CFL tackles the casual fan

The league's new fantasy app aims to get people engaged throughout the season.


The CFL is looking to capitalize on the popularity of fantasy sports games to engage casual fans with the league all season long.

The organization’s new “Pick’Em” web app, created by digital agency Pound & Grain, is a move to get casual fans engaged in the league while still maintaining interest for more avid Canadian football lovers.

“I would define a casual fan as someone who follows multiple sports, but not deeply,” says Sean Bell, director and GM, digital with the CFL. “When we set out to build the game, the goal was to develop an innovative format that kept people in the game longer and produce it in an experience that was simple and mobile-first.”

The free app, launched ahead of the season’s kickoff June 25, allows users to pick the winner for each week’s games, with a chance to win a trip to the Grey Cup (for the user highest on the leaderboard at the end of the season).

Fans can also create groups to compete with friends and risk more points by choosing their “confidence level” on certain games (a feature meant to appeal to the more avid fans of the league). “One of the drawbacks of the ‘pick ‘em’ category is that sometimes if you have a tough start in a group, you can never catch up, and that’s one of the problems we were trying to solve with this product,” Bell says.

While other fantasy games exist for the CFL (through TSN, for example), this is the first “pick ‘em” style game coming from the organization. “Their goal was sort of to enlist a new generation of football-loving fans with some fantasy-type products that would enhance the viewing and enjoyment of the season,” says Jackson Murphy, partner and creative director with Pound & Grain. He adds that the mobile-first design approach was key for engaging fans as part of a second-screen experience.

The CFL has recently announced new initiatives for engaging its millennial audience base through social media and other content (particularly around Thursday night football), although the target for the app is wide. “Fantasy is so ubiquitous now,” Bell says. Last year, Ipsos reported there are roughly 41 million fantasy sports players across Canada and the U.S. (an increase of five million since 2012).

The CFL will be using digital and some TV to promote the app, but will also be driving traffic through its own content and social media. “The beautiful thing about fantasy is that everything is relevant,” Bell says, noting that content around pre-season standings, player injuries and analyst commentary all have an impact on how fantasy participants engage. “The platform off of which we have to promote this is really broad.”

With files from Sonya Fatah