I just thought I’d get this out of the way early. Here’s a question for you: Why, oh why, don’t we – in general – care about soccer in Canada?
Sure, the world is awash in World Cup fever. Even some of us north of the 49th are taking an active interest in the tournament. Of course, I’ve seen this movie before – and I know how it ends:
The general public doesn’t give a wet slap about professional soccer (wash, rinse, repeat for three years;
The World Cup draw happens. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. Debates about which Group forms the dreaded Group of Death get heated;
World Cup matches start;
Fan interest spikes beyond the traditional ethnic communities that form the basis of Canadian soccer viewership during the World Cup;
Pundits work themselves in a lather saying that now, finally, for real this time, we really mean it, honestly, this is not like any other time, this time it’s a sure thing that North Americans have embraced soccer!;
World Cup ends, euphoria subsides;
Canadians go back to not caring about soccer… until the next World Cup; and
*** Special Bonus Plan *** Pundits get to work themselves into another lather, gobbling up inches upon inches of print space (or pixels upon pixels of screen space…) investigating why another opportunity was lost to convert North American sports fans into soccer fans.
So, knowing where we’re going to be in a few weeks anyways, I thought I’d jump the gun and look at what it is about North America that prevents us from embracing soccer at its elite level. And it’s an issue of importance to us here at Amway Canada, as we’re heavily involved in the sport from a corporate perspective, including being title sponsor of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship – a tournament that pits Canada’s top professional clubs against each other for the Voyageurs Cup and the right to represent our nation as part of the FIFA Club World Cup tournament. *** Warning, sweeping generalisations may appear. Arguments based on feelings, not facts may be present***
Let me start by saying I know it’s football. Footy, the Beautiful Game. I get it. But to me football is played with three downs and rewards failure thanks to something called the rouge! Oh, and there’s also that U.S. version which is pretty good too! Four downs to get 10 yards, though… amateurs.
Oh, and by the way, I just found out that soccer is actually a British term!!!! Used first in the 1880s as an abbreviation of asSOCiation football*! So there. Stop being snobs. *reference taken from Wikipedia and we all know the Internet doesn’t lie, so it’s got to be true, right?
North Americans in general are sports fans. And thanks to the 24-hour, non-stop news cycle (and about a gazillion specialty channels) we have access to every sport imaginable. Of course, you’ve got the big guns: hockey, Canadian and American football, baseball, and basketball. You have your curling, golf, and tennis fans out there. Figure skating’s extremely popular (again, we have a vested interest through our ARTISTRY® Skate Canada sponsorship.) And NASCAR and F1 fans are very vocal in support of their sport.
In fact, if you tune into TSN, SportsNet, ESPN, or any other sports network during the wee hours of the morning, you’ll see that our appetite for televised competition is almost insatiable. We’ll broadcast lumberjack challenges, poker, competitive eating, and dog shows for Pete’s sake! The appetite for sports is there, but for some reason soccer just doesn’t sate it on this continent.
The thing is a lot of us put our kids in soccer. According to FIFA’s Big Count, using statistics from 2006, almost 2.7 million Canadians played the sport. Compared to hockey, it’s cheap to get involved, it’s fun, and kids can pick up the sport pretty quickly. But they’re not taking that next leap. They’re not idolizing the heroes of the pitch. They’re not wearing their Everton or Real Madrid jerseys to school, like they would their Habs jersey or Jays’ ball cap.
So what’s the problem? The world loves soccer, why don’t we share the same depth of passion?
One thought is that we’re a nation (I’m speaking for Canada here, but I think the same applies south of the border) that’s grown up on sports that offer instant gratification. Hockey, basketball, football – even baseball’s regularly fast-paced. There’s almost always a payoff – and even when there isn’t, we massage the rules to ensure that one exists (see the addition of the shootout to hockey). Baseball has a pitcher/batter dynamic at each and every at bat. Basketball games feature non-stop scoring and defence is sometimes an afterthought. Football offers controlled violence and while scoring is not as plentiful as it is in basketball, there are small victories and gains throughout the game. Hockey is a game of chances – in fact, there are so many that we often further break down shots on goal into quality chances. We like our games completed in well under three hours and sprinkled with plenty of offence.
Soccer? Not so much. To the casual observer, it can seem interminable. While advocates will laud the beauty of a nil-nil match, Joe Fan laments the fact that it just seems like the players are running around relatively aimlessly, to the point where even at shot at the goal (a rare occurrence at the top levels) is celebrated enthusiastically.
Of course, when you consider other popular sports in those regions, you can understand. Take cricket, for example. A test can last, what, six weeks? Soccer, despite its languorous pace would seem positively ADHD-esque in comparison.
The argument that really rubs my rhubarb the wrong way is that North American sports fans can’t appreciate the nuances of a well-played match. Somehow the thrill of an unsuccessful rush up the wing is lost, or that the appreciation for the systems employed is just not there.
