It is a move that should have happened years ago, but nonetheless, it is here.
In a press release, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced a partnership with Stretch Internet to create OUA.tv – the central home for streaming the league’s football and basketball games. Previously, individual schools would broadcast the games on their websites. McMaster used their athletic domain, marauders.ca, to stream games, while some schools used YouTube services or alternative domains. More sports will be added in the future, per the OUA, and championships for volleyball, rugby and soccer will be featured.
With OUA.tv, fans don’t have to scour through Twitter feeds to find stream links or deal with a bombardment of ads on athletics pages. Instead, it’s a one-stop shop. According to the press release, you only have to go to one place to watch the game of your choosing.
To say this is a positive step for the league would be an understatement. Atlantic University Sport and Canada West have already successfully implemented similar programs and as the reality is fewer and fewer students are buying cable packages, the OUA’s desired market cannot watch the broadcasts on Sportsnet. When the Score was more than just a website and super-app, they would stream games online and put together a fantastic product, but that ceased when Rogers bought out the channel and rebranded it to Sportsnet 360.
But the relationship between Sportsnet and OUA football appears to have follow the same trajectory of a summer fling – beautiful at the start, full of effort and promise, before slowly falling apart and becoming nothing worth maintaining. While nothing is official yet, the OUA released their football schedule in April, but Sportsnet was not mentioned in the press release once.
And that is probably for the better anyways. OUA.tv may seem unconventional in comparison to a TV deal, but there are a ton of awesome nuggets that come with the new program and a seeming lack of handcuffs. For one, games will now be archived immediately after the conclusion of the game, meaning you can easily access a highlight or catch up on a game that you missed. This is especially beneficial for media who may not have been able to catch the game but still want to report on it, or die-hard fans that want to be able to watch all games. Last season, games were all played on similar timelines – usually 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. tip-offs – making it impossible to catch both games if you were attending one.
There will also be live stats with the game, catering to a new generation of fans who use statistics to understand the game more than ever before. Live stats also means that you will not have to turn up the volume and pray the announcing crew gives you the score once a minute. Muting without consequences.
And if those were not enough to perk your ears, Stretch Internet stated that you can use Google Chromecast or Apple TV to stream the game to a television, which is one of the minor aspects of the announcement but could actually be one of the widely appreciated aspects in five years. If you’ve ever had more than two people try to watch a game before, I am sure you know what I’m talking about. A 13 to 15-inch screen does not cut it for an intense playoff basketball game. On the other end, you’ll be able to watch games on tablets and smartphones – an embracement of modern digital culture.
For all the positives, there remain some questions. While the issues range in importance, the wary student audience will magnify any obvious quirk or negative aspect to OUA.tv. One of the major problems will be streaming quality.
Right now, that quality varies from borderline unwatchable to 720p. Ryerson and Queen’s have put together very professional products, while others schools have been a downright embarrassment. You can imagine the OUA will put some pressure on those schools to beef up the quality, but that could be a tough ask of those with smaller budgets.
Then, there is the issue of staffing the broadcasts. At McMaster, the department struck a deal with Mohawk to use co-op students to take the lead on broadcasts. A major shout-out is in order for the athletics and recreation group since the broadcasts were sleek, had multiple camera angles and were orchestrated well. But not every school has that luxury, and it remains to be seen how a school would be able to corral the bodies necessary for doing a broadcast.
Finally, the problem of commentary: the OUA press release states that all games will have a play-by-play and commentary team. Sure, this seems like a minor issue and it was mentioned above that live stats mean you can mute them. But a broadcast team should not be bad to the point of muting. Avid followers of CIS athletics probably have a sore neck from nodding, and the criticism is true. Broadcast teams are usually one or all of the three: uninformed on the sport or league, biased, and/or reluctantly broadcasting. Having someone with any of those three qualities drastically diminishes the professionalism of the product, and it would probably be better to have just the sounds of the gym than two talking heads.
A BETTER PRODUCT
And really, that is what the OUA.tv project comes down to: a move towards a professional product. All major sport leagues have this kind of system to accompany their television contracts, and the OUA joins that company with this deal. The content will never come close to the level of the pros or their NCAA counterparts, but the production just might. OUA.tv could be a catapult, taking a league that is largely an afterthought in the minds of students into the conversation of something worth paying attention to, and possibly, eventually, paying for.