**Selling football players in a hockey nation

[url=http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/sports/story.html?id=f69ec4c0-a241-42af-b297-94f53ccb4933]http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/n ... f53ccb4933[/url]

George White, a linebacker with the Calgary Stampeders, walked into an Italian restaurant with his wife and infant child yesterday, ate his meal in total anonymity and not once was recognized or approached by the noon-hour lunch crowd.

For all they knew, White was just another well-built, athletic-looking individual who might have played football or some other sport at one stage in his life.

Now you understand the challenge facing Ron Rooke in his new role as vice-president of marketing and business development of Pro Players, the marketing and licensing subsidiary of the Canadian Football League's players' association. Rooke, an experienced sports marketer, never wants this scene repeated under his watch.

"There's a lot of opportunities," said Rooke, who started his new job two months ago. "The players need to be and will be better marketed. It's a huge challenge for me. But we have a great commodity in the CFL and 400-odd players who are great ambassadors for their cities, communities and the country."

In Montreal, Alouettes' quarterback Anthony Calvillo likely would be mobbed walking down the street or venturing into a restaurant. A handful of other established veterans, along with head coach Don Matthews, might be recognized as well. But the majority would blend into any crowd at the corner of Peel and Ste. Catherine.

In the CFL, head coaches Wally Buono and Mike Clemons have their own commercials, shown during game telecasts, as does legendary Toronto quarterback Damon Allen. But most others are unknown, leading Winnipeg slotback Milt Stegall recently to criticize the lack of exposure he and others derive.

"Corporate Canada needs to step up," Rooke said. "The players are so giving. The corporations need to step up and partner up with these elite athletes. A player of Milt Stegall's status should decide which sponsorship deals to turn down."

Rooke, well known in Calgary and throughout the CFL, can be persuasive. He has the ability and contacts to open doors, teaming with corporate partners and licensees to create innovative promotions that will market the players in regional and national campaigns.

Rooke spent six seasons with the Triple-A Calgary Cannons baseball team, handling various marketing and sales positions before eventually being named the team's assistant general manager. He joined the Stampeders in 1991 as vice-president of marketing and sales. He added communications responsibilities four years later and, in November 1993, was named the team's president. He was fired in January 2005, after two new ownership groups assumed control of the club, but remains a Stampeders season-ticket holder.

Rooke's imagination is limitless. He wants to saturate the market with collector cards, cups, posters and television shows. He believes the CFL should hold an annual all-star game complete with a skills competition, suggesting players should go on caravans during the winter, promoting the league.

"There's a recognition factor involved," he explained. "We have to market the players' images and faces. I want to get their faces and images on everything from chocolate bars to cereal boxes. Throw something against the wall and hope it sticks. Let's be creative and try every angle in the marketing world.

"But it takes time to build relationships in the corporate world."

The problem Rooke undoubtedly will experience is the fact Canada remains a hockey-driven country. Although NHL players wear helmets, their faces can be seen. Football players are more unknown, given their protective gear, especially offensive-linemen, who block, or defensive players, whose names might be called once or twice in a game. Why, Rooke wondered, does Wayne Gretzky remain the spokesperson for an automobile company, years after his retirement as a player? And why has no CFL player since Toronto's Rocket Ishmail, who represented a soft-drink company more than a decade ago, had a major sponsorship deal?

"We need to secure major corporate sponsors and team them with established stars," Rooke said. "There's a great opportunity for growth in this job. It's challenging, but there's nobody better qualified. I know I can make it work."

the CFL has wendys as a main sponsor, yet no CFL players are in any commercials.

even RBK ads, where they show some athletes from diff sports wearing thier gear, have stegall, copeland, tucker, damon allen, cahoon and simon in there.

maybe wendys could have these roll-up the rim cups with one superstar player from each team featured on them....collect all 8.

CFL players shown pumpin thier cars at petro canada?

pepsi cans recently had 6 different gretzky moments on the cans and bottles...try CFL players.

as for alcohol ads, i dunno if u want a specific player featured in those commercials, cuz then it might seem like, 'hey im stegall and i love to get drunk'..lol

I remember as a kid buying a sundae from Dairy Queen and the container was in the form a CFL helmet. You collected all 9(I managed to get them all), and put stickers on the helmets as you collected the right colour for the teams. It was a great CFL promotion, one that could be brought back in one form or another. I dont have the helmets, as I sold them(I regret that now), but it shows promoting the league CAN be done.

PS- I do have a helmet radio with stickers of all 9 CFL teams on the helmet(from the 70's). I intend on keeping that now.

I remember that too sambo, it was awesome, they had it for a few years, then dairy queen went to MLB hats instead of CFL hats, i was miffed, and never saw the CFL hats again, for shame...

Maybe the other patrons were just polite and didn’t want to disturb their dinner. I know celebrities like going out in Vancouver as nobody bothers them much. Who the heck is George White anyways? :wink:

if you don't mind me asking Sambo, how old (young) are you?