Listen, there are smart fans on both sides of the border. There are those who appreciate the game within the game. But let’s be honest here: Liam, William, and Eleanor, sitting at the pub, pounding Guinness, aren’t dissecting the merits of a 4-4-2 formation over adopting a 4-3-3 triangular midfield, just as Frank, Kristin, and Bobby aren’t discussing whether their favourite team should employ the left-wing lock, defend with a box-and-one, or have the left guard pull on the next run. In general, fans want to be entertained and prefer superlative play to systems analysis (see the vehement hatred for the neutral-zone-trap and prevent defence).
The modern sport of soccer as we know it was officially born in 1863, when the Laws of the Game were put in place. Now, I know dozens of places can (and will) lay claim to being the birthplace of the sport – kind of like the ‘where did hockey start?’ debate here in Canada (my money’s still on McGill…), but that’s a discussion for another place. Since 1886, the International Football Association Board has governed the rules of play at the international level. That’s good enough for me.
But the game is far older than the official date. There are reports of soccer-esque games being played hundreds of years ago in China, Scotland in the Middle Ages, South America and other locales. Have ball, kick ball, score is a pretty basic concept, so it’s not a surprise that versions of the game sprouted up worldwide.
There’s a history and that’s certainly a significant factor. Whilst fans in Liverpool can look back fondly on over 150 years of history, the team in Canada that’s enjoyed the greatest popular success in soccer, Toronto FC, was only founded in 2006. Sport allows people from all walks of life to come together for a common cause – but while this breadth of support is important, it’s the depth of support that forms the strongest bonds. In Canada, fans of the Montreal Canadiens can share memories with their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. Oftentimes, fandom isn’t a choice, but rather a birthright.
What about hero worship? Although the sports adage is that you play for the logo on the front of your jersey, not the name on the back, the fact remains that people – kids especially – attach themselves to a particular player. In my day it was Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, and Marcel Dionne. Nowadays, Canadian kids are looking up to Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, LeBron James, and Peyton Manning. The MLSers who populate the rosters are often nearing the end of their playing days (see David Beckham) or not at the elite level required to play overseas.
It’s easy to picture yourself filling Sid the Kid’s skates, because many of us share a similar background. Soccer? Well, players with names like Kaka simply send kids into fits of giggles, whilst the greats of the game like Lionel Messi, Drogba, and Christian Ronaldo toil overseas (and in early Sunday-morning games). Maybe that’s going to turn around with the success of homegrown players like Dwayne de Rosario and Julian de Guzman for the hometown Toronto FC squad. And that’s why a tournament like the Nutrilite Canadian Championship is so important and holds so much potential for growth.
There are a lot of things that soccer does right – first and foremost is the game’s respect for fans and its ability to create an atmosphere. In terms of pandering to the fans, NBA games are the worst – but hockey and football are a close second and third. The jumbotron constantly flashes directions to the crowd “Go Team Go” or those stupid gloved hands. And don’t even get me started on Cotton-Eyed Joe… There should be a fatwa declared on any and all PA announcers that play that song – anywhere. Any break in play has to be filled by noise, perky cheerleaders (or dance teams), or dusting off the YMCA! It’s like the overlords of North American sport refuse to believe that fans can enjoy (or need) the pauses that come during games and that if they’re not overwhelmed by a wall of noise and light, they’ll accidentally wander out of their seats towards the exits.
Conversely, in soccer the fans are the spectacle. They create wonderful chants that the whole crowd gets involved with (of course, they’ve got plenty of time – not being encumbered by, oh, goals, or anything). Sure, some of them go a little overboard (the football factories and hooligans being the prime culprits), but for the most part the game is made by its atmosphere.
Truly, there’s nothing better than being there. I want to be a soccer fan, but I’m really not. That said, every time I’ve gone to BMO Field for a Toronto FC game, the atmosphere lasts with me far longer than the final score. For a taste, check out the Nutrilite Canadian Soccer Facebook page for videos and photos from the recent tournament – you’ll see what I mean.
There’s always hope that things will change. With homegrown talents like the aforementioned de Rosario and de Guzman, and an elite player like Landon Donovan south of the border, we’re starting to see North Americans excel at the international level. Maybe that will translate into greater home-grown interest. But while that alleviates one of the symptoms, it fails to address the fundamental issues North American fans have with the game.
In my mind, the game doesn’t need to change. Either we need to change our perceptions to appreciate it more, or we accept that soccer here will be like the NHL in the States – a regionally relevant sport that just can’t attain mass appeal except for major events like the World Cup. After all, it works for tennis (viewership increases for grand slams) and golf (same for the majors).
In the end, there’s really nothing wrong with that.
Either way, you were treated to a spectacle. The hometown fans went home happy as Toronto FC dispatched the visiting Montreal Impact 2-0 in a game that was closer on the scoresheet than it was on the field. Regardless, this tournament is growing by leaps and bounds — and we're delighted to be the title sponsor, as we have been since the tournament's inception.
