By any standard, the CFL has done pretty well by its relationship with TSN.
Whether as a sole broadcaster or a shared-rights holder, TSN has given the CFL a profile, an attitude and, judging by the record ratings for its Grey Cup coverage, a significant audience for its product. (They've even broadcast the CFL draft.)
For the upcoming season, TSN has commissioned a series of documentaries to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup game CFL commissioner Mark Cohon says will reinforce the cultural impact of the league in Canada.
All looks right in the three-down football world. Yet industry sources believe the league could again consider a second broadcaster early in 2013, when the next TV rights contract is likely negotiated. When asked this week if the CFL would entertain the notion of dividing its rights – as happens with the NHL, NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball – Cohon was lavish in his praise of TSN, but he wouldn't rule out letting a competitor such as the CBC back in.
"We have a great partnership with TSN," Cohon said during a conference call. "They've done a great job promoting our game, bringing in younger viewers. … We know that others are interested. We'll see what happens."
For its part, CTV president of sports and programming Phil King tells Usual Suspects that, "depending on the circumstances, splitting the package is something TSN could live with."
TSN has an exclusive window to negotiate another contract through January of 2013. If TSN's parent company, BCE Inc. (which recently stepped back from bidding on the 2014 and 2016 Olympics) writes the cheque the CFL wants, it can keep its monopoly position.
The CFL is looking for a hike in rights payments, but if weak teams tank the ratings in 2012, TSN might balk at a hefty raise. If the two sides can't find a satisfactory price, the league will explore secondary options.
In a major slap at a long-time partner, CBC was not given an opportunity to bid on the CFL rights in 2007, after broadcasting the league for 55 years.
"We didn't get a chance to come to the table at all," a CBC spokesman said at the time.
The national broadcaster would love to rebuild its sports portfolio by getting back a piece of the league's TV package. CBC's liability is, with no national TV sports desk and negligible local TV/radio coverage of sports, it can't deliver the promotion TSN/CTV provides on its multiple SportsCentre shows and on its radio network.
Why consider CBC then?
While TSN had little effect on last season's ratings dip, there is the feeling in the industry that, by keeping its rights with a single broadcaster, the CFL and TSN become synonymous. As a branch plant of the nighty cable sports operation, the CFL can be subsumed by TSN and its image (in the West, its "Toronto Sports Network" handle).
It's the same identity challenge faced by the Toronto Blue Jays, who are broadcast exclusively on Sportsnet (Rogers Communications Inc. owns both parties).
Plus, a hungry CBC will be out to prove it's still a player in TV sports. As it does in NFL and NHL, competition also produces a stronger product. The more the CFL is talked about, the happier the league's advertisers are.
The success of this season's Grey Cup centennial year will go a long way to deciding whether the CFL stays monogamous with TSN or plays the broadcasting field next year.
New for 2012 CFL campaign
In addition to the Grey Cup documentaries on TSN, there will be an increased social media presence under reporter Kate McKenna and an additional push on the TSN Radio network across the country to promote the brand. Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers lineman Doug Brown also joins TSN's college of football knowledge.
Now, if TSN can just get the moribund Toronto Argonauts into the Grey Cup game this November at Rogers Centre …
Later NFL TV times
On the subject of football leagues with multiple broadcasters, the NFL is making some starting-time adjustments for next season.
Early games will still start at 1 p.m. (Eastern), but doubleheader games are now going to start at 4:25 p.m. If the late games go over into the lucrative prime-time viewing hour, garnering higher ratings, that's something the NFL will just have to accept (cough).
NBC's Sunday night game start remains unchanged at 8:25 p.m.
And if ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman is not your heart's delight, you might want to turn down the volume on the network's opening weekend game featuring the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. Mr. "Back, Back" is calling the play-by-play.
You have been warned.
As blogger @camdenflash succinctly described Berman: "He's our Milton Berle. Colorful, untalented guy who got in early, got big, then hung around forever being unfunny."
With the hockey season finally grinding to a standstill following the free-agent frenzy on July 1, Sportsnet/Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 is plugging its Hockey Central @ Noon package with Baseball Central @ Noon.
Sam Cosentino and former pitcher Dirk Hayhurst will staff the desk until the NHL resumes in the fall. Or winter. Or next year, depending on contract talks with its players' union.