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Dowbiggin: Three networks might be better than one for CFL

Arash Madani had a CFL scoop on Twitter Thursday. That's not unusual: the Sportsnet reporter is connected (pardon the pun) and does good work.

What was unusual was seeing a network other than TSN carrying water for the league. In the years since TSN became the exclusive TV home for the CFL, it's been harder and harder to detach the league from its broadcaster.

That's not to say TSN (and its French-language arm, RDS) doesn't do a good job. It has given the CFL a presence and a style since it took over exclusive rights in 2008. (It's no exaggeration to say TSN saved the league when it took control of the CFL's TV product.)

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This year, the league put all its eggs (trains/stamps/coins) into the 100th anniversary Grey Cup game on Nov. 25. As such, many of the Cup promotions have received little coverage on CBC or Sportsnet or The Score. The feeling of those networks was that promoting the CFL was, by extension, promoting TSN.

It doesn't work that way with the NFL, which has four major networks sharing its rights. The NHL has three to pump its tires in Canada.

For the CFL to grow, it needs other broadcasters to give it more coverage. And that could mean saying goodbye to TSN's exclusive role.

TSN, which exercised its option for 2013, pays $16-million a season for its rights to the CFL. It has a window next spring to do another deal with the CFL, but sources tell Daily Grind the league wants in the neighbourhood of $40-million on a new contract.

Even in today's world of inflated TV-rights packages, that dog won't hunt with a single Canadian broadcaster.

Thus, the CFL needs to get the CBC back in (the 2007 Grey Cup was its last game). Sportsnet is also interested and might park a CFL Thursday night package on The Score (which it recently purchased). Using three networks, the CFL could get a lot closer to $40-million than with just one.

(When we asked a CTV exec about stories that the CFL was asking for a lot more money, he wryly replied, "Everyone wants more !")

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TSN has virtually no Major League Baseball content and likes the CFL to fill its summer calendar. So it's not going away.

It will likely want to hang onto some part of the Grey Cup game as well.

There's a formula there. Now, we'll see if commissioner Mark Cohon can connect the dots.

Radio Ga Ga

They take their CFL seriously in the West. So when Dean (Boomer) Molberg, morning show host on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 960 in Calgary, joked he hoped the Saskatchewan Roughriders' plane would crash on its way to Sunday's West Division semi-final, killing four players, the lid came off.

The province of Saskatchewan and the half of Alberta's population that seemingly comes from Saskatchewan demanded an apology. Some wanted Molberg fired. Even the Calgary Stampeders felt the need to disavow Molberg's remarks.

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Now, morning radio is full of rough humour and borderline-juvenile behaviour. Molberg was trying to push the line and fell over it instead. No one believes he wants to see a plane crash (four Riders players and one Winnipeg Blue Bombers player were killed in a 1956 plane crash). It was one of those live broadcast moments (see Terry Bradshaw) where something came out sideways.

If it helps people's feelings to pile on, fill your boots. It won't change the words or their harmless intent.

Molberg has issued both a written and an audio apology.

Now, let's just move on and play the game.

Olympic update

The CBC confirmed this week Chris Irwin will be the executive producer of its live programming for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Irwin has had his hands on virtually every property at CBC Sports (Sports Weekend and Hockey Day in Canada are two of his best). While he has a compressed time frame till the February of 2014 event, he's just the person to get CBC back on the medal count.

Conflict note: Irwin was one of our best producers at CBC Newsworld (now CBCNN) back in the 1990s. In spite of that, he's become one of the best in the biz. So there.

Barkley's bite

Charles Barkley being Charles Barkley in Sports Illustrated: "If you are an ugly woman, you have no chance of getting a TV job."

This reminded us of a tweeter who took us to task for asking why female sideline reporters all seem to use the word "hey" in their reportage. As in: "The coach just said, 'HEY!, we'll get them in the second half'" or "Hey, it's only a compound fracture. I've seen worse."

We were told our observation was sexist. But isn't women-only in the sideline job the real sexism?


Broadcaster Tom McKee was a household name for Toronto Blue Jays fans for much of their early years until the World Series era in the 1990s. With Don Chevrier and Fergie Olver, he forged the team's image on screen and then as producer for the team's games. It wasn't spring training in Dunedin unless McKee was there getting his requisite tan.

He was also a stalwart on CBC Sports for decades covering Olympics and the CFL. McKee died last Monday at 76. Touch 'em all, Tom.

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