I was there and tried to capture as much of the off-field action as possible. You can check out the photos and videos on the Facebook page. Seeing as my wireless was acting up on the ol' iTouch, the in-game Tweets were less frequent than I would have liked (really, I'm just one person, and juggling a DSLR, a hi-def video cam, a laptop, and the iTouch was challenging enough), I hope you still got a feel of what it takes to put on an event like this.
Before I continue, let me assure fans of Canadian soccer that your sport is in great hands. Kevin and Dominic from the Canadian Soccer Association went above and beyond the call of duty in helping me get access to what I needed. Everything you see is thanks to them, and seeing first-hand their commitment to the sport and their diligence in doing things the right way, I can assure you that if pro soccer fails in Canada, it's certainly not going to be from lack of talent, intelligence, or effort. They, along with the rest of their team, are incredible and are a credit to their organization.
Over 21,000 crazed fans packed BMO Field. The majority were adorned with the red and white of the home squad, although a hardy contingent made the trip up the 401 from la belle province.
And I'm going to admit something here (which will probably have my grandfather turning in his grave), but I'm not a soccer fan. Sure, I watch the World Cup (I have a lot of Brazilian friends and I used to live in Montreal — I still remember how much fun it was back in '98 when the company for which I worked shut down its doors so we could head to a local purveyor of adult beverages to watch the final. It was electric), and I'll while away a few minutes on the weekend watching previews and highlights of Champions League and international competition — including my grandfather's beloved Everton.
But day-to-day? Soccer's just not my thing. Hockey, yes. Football, absolutely. Basketball? Sure. But soccer and I just don't have that relationship. However, a few more experiences like last night and I may be a convert.
Soccer is an amazing spectator sport. The fans are passionate, entertaining, and just darn funny. The orchestrated chants and cheers are a spectacle in themselves, and the way these fans throw themselves behind their teams is far and away greater than any other team sport.
For years we've heard that soccer is the number-one sport in North America. I qualify that by using the term participatory. Thousands upon thousands of kids play (including the amazing Cindy Droog from The Mothership!), because the sport is easy to learn, easy to play, and relatively inexpensive — especially compared with hockey. But once they've hung up the cleats, the sport just doesn't seem to retain its hold on these kids.
I firmly believe it's because of the lack of a viable professional organization that lends itself to developing idols. Growing up, I played both ice and road hockey. And when I was on the ice I was Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky. In road hockey, as a goalie, I was Ken Dryden (and, for a brief unfortunate period, Steve Penney. Don't ask.) The point is that Canadian youth had someone to look up to and emulate. They played (and continue to play), then could come home, turn on the TV, and listen to Danny Gallivan (a personal hero of mine, to whom I owe any present-day involvement in radio that I have), Howie Meeker, or — more recently — Jim Hughson describe the actions of their heroes on the world's biggest stage.
Soccer? It doesn't have that same cachet. Yes, we know our Pélés and Ronaldinho's (especially around these AG parts!), but there's not that same attachment.
Hopefully that's changing. Toronto FC is an out-and-out success. The Impact draw solid interest in Montreal and are expecting to join the MLS in the future. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC have already announced that they will be making the jump to the top ranks of North American soccer and joining Toronto in MLS in 2011. And by pitting the country's three top professional clubs in a round-robin tournament only heightens their exposure.
We love when the best of the best compete head to head. The Canada Cup was long a Canadian favourite event (surpassed in popularity only by the World Junior Hockey Championships now, another tourney that features the best of the best in head-to-head competition); the Olympics draw both the die-hard and casual fans alike; and the World Cup (which just happened to be in Toronto yesterday — we've got the pics on Facebook, hint, hint) of soccer is another event that transcends normal sporting boundaries.
Yes, the Nutrilite Canadian Championship brings us added exposure as a brand. But, more importantly, it also serves to raise the profile of the sport as a whole in this country. And, in the end, that means more kids will see soccer as a viable, long-term sporting option. They'll get attached to their local club teams and that attachment will deepen with
each passing year.
I'm just proud to be able to see the sport's growth first-hand. Maybe it's time for me to head out and buy myself an Impact (or Everton) kit.
I ask you to join us on this ride. The Nutrilite Canadian Championship continues for five more weeks, with each game falling on Wednesday night. I encourage you to visit our Facebook page, become a fan (actually, 'like' it in Facebook parlance), and see for yourself what all the buzz is about. I know you won't be disappointed.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the sport or the Nutrilite Canadian Championship in the comments section below!
If you've followed this blog for any given time, you'll have noticed that I'm not one to tell you what to do. After all, who am I to be the final arbiter of what's right and wrong for you. That belief system extends throughout my life — whether it's matters of religion, romance, or finances, I firmly believe you do what's right for you. As long as you're not hurting anyone and you're not doing evil, then live your life.