Hey I remember that! I'll show my age but what the heck - Post cereals at one time had CFL player cards on the backs of boxes and you could ask for a complimentary card book at the store check-out. Drove mothers and shelf stockers nuts as kids were going through the boxes to find cards they didn't have (got it, need it, etc). This was all in the days when companies cared about being associated with the CFL. But, then again, this was also a time when players stayed with a team for years instead of one season or a few games.

Good Article DG!

Just go across the border and see how the NFL players are promoted. I remember getting Steve Largent cups at Dairy Queen and Jim Zorn cards from a supplier of sorts. (10-15 years ago)

Excellent article DG and excellent marketing ideas as well. Yes you would want to stay away from alcohol ads for the obvious reasons, but other then that?.......Why aren't we seeing a CFL player pumping gas or in a Wendy's commercial as you asked.

I'm guessing it must be difficult to sell Canadian Football in a Hockey country, but it can be done with something as simple as exposure. Like faces on cups...in commercials...public appearances etc.

The things mentioned in this thread need to come to fruitition for the league to grow.

Drummer_God has some great ideas, and this Rooke guy seems competent.

The one problem that the league seems to have is that few players stay in their cities year round. In some cases that is understandable, but if you are going to promote the league, you need to encourage more players to stay and do the things necessary to promote the league. Corporate Canada needs to step up to the plate as well, have some promotions during the offseason. November to June is a long off-season, so the more visible players are during that time, the better it is for the league as a whole.

Ron Rooke is very good at marketing! During the F troop days I would say rooke was the guy keeping their bums in the seats during those four years!

Along with all of the above ideas, one problem over the years with the CFL, stating the obvious, was that it didn't, or couldn't, maintain salaries that were closer to NFL and NHL salaries and thus, in many people's minds, this translates into the perception of "minor" league. For us real fans, we know we are witnessing great talent regardless of salaries but the average Joe out there doesn't see it that way. And then, we weren't able to keep our stadiums getting bigger and nicer all along in all CFL cities as well. Again, perception among many "minor" league, especially now that all NFL games are on the TV and everyone in Canada sees these beautiful new stadiums and people know the salaries they make.

So where do we go from here? Well, with all of this happening, the CFL is still in existence and really thriving - which is great albeit perhaps unbelievable in some respects. I think more and more people, even the ones who really see the CFL as "minor" league, appreciate what we have here, a great league with players that really want to play for the very limited funds they earn. So perhaps we should really market this more and more since we can't compete with the "major" league stadiums, salaries and media exposure perhaps. Let's get the CFL into 12 Canadian cities at one point, really go after this big time, as long as the stadiums are 20,000 at least. This is not a huge obstacle and if we keep the salary cap low enough, we can do this. I see this as the only way to keep the CFL going, and it's not a bad way at all. The best thing that ever happenned to the CFL was the U2 concert in Montreal forcing the Als into Molson Stadium and watching Molson Stadium thrive there, now exanding to 25,000, which it will stay I'm sure for years to come. So 20,000 seaters in Saskatoon, London, Quebec City etc. are not unreasonable and will allow our game to grow in this country in a great way with a great game.

one thing i feel the CFL should do to combat this image, is when a team announces its signed..umm...ricky ray to 400,000 per year, instead they should say:

Eskimos sign Ricky Ray to a 3 year 1.2 Million dollar contract!

sounds bigger that way.

and another thing....why is there no 'official car company of the CFL'? ( ford, GM, toyota, etc.)

there should be!

then feature some CFL stars in the ads.

i can see it now... stegall driving around in a kia rio. official car of the cfl.

The Riders could have a Pinto as their official car.....they were unimpressive, too.....

Let's start emphasizing the "minor" in the CFL more - t-shirts, hats, commercials etc. And start selling that the CFL can be in your community! This would be a great marketing promotion and hopefully one day we will see a 12 team league.
See my Sportsnet thread I started, by Earl Grey:

[url=http://forums.sportsnet.ca/thread.jspa?threadID=122210&tstart=0]http://forums.sportsnet.ca/thread.jspa? ... 0&tstart=0[/url]

what?...u want the CFL to market itself as minor league?

if im understanding u right, thats insanity.

u dont need to be minor league for the CFL to grow to 12 teams...u just need better leadership and direction amongst CFL bog's.

were at 8 now, so ottawa, quebec city and halifax is 11 right there, with being a PRO league.

Sometimes great marketing ideas are thought of as insane by many at the beginning until people realize that there is something to an idea.

And I think this idea is a great way to see our league expand over the years and go to many more Canadian cities. Hey, if Montreal can do well in a 25,000 seater, why can't Saskatoon, Kamloops, London, Victoria etc. do the same?

The word "minor" is a marketing thing. Most people now in Canada think the CFL is minor anyway, even lots of CFL fans I think, so instead of flinching at the idea whenever anyone says the CFL is minor or is written as such, let's embrace it and use it to our advantage!

Look man, we can't compete with those beautiful multi-million dollar NFL stadiums now, heck, even our biggest cities here can't build these, so let's start thinking outside-the-box.