Sports are ruthless, so not many athletes are loved. Jermarcus Hardrick is a rare breed because almost nobody has a bad word to say about the offensive line right tackle. When he secured his one-year contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – rumored to be worth $150,000 – he transformed into one of the league’s highest-paid American right tackles. But there’s more to this story than money. Hardrick fully deserved his deal for several reasons, none of which any will argue with. Plus, there’s a big story hiding behind this humble giant, even if he won’t admit it himself.
Six Time’s a Charm
Weighing in at 320-pound, the six-foot-five offensive blocker has been in the CFL since 2014. However, he found his adopted home at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2016 and hasn’t looked back, enabling his team to lead the CFL in scoring and giving up the fewest quarterback sacks, enabling him to make the All-Star Team for the first time in his career. Performances like Hardrick’s don’t only have an individual impact. They help to spread the popularity of the sport as people see a world-class athlete when they watch the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints player hitting his straps. And, in gaming, Hardick and the CFL have an unlikely ally because there is a focus on North American football releases. Mutant Football League, for instance, is a sequel to Mutant League Football, with the latter released in 1993. The fact that a second edition came over 20 years later highlights the growth of Canadian and American football because their reaches are much greater. Retro Bowl, meanwhile, is a relatively new take on North American football since it’s mainly played on iOS and Android operating systems and is accessible by billions of people as a result. Lastly, the role of online gambling services shouldn’t be overestimated. After all, online casinos generate billions of dollars of revenues daily thanks to slots such as 1st Down, a popular online football slot that’s available at 888 and other market-leading operators due to the demand it generates, even though customers can typically select 1,000 of the best quality slot games.
That’s without mentioning the historic pull of TV coverage and the players’ impact on audience numbers. The Grey Cup is a prime example of this in action since Hardick was integral in creating a clean pocket for Bombers to come back from 22-10 down to win 33-25 in overtime. Viewing figures back this up as 7.9 million viewers watched some of the finale, attracting an average audience of 3.1 million. Okay, all the credit can’t go down to Winnipeg or Hardick because they receive a lot of help along the way from outside features that raise awareness of the CFL across the world, such as gaming. Still, the performances throughout the season, and the Grey Cup, dictate how much domestic media companies are willing to pay, with the current deal worth about $50 million up until 2025. $50 million is a lot of money the CFL doesn’t want to leave on the table. With gamers experiencing football every time they play or gamble, and viewers getting their fix when its on their TV screens, this doesn’t seem likely, especially as the CFL is seemingly going international.
The 108th #GreyCup continues to be one of Canada’s biggest sporting events, attracting an average audience of 3.1 million viewers on TSN and RDS on Sunday evening. Overall, a total of 7.9 million viewers watched some or all of the Blue Bombers’ victory over the Tiger-Cats. pic.twitter.com/pFhWGzJ5Pw
— TSN PR (@TSN_PR) December 14, 2021
Can the CFL go International?
The question is, can the CFL build on its newfound popularity and rival major sporting leagues? It won’t happen overnight because these things take time. However, it can take comfort from the examples other sports have set, especially the NFL. Although there are differences, the CFL and NFL are similar, meaning it shouldn’t be too hard to sell the product south of the border, and in Europe and Asia. The role of the UK will excite CFL executives the most as it has welcomed American Football with open arms.
In 2021, more than 4 million viewers in the UK tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. That was the equivalent of an 8% spike from the previous season. The demand has been bubbling for almost a decade, so much so that the NFL now regularly hosts matches in London. Of course, the CFL must take on the NFL, which is something that Mintel points out is hard enough in Canada, never mind abroad. Still, it has an ally in the gaming industry. Savvily, iGaming operators offer live streams so that customers can watch the action in real-time, which is particularly of interest to Canada considering the evolving relationship between Canadians and wagering.
Projections believe the country could transform into a $2 billion-a-year sports betting hub, with the ability to generate $25 billion in wagers annually. This is in line with global markets in the UK, Europe and Australia where sportsbooks already garner a huge amount of interest. By leaning on these streaming options, thousands of which are based abroad, it’s the logical next step for the organization. Also, it’s not beyond the realms of probability.
The International Impacts
To compete on the same level as the NFL, EPL and IPL, the CFL must go global. The best option is to host events in other countries, as the NFL does in the UK and Mexico. The IPL is a fan of the tactic, too, with the last IPL season held in the UAE rather than India. This isn’t the first time the cricket tournament has taken this route. Sure, the EPL hasn’t followed suit, but soccer is the world’s most popular sport, which is reflected by the Premier League’s global viewing figures.
You can see why the NFL and IPL like the idea. Should the CFL be able to create the opportunities, it would inevitably boost the sponsorship deals they have currently. Not only would the figures be higher, but the brands looking to partner with the league would be more highbrow. Gambling operators are ripe for picking in this area since the relationship between sports and betting is strong, especially if there is a marketable player to leverage.
Theoretically, it would be the case because higher levels of participation in the sport usually follow an increase in the worldwide audience base. That leads to the creation of sporting role models who encourage CFL lovers to follow their dreams and seize their chances. Poetically, that brings us back to Jermarcus Hardrick, the man who risked it all for a crack at immortality.
After you consider the impact that one man might have on the entire sport, it’s impossible to argue against Jermarcus Hardrick’s contract extension. The CFL needs to give players like him more resources if it aspires to take on the big boys in their backyards.
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