That's why, in the past, I've been very hesitant about recommending causes or charities. Yes, I broke that rule to an extent in an earlier post about Haiti, but I felt that I could add something to the discussion considering my history with that region and the fact that this company, Amway Global, was supporting the efforts. Nowhere do I say, 'Do this!' Rather, I believe in laying out the facts, sharing my opinion if it's warranted, and then letting you decide what's right for yourself.
I'm very anti-pressure when it comes to these matters. I guess that's why I was so dismayed by what was waiting for me on our answering machine at home upon return from a quick, four-day excursion to visit friends and family in Quebec.
Seven messages. All from various charities. All soliciting money.
All worthy causes, to be sure. But all less likely to get money out of us because the calls are bordering on harassment. And repeated polite entreaties to stop calling are not working. I don't want to yell at some poor soul trying to do their best, but it's getting to that point.
We support a number of charities for a number of reasons: the Heart & Stroke Foundation, in recognition of their work with my father and grandfather (you may remember this); the Canadian Cancer Society, in recognition of my wife's grandfather; Ste-Justine Hospital in Quebec, who saved the lives of both our children during childbirth; and a few others here and there — including Haitian relief, United Way, and Easter Seals, all of which this company has supported. We've given clothes during drives, we add a buck or two here or there regularly when shopping, and we believe that we have an obligation to help where we can. And let's not forget the time we've spent volunteering for various causes, our kids' school efforts, and the like.
We're not saints; we could probably do more. But we try our best. Unfortunately, that seems like it's not enough.
My wife made the mistake — and I hate to use that term when talking about charitable donations — of buying tickets to a show for disadvantaged youth (the names of the various charities will remain anonymous from here on in…). Since then, we get weekly calls asking for more. We donated clothes to a local charity. Since then, we've been getting weekly calls saying they're coming by for more.
Let's start with the fact that I don't own that many clothes!!!! Sure, I have a full wardrobe, but it's pretty pared down after the last round or two of donations. I can't buy and wear clothes as fast as they want me to give them away.
Then, I guess, our names are on a list that's being passed around from call centre to call centre. Like the neighbourhood cats my wife feeds, we've apparently been tagged as 'easy marks.' (I firmly believe cats talk to each other — and by the volume of them that show up at our door at night looking for food, I believe the word has been passed around the feline world).
I get it. Times are tough and charities need support. But where do honest entreaties end and harassment begin? In the end, I have to believe I'm not the only one getting frustrated. And to what end? How many people run out of patience and decided to stop supporting altogether? How does that benefit our society? Giving once or twice a year is better than never, right?
Compounding the problem? Being made to feel guilty about saying no. If we respectfully say, 'No thank you. We choose to donate elsewhere for personal reasons,' I shouldn't be told, 'Oh, well it's only a few dollars more.' A courteous, 'Well, thank you for your support and please keep us in mind for the future,' would work a whole lot better with me. I've actually been shouted down by a solicitor as I was saying, 'No, we're not interested at this time, thank you. And would you kindly remove me from your list…' She just kept reading her script at an increased volume and ignored me — the person from whom she was trying to extract money!!!!
The absolute worst thing? When I see my money wasted. We recently received a stack of address labels — glossy pieces with our names and addresses pre-printed. Use them, we were told, at our leisure. Pay whatever you want.
Hold up. I have to imagine these labels cost someone a pretty penny. Multiply that by the thousands of people who receive them, divide by the number of people who actually pay, and what are you left with? To me, a whole whack of misplaced funds that could better be used by the people whom these charities are supposed to be supporting.
I love the PBS way of fundraising. Have a telethon, reach out to subscribers, and thank them honestly for their support. And with Social Media on the increase — especially Facebook amongst the donation-giving demographic — reaching thousands of people has never been easier. Creativity over capital! That should be the mantra.
I know we're going to continue to give, because we believe that's right. But I have to admit that it will be with a tinge of regret, knowing that our donation is buying us a whole lot of headaches in the future.
So how do you handle it? Where is the line drawn for you? Back in the day, I worked at Blockbuster Video. I used to get in trouble regularly for not following the company's rules to the letter. They wanted me to go out in the store and follow people around, making suggestions, and generally annoying them. Well, at least that's the way I feel about that type of sales. I preferred (and still do) to greet someone, introduce myself, and then simply say, 'If I can be of any assistance, just let me know.' After all, how many people really want cinematic advice from some know-nothing 18-year-old? Taste is subjective, right?
And I would imagine, for the IBOs out there reading this, this is a line
that you must tread carefully as a business owner. As an IBO, do you repeatedly call customers and downline? Does it work or do you lose people who feel pestered? How do you find the balance?
I think all of us, if we have the means, should support charities. I've worked with enough of them to know how much they do with so little. And if your financial means aren't there, then by all means give of your time. It's just as appreciated. But that's my belief — you do what's right for you. If you feel your time and money is better spent elsewhere — even on yourself — then that's your right. Altruism is great, but there is something to be said for rewarding yourself. I'm not going to begrudge you going out to dinner and a movie — not all of your disposable income has to be tithed to a charity. It's all about balance, right?
