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The Usual Suspects

CFL TV ratings go through the roof Add to ...

In the late 1980s and early '90s you probably could have had CFL TV rights for a song. Maybe for a few bars of a song. An Air Supply song. But that was then.

The advent of portable people meters, enhanced HD in-home TV experience and the surging popularity of the league on TV have created a situation where industry sources predict a handsome increase for the league over the $80-million/five-year term on its exclusive TSN contract that expires in 2012, with a TSN option to extend through 2013. The boon in the value of digital rights alone should make the number much higher.

TSN has no right to match under the contract, but they do have an early window to renegotiate alone. The move of former CFL executive/ TSN president Keith Pelley to the head of Rogers Communications - which as Sportsnet, CITY-TV and Omni - might prompt TSN to tie up their prize sooner than later.

Why? Last Sunday afternoon's Western final set a record with 2.54 million viewers watching the Roughriders upset the Stampeders. In the Eastern final, 1.7 million saw the Alouettes eviscerate the Argos - 599,000 of them in French on RDS. So far, 11.2 million viewers have tuned to some or all of the CFL playoffs. The semi-final games, meanwhile, were up 13 per cent over 2009's first round.

As last Sunday's number shows, there are still many Toronto fans when it comes to watching TV if not buying a ticket. The Alouettes' participation saw RDS jump by 465,00 viewers over the previous week's Hamilton/ Toronto tilt. That's important in an eight-team league where story lines can get stale.

"There's a trend here we've been enjoying year-after-year increases," says TSN's new president Stewart Johnson. "Part of that is the improvement of the Torontos and Hamiltons who have been doing better the past few years. Plus, CFL viewers are loyal to the league, not just their own teams. The move from SD to HD and 5.1 audio was a monster step forward for us, too."

A 3D Grey Cup? Sooner rather than later, says Johnson.

It's Easy Being Green: The industry joke has been that TSN stands for the Toronto Sports Network. But after Glen Suitor's call of the Western final, perhaps TSN stands for The Saskatchewan Network. The former Roughrider - who usually restrains his green instincts -was more home broadcaster than national voice as the Riders took over the game.

While never openly rooting for the Riders, Suitor spewed multiple anecdotes, background stories and strategies from the Saskatchewan side. There were stories of Darian Durant phoning home and allegations that Calgary media were trying to goad Rider players into bulletin board material. Nothing wrong in that per se.

But for Calgary - which performed frozen sepukku Sunday - there was precious little from Suitor about parents at the game or other human-interest content as the game rolled on. We know Suitor was at media day, so perhaps the Stamps were withholding juicy material from him. Hopefully Suitor will balance the Grey Cup game broadcast better on Sunday.

In Cameron's Wake: TSN's Chris Schultz says the success of former B.C. Lion and CFL Defensive MVP Cameron Wake - an NFL defensive MVP candidate in Miami - is a credit to the B.C Lions for refining him. "So much of it is right time, right place," Schultz told Usual Suspects. "You don't get second or third chances. So you have to credit the Lions for getting him prepared for his chance. And he looks very hungry to me. He can see how close he is to the multimillion dollar contracts. Every third of fourth play he's gassed - but not because he's out of shape. He's leaving it all on the field."

Schultz says there is a negative to the talent drain. If the NFL goes, as expected, to an 18 game-schedule, there will be greater pressure to keep American players south of the border. "The labour dispute may put pressure on the CFL to keep players like Wake."

Take it Like An (Old) Man: We thought the CFL was trying to appeal to a younger demographic. So last year it was '80s heroes Blue Rodeo at halftime. Guess that was too current, because the folks in Edmonton have booked Bachman Turner for the halftime show Sunday. What, was Pat Boone unavailable? Hopefully Vancouver will rediscover the 21st century when they host next year's game.

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