CFL commissioner Mark Cohon believes the road to profitability for the league’s two troubled southern Ontario teams is now significantly easier thanks to a lucrative new broadcast agreement.
The deal with TSN, which runs from 2014 through 2018, is worth in the neighbourhood of $40 million per season, according to a league source.
That’s more than 2 1/2 times the previous five-year agreement, which was worth $15 million a year. That means starting in 2014, CFL teams can expect to receive more money from the league.
That’s good news for the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the CFL’s only money-losing teams. Cohon said the new deal should allow clubs that struggled financially in the past to become profitable while also enhancing franchise values.
“Absolutely it does,” he said. “The biggest chunk of revenues still comes from ticket sales . . . however this gives teams the ability to recoup any historic losses but also invest in improving their franchises.”
It’s a strong foundation to build on, said Cohon.
“When you think about the new stadiums that are being built, this helps some of our owners invest in those,” he said. “It allows us to invest in fan experience in the game. It allows us to start thinking about new businesses like fantasy football. The past was about building a strong foundation . . . now it’s about investing in the future.”
Senator David Braley, who owns the Argos and B.C. Lions, was pleased with the deal.
“When you look at it, we have to be almost ecstatic about the agreement we’ve signed with TSN,” he said from Ottawa. “The strength of today’s CFL and our future at this point look extremely bright.
“We have a very good contract.”
The TSN agreement should also help ease the Ticats’ move into their new facility in 2014. Hamilton will play at the University of Guelph this year — with the CFL helping financially to cover those costs —while its new home is being built.
Next year, not only will the Ticats benefit from playing in a new state-of-the-art stadium, but also be buoyed by increased CFL disbursement payments.
The new deal is also good news for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are scheduled to move into Investors Group Field this year. The increased CFL cash should make it easier for the club to handle the annual $4.5-million mortgage payment for its new facility.
The previous TV agreement between the CFL and TSN included an option clause the broadcaster exercised for the upcoming season.
The new agreement gives TSN and RDS exclusive media rights to all CFL exhibition, regular-season and playoff games — including the Grey Cup — as well as the league’s annual draft and combine.
In addition to broadcast and digital rights, the agreement also includes exclusive radio rights to the Grey Cup to TSN and TEAM radio stations.
The 2014 CFL broadcast schedule will expand to 84 games in 2014 with the addition of the Ottawa expansion franchise.
The financial bonanza is heady stuff for the CFL, which in the late 1990s nearly folded and endured several lean years despite signing a then-record $15.6-million, three-year TV deal with Carling O’Keefe (1981-’83).
Cohon said past history has shown the CFL can’t afford to be financially irresponsible.
“It’s about how smart you spend that money,” Cohon said. “All this hard work we’ve done to build this great foundation, I don’t want this new money coming in and us not investing it in the right places.
“Those are the types of conversations we’re having with our owners. The discipline we used to get here has to continue in the future.”
CFL players took to Twitter to express their satisfaction with the deal.
“I just want to say thank you to @TSN—Sports for all they have done and continue 2do for us players...We’re all in this 2gether #cfl #Riders,” Saskatchewan defensive end Ricky Foley tweeted, then later added “@CFL—News Knock knock, ‘who’s there?’...salary cap...’Salary cap who’...Salary cap better go the hell up!”
Montreal Alouettes defensive back Jeff Hecht tweeted, “@CFLonTSN doing an unreal job with the @CFL and promoting the Canadian game nation wide. As a player and a fan I’m pumped for 5 more years.”
Added retired offensive lineman Rob Murphy: “New TV deal??? More money?? Salary cap headed up???? .... On my way to the gym now.....The bear has awoken from his slumber lol!!! #Reboot.”
While the players are hoping the deal results in the $4.4-million salary cap increasing, the reality is that won’t be up for discussion until the current collective agreement expires in 2014.
TSN began broadcasting CFL games in 1986, with its French affiliate starting three years later. In 2008, TSN became the exclusive broadcaster of the CFL and Grey Cup.
TSN retained that exclusivity by reaching an agreement in principle with the CFL before Jan. 31. Had the two sides been unable to do so, other broadcasters could have starting bidding Feb. 1.
TSN president Stewart Johnston said the CFL is a valuable entity for the cable sports broadcaster.
“It’s an awful lot of highly rated, high-interest Canadian content that TSN hangs its hat on,” he said.
The CFL has prospered more than financially from its exclusive partnership with TSN since 2008.
Last year, the regular-season average audience on CFL broadcasts was 674,000 compared to 346,000 in 2007. In the playoffs, viewership increased 11 per cent from 2011.
And Toronto’s 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the historic 100th Grey Cup averaged 5.4 million viewers on TSN, making it the most-watched ever on English-language television.
“They’ve been such a part of our growth over the last five-to-10 years,” Cohon said. “We wanted to take it to the next level and that’s why we did a new deal with them.”
TSN has also carved a niche for the CFL with its Friday Night Football telecasts. Johnston said the network plans to continue being innovative.
“I think you might see us try and develop a second marquee night or a second marquee game, something to talk about each week that goes above and beyond Friday Night Football,” Johnston said. “We push the envelope each year.”