Oh, and stop calling me seven times on the Easter Weekend, OK?
I was flipping through my copy of Vancouver-preview edition of Sports Illustrated (you know, the one that should have arrived last week, but for some reason 'subscription' means, 'will arrive far later than if you just bought it off the newsstand'), and writer Brian Cazeneuve completed the daunting task of forecasting who would win all 258 medals available starting on Saturday.
And while most of the Canadian media is focusing on the men's (and to a lesser extent, women's) hockey tournament — actually focusing is too mild, obsessing would be more like it — there were some familiar names in the projected figure skating medalists.
Familiar, because ARTISTRY is a proud sponsor of Skate Canada and its athletes. Patrick Chan is penciled in for the silver in the men's singles event; Joannie Rochette (who is also this month's featured athlete on the Artistry Athlete Profile on Skate Canada's Web site) is projected for bronze in the women's singles; and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (who hail right from Amway Canada's own backyard) are expected to take home the silver.
We've been fortunate to have enjoyed a relationship with these athletes and all the outstanding folks, both on-ice and off, that are part of Skate Canada's unparalleled organization. And we look forward to the future — not just with Skate Canada, but for the future of the sport.
One of the things we love about our affiliation with both Skate Canada and the Canadian Soccer Association (which includes a little event called the NUTRILITE Canadian Championship) is that our sponsorship also supports athletes at the grass roots. Yes, there's a financial/marketing component to the relationship; I'm not going to be naive and pretend that doesn't exist. But one of the key aspects to these affiliations is to help people at all levels — not just the marquee names that reach the podium.
One of the great things about this upcoming event is that just as it marks a time when many athletes' dreams are finally realized, it can also serve as the moment where dreams are born. The young boy or girl watching on TV may find a new hero or be inspired by an event that they never really looked at before. The artistry (pun fully intended) of a Rochette or Chan may, in turn, lead to kids lacing up for the first time and taking their first wobbly strides on the ice.
The line from Barbara Ann Scott to Rochette will continue on (and allow me a moment to pause at the Josée Chouinard spot on that line… OK, thanks) to skaters that will grace the national stage in 20 years. The Cranston/Browning/Orser/Stoyko torch is carried by Chan. That too will be passed on.
But what's even better than winning medals and international recognition are the names that you'll never hear about. The kids who may never compete, but gain an appreciation and love for sport; the kids who put down the PlayStation 3 controller and lace up a pair of blades; the people who find sport and participate out of love and joy with no hope of international recognition.
To me, that's the greatest award any athlete can win. Gold, silver, bronze may be nice, but inspiration is the award cherished above all.
Your response to our Skate Canada sponsorship has been phenomenal and I know IBOs from across this country will join in cheering on our Canadian athletes win or lose. But while you're keeping an eye on our potential medalists, make sure you cast a glance towards your kids — you may see a glimmer of the future in their eyes.
Your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments.
As you know, there were some technical difficulties yesterday with the live Web conference about the NUTRILITE Canadian Championship. I still am going to hold to the belief that this was caused by too many people clamouring to watch the feed and crashing the server. And I'm right until someone tells me otherwise!!!!
That said, only the first few minutes of the presser were broadcast — the rest of the time we were just watching the wheels (or the chasing-its-tailesque buffering icon) go 'round and 'round.
I promised on the ARTISTRY Facebook page (check it out, be a fan!) and on the Amway Canada Twitter feed (@AmwayCanada — I haven't yet exhausted my shameless plug quota) that I'd post the link as soon as it was available. Well, it's available.
Click here to watch the vid! And check out the pic of Amway Canada's Managing Director Jim Hunking with a dignitary from the CSA, the coaches of the three squads participating in the tourney, and — of course — the Voyageur's Cup.
*** UPDATE FROM JAY***
OK, as I've proven often over the years here, I'm a complete monkey when it comes to posting pics. So if you want to see the photo, you're going to have to do a little work for it! Sorry. Click here to be taken to the page with the photo. I'd love to bring the photo to you, but, well…
Sure, the ground may be covered with snow, but the spring's not that far off — and with it comes the third edition of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship!
There will be a press conference starting at 1 p.m. ET today, which will include our very own Managing Director Jim Hunking. Essentially, they'll be announcing the tournament schedule and the coaches of all three clubs: the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, will be there.
Click here to be taken directly to the site to watch the streaming feed of the press conference. You can also go to the Canadian Soccer Association Web site and click on the banner ad (which features the Nutrilite Canadian Championship logo!) to view the press conference.
The Nutrilite Canadian Championship is a round-robin soccer tournament that pits the top three Canadian professional clubs against each other. The winner receives the Voyageurs Cup and earns the Canadian bid into the CONCACAF regional tournament, which can lead to a spot in the national FIFA Club World Cup.
