most outspoken players believes that is an avenue not worth exploring.

Freshly signed Calgary Stampeders’ offensive tackle Derek Dennis has never been shy about ruffling the feathers of traditionalist or challenging CFL management, but in an appearance on Sportsnet 960’s The Big Show he made clear that he likes the CFL’s rules just as they are.

“Honestly, I think that’s a short-term answer that they’ve been looking at. I don’t think you need to change the rules,” Dennis said. “What I’ve always told people is that the uniqueness of the CFL with having the three downs and the other rules is kind of what made the game fun.”

Dennis, who spent part of 2020 in the XFL before sitting out the 2021 season due to a contract dispute with Edmonton, sees the CFL’s rules as an ace in the hole, something that rival football leagues are often attempting to emulate. Leadership in Canada simply needs to invest in how to market itself.

“I think the uniqueness is something that they can really use to excel. I think that’s what you’re looking at with some of these spring leagues starting to pop up is that they’re trying to find ways to be unique, but also let you know ‘hey, it’s still the game football.’ I think the CFL already has that down pat,” Dennis explained.

“I don’t think rule changes are something that need to be focused on. I think the biggest thing with the CFL is understanding the larger picture in the sense of marketing things that don’t have to do with playing the game.”

The former Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman isn’t the first CFL player to level that critique at the league this offseason, an issue that is likely to be a focal point in upcoming CBA negotiations. Players feel the league hasn’t invested in its stars, leading to lagging demographics.

While a recent survey revealed that younger sports fans are less interested in the CFL and more amenable to a shift to four downs, those results are more indicative in a failure of the league to market than they are of an appetite for wholesale change.

“I’ve talked to plenty of people who watch the CFL game for the first time and they get thrown off by a lot of the quirkiness, but once they get into the swing of it, they realize this is kind of fun to watch because it’s a fast-paced game,” Dennis noted.

“At the end of the day, I understand where most of the fans come from with the uniqueness of the game. It’s just about attracting the casual fans, that’s where the CFL needs to focus on. It’s not about affecting the die-hards, it’s about affecting the casuals.”

That requires investment in things off the field, not an extra down on it.

“I think that’s what the NFL has learned to master. To be able to get somebody who may not be into the football to be able to sit down and watch the game and go ‘that was kind of fun,’” he continued.

“It’s all these elements, the hype around it, the football parties, the halftime shows, the commercials that you get during the game. The entertainment factor of it is what’s appealing, not the actual game. If they learn how to be able to accentuate the entertainment factor and marketing, I think that will help with the brand growing.”

Until then, the CFL will continue to flounder, with annual debates over rule changes serving simply as a distraction.

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