Bulls & Bears: Canadian men’s soccer side a huge draw on television

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The interest in Canada’s berth in Qatar helped make it one of the most bullish weeks in Canadian sport television in years.

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Bulls of the week

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Never before has a defeat meant as much of a lift to the global soccer stock and reputation of a country as Canada’s 1-0 loss to Belgium did on Wednesday at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. Playing in its first World Cup match in more than 36 years, Canada was the talk of the world’s biggest sports event given the quality of soccer that the John Herdman-coached squad presented to a worldwide television audience of more than 200 countries.

Some described the performance as a “clinic,” one that saw Canada send 21 shot attempts the way of Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Others pegged the effort as the most best of the first slate of games in Qatar; better than Saudi Arabia’s historic win over Argentina on Tuesday and more impressive than Japan’s 2-1 stunner of an upset over Germany Wednesday.

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The problem is that FIFA does not award three points for moral victories. And so Canada — despite all of the plaudits from their first World Cup appearance since Mexico 1986 — now finds itself in tough at the bottom of Group F, likely needing at least four points in its last two matches to have a chance to advance past the preliminary round.

The fact that the 1-0 loss was so disappointing demonstrates just how far the Canadian men’s soccer program has come under the inspirational leadership of Herdman these past five years.

The interest in Canada’s berth in Qatar helped make it one of the most bullish weeks in Canadian sport television in years. The aggressive play against Belgium drew an average of 3.3 million viewers on mid-day television in Canada. That came just three days after the 109th Grey Cup drew a national average of 3.3 million Canadians to TSN and RDS, a peak of 4.7 million on TSN at the game’s end and an aggregate audience of 8 million viewers who tuned in for at least some of the Canadian Football League’s showcase event, a 24-23 win for the underdog Toronto Argonauts over the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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It also came one day before four-down football continued to show its definitive growth among young fans in Canada with strong ratings for the NFL Thanksgiving Day tripleheader Thursday.

England supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and USA at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on Nov. 25, 2022.
England supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and USA at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on Nov. 25, 2022. Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON /AFP via Getty Images

Bears of the week

Whether it is stadium delays, cost overruns or human rights issues, extremely rare is an international sports event that generates positive headlines in the days, weeks and months leading up to its first day of play. That applies to the Olympics — witness the 2022 Beijing Winter Games — and it happens at the FIFA World Cup, especially when it is played in countries such as Russia in 2018 and Qatar this year. Yet rarely does the negative coverage continue unabated once the games begin.

That is the case as the first week of preliminary round play closes out this weekend in Qatar. From a last-minute ban on beer sales that has made things very awkward for long-time FIFA sponsor Budweiser to threats of expulsion against fans wearing LGBTQ-inspired rainbow designs, Qatar hasn’t yet benefitted from the increasing focus on the action on the field. We’ll still likely be numbed into submission for the last three weeks of the tournament, but make no mistake, the controversial World Cup is no public relations winner for the Qatari royal family and government.

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Marketing communications executive and sport business commentator Tom Mayenknecht is a principal in Emblematica Brand Builders and the host of The Sport Market on BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410 and TSN Radio nationally. Follow Mayenknecht at: twitter.com/TheSportMarket


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