And feel free to share your thoughts on the Nutrilite Canadian Championship in the comments. What does this tournament mean to you? Have you seen increased interest/awareness in your business resulting from it? Or, as a customer, did this sponsorship impact your opinion of the Nutrilite or Amway Global brands?
Remember to tune in at 1 p.m. ET today as we kick off another exciting tournament!
As Geddy Lee — with the help of Bob & Doug — once sang, "it's a beauty place to go."
I am proud to be Canadian. I love this country (political idiosyncrasies and all) with all my heart, and I just do see myself ever living elsewhere. My wife has lived all over the world and says she was always happy to return — personally, I'm appreciative of what I have and know that I won the geographic lottery when I made my first appearance at the Catherine Booth Hospital in Montreal.
However, one of the things I admire most about Americans is their sense of national pride. I love driving through the States, only to see house after house with the Stars and Stripes flying outside. We Canadians just don't do that — perhaps we feel it's a little 'showy,' maybe we think it's impolite — but we should. Where are all those flags that Shiela Copps sent to us, just for asking? Mine's in the basement, but perhaps it's time to change that.
So let me start by unfurling my virtual flag! I'd like to share with you some of the things that make Canada so special to me. Some are shared by many; some are private to me — but that's what makes Canada great. And feel free to share your list in the comments. One of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S. is that we embrace a Cultural Mosaic, as opposed to the Melting Pot. Some may not like it, but I think the prevalence of hyphenated Canadians (Italian-Canadian, Portuguese-Canadian, etc…) makes us stronger — you add to Canada by retaining the best of where you came from, and that adds to the diversity of our nation.
A few of my favourite Canadian things:
Cities: Obviously, I have a huge soft spot in my heart for Montreal. I've travelled a fair bit, but no matter where I go, Montreal stands head and shoulders atop my list of favourite cities. But I"ve recently had the opportunity to explore more of this country and there's so much more to see. There is no one archetypal Canadian city — from the west coast to the Atlantic provinces, there is so much difference in people and culture that each city opens a host of new discoveries.
Movies: I would put people like Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyan, and Bruce McDonald up against the finest directors the world has to offer. Firmly affixed upon my all-time list of top movies are classics like Exotica, Jésus de Montreal, Dance Me Outside, Last Night, and Highway 61. Canadian films often get overwhelmed by being so close to Hollywood, but the search is well worth the time. And don't forget about those films in our other official language. Every time we go back to Montreal, we try to catch up on the major Quebecois releases, and have been delighted with films like C.R.A.Z.Y., L'âge des Ténèbres, and the haunting Aurore. And let's just acknowledge the devestating combination of talent and beauty some of our Canadian actresses (Lisa Ray, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Anna Paquin, and Mia Kirshner jump off the top of my head) possess.
Music: I won't harp on Sloan. You know how I feel about them. Yes, we have Can-Con regulations that mandate a certain amount of local music for radio stations, but artists like Nelly Furtado, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Blue Rodeo, Garou, Rufus Wainwright, Daniel Lanois, and Gilles Vigneault. And with acts like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Feist, et al. it doesn't look like the Canadian music well is going to run dry.
Food: I love food… not always the good stuff either. A trip to Montreal isn't complete without a stop at Lafleurs for a couple of all-dressed steamies and a bag of frites. And don't get me started on smoked meat (has to be at least… at least medium fat. None of this lean business!). But from coast-to-coast, we have some of the finest food in the world — and the aforementioned influx of cultures has only made it better. In fact, in London — long a middle-of-the-road city — you can find great Afro-Caribbean, Slavadorian, Portuguese, and so much more. I know, I've eaten it all.
Fromage: Sure, we make good cheese (Oka comes to mind), but we make great cheese! You can have your big, fancy game shows! We Canucks were proud of such gems like Bowling for Dollars, Just Like Mom, the ever-incredible The Mad Dash, and — of course — the game show with the greatest theme song of all time, Definition! Keep your $75,000 Pyramid — we gave away toasters!!! And pantyhose! Yes, the prizes on Canadian game shows were a joke, but that was just part of the allure. And, may I remind you, the Alan Thicke Show had a three-year run on our airwaves?
Kitaine: It's a french word that resembles the aforementioned cheese, but is so much more. Tacky doesn't do the translation justice. You just know it when you see it (think Céline Dion's Vegas wedding… actually, just think Céline Dion.)
Tree-Hugging, Hippie Nature: I love the fact that we're a left-leaning country. Gun-control? Check. Universal health care? Check. No discrimination on marriages/benefits? Check. Sometimes we go a little far (the whole Sharia law superceding Ontario regulations discussion, for example) and sometimes our words speak louder than our actions (see: environmental record) but I'd rather we go too far in making this an open, inclusive society than not far enough.
