UBC football goes Global as TV focuses on Saturday’s semifinal

Television, the world’s biggest promoter, has created more changes in the way people view sport in the history of play.

On Saturday, the University of B.C. Thunderbirds football team hopes to announce its rising presence by going Global.

That would be Global TV, Canada’s second most-watched broadcast television network, which is airing the Hardy Cup semifinal game between UBC and the Manitoba Bisons starting at noon Pacific time from Thunderbird Stadium.

UBC’s first objective is to advance to the Hardy Cup final next Saturday against the winner of the other Canada West semifinal between the Calgary Dinos and Saskatchewan Huskies.

But a side-effect of Saturday’s telecast is a three-hour commercial, extolling the UBC program and visuals of the Point Grey campus, on a network that reaches 98.2 cent of Canadian homes, more than cable sports channels such as Sportsnet and TSN.

“We’re going to do our damnedest to put on a network broadcast quality game that will be seen across the country,” says play-by-play broadcaster and co-producer Jim Mullin, the former sports director at CKNW radio in Vancouver. “There’s never been a better reach before for any university sports event. What this does is provide a really good test to see how the public responds to it and what kind of quality we can come up with for a quality product. In comparison with the CFL, there’s more offence and fireworks.”

Recruits from U.S. colleges, such as quarterback Michael O’Connor from Penn State and defensive back Taylor Loffler from Boise State, have helped flip UBC’s record from 2-6 in 2014 to 6-2 this year under Blake Nill, the former head coach of the Dinos.

With O’Connor behind centre, footballs have been flying. UBC has won by shootout scores of 51-48 (Manitoba), 41-36 (Saskatchewan), 54-10 (Alberta) and 41-16 (Laval, pre-season).

Fans are eating it up.

“So far he (O’Connor) has done an amazing job as the face of this program,” Nill says. “And he’s only 19. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Mullin, the host and producer of Krown Countdown U, seen on Shaw TV in Vancouver, was one of the project partners behind the proposed Northern 8 football series, which would have seen major university football powers from the Canada West, Ontario and Quebec conferences play in a featured TV Game of the Week format. It didn’t pass muster with schools in Ontario and the idea has been put on the shelf for now. But Saskatoon businessman David Dube, a Saskatchewan alumnus and president and CEO of the Concorde Group, has plunged ahead on his own with the blessing of Canada West. One of Dube’s companies, Krown Produce, is the title sponsor for Saturday’s game and came to the rescue of producers, unable to secure a golf cart camera in Vancouver (it’s tied up for the B.C. Lions-Calgary Stampeders game on TSN). A Krown Produce truck is delivering an alternative from Calgary, one of 12 cameras being employed for the telecast. The same setup goes for the Hardy Cup final next Saturday, wherever it is played.

“It’s a huge opportunity to showcase our university, the football program, the culture of the school and the students,” Nill says. “For three hours, people are going to see a small representation of what UBC has to offer. Hopefully, we get the same enthusiasm from our student body that we got at our homecoming game.”

For UBC’s Alex Morrison, a Canada West all-star receiver from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the arrival of television trucks for Saturday’s showdown is nourishing the hype that CIS football is ripe to be exposed to a wider audience.

“Our focus is trying to win a football game and prolong our season,” Morrison says. “But the fact it will be seen on a national scale is not only important for our program but for Canada West and CIS football. We’re just fortunate to have the opportunity.”

The Hardy Cup semifinal is part of Super Weekend at UBC, with one $10 ticket ($20 for families) enabling students, alumni and the public to take in 13 games, including the Canada West Final Four men’s soccer tournament, men’s and women’s volleyball and the home openers for the T-Birds men’s and women’s basketball teams.

(Photo:UBC Thunderbirds quarterback Michael O’Connor warms up under the watchful eye of head coach Blake Nill-Rich Lam)

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