POINT GREY — As a teenager growing up in the Greater Vancouver area in the 1970s, local football play-by-play man Jim Mullin watched all manner of telecasts involving his favourite sport, but none touched his soul more than the annual Vanier Cup national university championship final.
Over the years, Mullin’s association with the sport would just continue to grow, and over the last few seasons, he has become the face and the voice behind Shaw TV’s weekly Canada West Game of the Week productions.
On Saturday, Mullin, 50, will again handle the call when the Manitoba Bisons come to Vancouver to face the UBC Thunderbirds in the conference’s Hardy Cup semifinal game at Thunderbird Stadium (12 p.m.). Only this time, the reach will be so much greater.
The Northern 8 Group (Mullin and Saskatoon businessman David Dube), with the co-operation of the Canada West, was able to reach an agreement to have both Saturday’s semifinal and the following weekend’s Hardy Cup conference final televised nationwide on Global.
And it’s news that has historical significance.
Securing terrestrial network television for the games will mean the Canada West product is available to 98.2 per cent of Canadian homes, Mullin says, making it the most available Canadian university sporting event in the nation’s history.
“Canadian university sports has never had a reach like this in Canadian households ever,” explains Mullin. “When you look at what CTV used to do with the Vanier Cup and also the CBC with the Vanier going back to the 1960s, there simply was not this kind of a market reach. And in the current day, the specialty provider channels don’t come close to this.”
It’s all part-and-parcel of a steadily increasing interest in Canadian university sports, but beyond that, there is another spin-off benefit for not just the conference’s six football schools, but its entire 17-school membership.
It’s why UBC head football coach Blake Nill referenced the broadcast in the minutes after his team beat Manitoba last Saturday to earn the right to host the Bisons in a playoff game this week in front of a nationally-televised audience.
“It’s going to be like a three-hour commercial for UBC,” Nill said.
“This creates a huge recruiting advantage, not just for football, but for every school in the Canada West to get their message across to potential student-athletes around the country,” he said, adding that millions of home in bordering U.S. states will also receive the broadcast.
Mullin is grateful for the financial support of Dube, a Saskatchewan Huskies alum whom he says “sees the bigger picture and realizes that it’s about getting more people invested in the university game in this country.”
Adds Mullin: “My family were friends of Danny Smith’s when he was the UBC quarterback and I can remember when I was 13, tuning in on CBC to see UBC play Queen’s in the Vanier Cup. I was hooked. And if UBC and Manitoba play the kind of game I think they can on Saturday, we’re going to make a lot of new fans for life, ones like me when I was that 12-or-13 year-old kid back in the 1970s.”
(Photo: Huh? 98.2 per cent of Canadian households can tune in the UBC-Manitoba game Saturday. It's the largest penetration achieved in the history of Canadian university sports. Richard Lam, UBC athletics)