Canadian TV: The good? Rick Mercer, George Stroumboulopoulos, CBC French. The bad? The rest of the CBC schedule — and other networks claiming Canadian, while showing nothing but American re-runs. Listen, I get it, there are only so many shows about Prince Edward Island I can watch too, but there's a certain Canadian sensibility we bring to the table that should be embraced. I love what Quebec's done with both their TV and film industry — they've created a star system that should be the model. And many of their shows are good (I could do without Norman Brathwaite hamming it up everywhere, but you take the good with the bad)! In English Canada, we still seem to only embrace a star once they've suceeded south of the border. That's got to stop.
Sports: Hockey, yes. After all, The Habs are a gift to the world. But let's not forget the CFL! The Blue Jays are still fighting the good fight (no matter how much the Expos broke my heart), and soccer's making a surge in the collective mentality (see: Nutrilite Canadian Championship). The winter Olympics are coming, so that will put a spotlight on those sports that people don't care about for the other three years (I'll get to that in another post), but the excitement should be incredible (and good for our whole Skate Canada affiliation, eh?)
Our Way with Words: Both the masters (think Robertson Davies, Roch Carrier), and the everyday writer. I love adding a "u" to words… In my personal correspondance, I use "s" instead of "z" where warranted. And I love the fact that people think we say aboot, despite the fact that I never once have heard a Canadian say that.
I think I took up enough of your time (and the space on the Internet — I haven't posted on this blog for a while, I guess), and I haven't even scratched the surface. No mention of Cirque de Soleil, Mount Royal, Ottawa and skating on the Rideau, our wonderful winters, and our odd fascination with overly large objects (think giant nickle, the Big Apple, Canada goose, etc.; no mention of our diverse animal life, nor the pleasure of sitting by a Canadian lake.
So you tell me — what makes you proud to be a Canadian? I'm especially interested to know about the little things that make this country special to you. Maybe it's the way the sunlight filters through a particular tree on a certain street, maybe it's a stretch of highway. You tell me.
That's the crux of a debate summarized on the Canadian blog The 24th Minute (read the post here — after you finish with my post, of course!)
The short version? One camp thinks "Commercialism be damned" and the tournament should refer to the trophy — the Voyageurs' Cup; the other side says, "Hey, we've been dying for corporate support, so let's acknowledge it when someone steps up" and call it the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
As the official blog of Amway Canada, it should be simple for me to take a side on this, right? Sure — after all, we're the company that offers Nutrilite product. I've worked on this project and I know how much effort people in this company have put into making the NCC a reality.
Yet my actions betray my thoughts.
I watch the Memorial Cup, not the MasterCard Memorial Cup; I openly mock the London Knights for their overt cash grabs "This penalty brought to you by Bad Boy; this puck drop brought to you by Badder Bus; this coach's nose blowing brought to you by Kleenex…"; and I still visit the Forum — not the Bell (né Molson) Centre.
I hate the fact that I have no idea in which ballparks or stadiums most baseball and football teams play in because their corporate sponsor changes every five minutes (that said, I think it's cool/amusing that Dolphin Stadium is now named after Jimmy Buffett's beer.) I respected the Toronto Blue Jays for naming their stadium after a fan vote (SkyDome); and I hate the fact that the fans were summarily tossed aside for corporate dollars (Rogers Centre).
So why should I be any different for soccer just because I work here? I guess it's hypocritical for me to expect any more from others.
Growing up in journalism, I was taught to fully reference a title on its first appearance, then use whatever the accepted short form would be after. As long as the media covering this event do so, I guess I can't complain.And as a purist who longs for the return of the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conferences (complete with Adams, Norris, Patrick, and Smythe Divisions) and as someone who thinks European hockey teams and NASCAR drivers/vehicles/crew look ridiculous with their millions of ads covering every available part, who am I to decry people wanting to recognize the fan-driven history of the Voyageurs' Cup?
But the grown-up in me understands that sports aren't just games played on big fields. There's money to be made, sure, but there's also an expense to presenting sports competitions to mass audiences. The bills need to be paid and those providing the money deserve to have a return on their investment.
It's easy for me with the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, not just because I'm newer to the sport and have less investment in it, but because of my employment status. And it's probably the same for most of you out there — the NCC is new and shiny. We're in a good position because we jumped on it from its inception, so people won't know it by any other name. But how would you feel if it was the Artistry Stanley Cup? Or the Tolsom Grey Cup?
On second thought, maybe, since you're on this blog, you wouldn't feel so bad. But what if it was the Tide Stanley Cup? Or the Viagra Grey Cup? How about the McDonald's Winter Olympics or the "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" Summer Olympics? Does that rankle a few more nerves?
Chances are you'd still call it the Stanley Cup, or the Grey Cup. And you'd probably still watch. But if you're not calling it by the name, what's the value to the title sponsor? Is passive viewing of a title and retention through osmosis enough?
Regardless of what it's called, I know we get value for our sponsorship. In a callous, commercial way, we've seen marked increases in our brand's favourability and awareness figures. And in a more sentimental way, we're proud to support Canadian athletics, and we're proud to be part of something that Canadians of all ages, sexes, and backgrounds enjoy.
Me? I guess I have to keep straddling the fence. I know I'll be more aware of respecting corporate sponsors in the future. After all, they're who we have to thank for presenting these events. If that money dries up, then we'd be crying about something far more tragic — the loss of the events altogether!
Your thoughts? And don't forget to watch tonight's game on-line!
I'm sure you've already got it booked in your social calendar, but I just wanted to remind you that tonight marks game two of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship!
Tonight's game will again take place in Toronto's BMO Field and will see the hometown club host the defending champion Montreal Impact, in a rematch of last year's tournament finale.
Now, I know you've been frantically scouring your TV listings to see when and where you can catch the game — unfortunately, there's no TV broadcast. But all hope is not lost! You can watch the game live on-line.
Starting at 8 p.m., simply log onto either torontofc.ca or corrussports.com and you'll be able to catch all the action live in all its streaming glory! The feed will be the same one shown on the Toronto FC video scoreboard, so you'll also get to catch the Nutrilite advertising, featuring soccer superstar Ronaldinho!
Tonight's game should be stellar. Toronto FC's coming off a tournament-opening victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC, but the club is still licking its wounds (and salving its bruised ego) after last season's crushing loss to Montreal in the tourney's final match. From all the media reports, it's clear that redemption is on the club's collective mind. And Montreal comes in wanting to prove that last year's tournament victory wasn't a one-time deal. The Impact went on to enjoy great success in the CONCACAF regionals, and is looking to repeat that feat this year.
So it's the World's Greatest City (oh, is my bias showing?) facing off against the Centre of the Universe (self-proclaimed). Log on tonight and watch live. And don't forget to share your thoughts on the tournament or tonight's game right here!
So what are you watching tonight? NHL or NBA playoffs? Lost? May I offer another option — one that's got the NUTRILITE brand all over it?
That's right, tonight marks the kickoff of the second annual NUTRILITE Canadian Championship! This tournament pits Canada's three top professional clubs against each other in a round-robin tournament designed to crown Canada's representative in the CONCACAF region, en route to the FIFA Club World Cup.
Oh, and they get the snazzy Voyageurs Cup as well.
Tonight features MLS' Toronto FC hosting the USL's Vancouver Whitecaps FC. These two teams will also play the tournament's defending champion USL's Montreal Impact in upcoming matches. The tournament culminates June 18th at Montreal's Saputo Stadium in a rematch of last year's tourney finale between Toronto and Montreal.
I'm not a huge soccer fan. I'd say soccer and I have a casual-to-friendly relationship. Like if we saw each other on the street we'd nod and say, 'How are you doing? Not bad… Cool. Talk to you later." But we're not best buds or anything.
That said, I was at last year's finale and it was no less than awesome. As a Montrealer, it was great to wander into the self-proclaimed Centre of the Universe and watch these Toronto fans, who assumed they'd walk away with the trophy since they play in a superior league, lose to this scrappy Montreal club. I'll give Toronto its props, though. This is a city that's long been beat up for its passive nature at sporting events — and Leafs and Jays fans warrant that label (are there any Argo fans?). But the atmosphere at BMO Field was unbelievable. Fans were into it, they were chanting, and the spectacle was unbelievable.
I think this year's going to be even better. Last year was the first time something like this was tried. It was new and no one knew what the calibre of play was going to be. This year's different. We've set the bar and now we're going to leap over it.
As you may know, we've inked a three-year deal with the CSA to serve as title sponsor of the NUTRILITE Canadian Championship. The NUTRILITE brand is going to be everywhere — on the side boards, on the jumbotron, on the TV ads, during the half-time entertainment… even on the kids that walk out with the athletes (well, on their jerseys at least — it's not like we branded them or anything. That's for Year 2 of this contract.)
If you get Rogers SportsNet, you can catch tonight's game starting at 8 p.m. Eastern (5 Pacific). And if you're in Toronto (first off, accept my apologies), why not head on down to the field and check out the game?
I've got a few requests for you! First, if you're at the game tonight, feel free to send me your thoughts on the event. Maybe, if I'm feeling generous, I'll relinquish control of this blog long enough to allow a guest post!
Second, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these sponsorships (we'll throw ARTISTRY/Skate Canada in the mix here too). As an IBO, what do they do for you? Do they make it easier for you to get your foot/cleat/skate in the door? Do they make you feel more proud of your association with Amway & NUTRILITE? Are they worth the investment?
As a customer or visitor, do brand sponsorships impact the way you look at a business or product? How much of an impact do they make on you? If you see a sponsorship does this make you feel more comfortable about buying a product, or trust in the brand/company?
Share your thoughts and don't forget to follow our Twitter feed (@AmwayCanada) for updates all throughout the tourney! The ball gets rolling tonight!