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sports broadcasting

CFL on TSN panel (left to right) Dave Randorf, Chris Schultz, Jock Clime and Matt Dunigan

In recent years, TSN's broadcast agreement with the CFL has enabled Canada's most profitable cable sports operation to counter the steady diet of Toronto Blue Jays programming on rival Rogers Sportsnet with a strong summer property of its own.

Look for that to remain the status quo.

Sources indicated Friday that TSN had reached an agreement in principle to retain exclusive broadcast and digital rights for the CFL. Terms, however, were not immediately available.

CFL spokesman Jamie Dykstra said: "The process is ongoing."

TSN did not reply to a request for comment.

The network's exclusive window to extend its agreement beyond the 2013 season with the league expired at midnight Thursday, and some industry observers had thought the league might be looking to diversify its broadcast partnerships across one or more other Canadian networks (as happens in every other major team sport).

The acquisition of CFL rights (TSN, and its French-language arm, RDS, has been the exclusive Canadian broadcaster of all games since 2008) has been touted as the first stage in the network battles, culminating in the awarding of NHL broadcast rights next year.

The CBC, which had carried CFL telecasts for decades, was known to be interested in getting a piece of the football pie. In turn, the league informed the CBC it was wanted "in the tent," according to sources. Jeffrey Orridge, head of sports properties, said Friday that the CBC would not comment.

Perhaps the only consolation for the CBC, which has been trying to resurrect its sports presence, starting with acquisition of Olympic rights, is it can focus its remaining resources on hockey. The CBC will have an exclusive negotiating window to retain Hockey Night in Canada, though the NHL demands might be too rich for the public broadcaster.

Rogers, too, was thought to have interest in a CFL package to place on its new network, formerly The Score. Rogers had no comment Friday.

TSN/RDS already held exclusive rights for the 2013 season. The new contract is to begin in 2014, when the CFL becomes a nine-team league with the addition of Ottawa.

Negotiations evidently came down to the last minute, after weeks of intensive talks.

TSN's previous deal was at approximately $17-million per year, and the CFL had been aiming to more than double that figure.

The marriage guarantees the CFL and TSN/RDS brand will be synonymous in the market. TSN's power and influence are considerable, but rival networks may now have little incentive to promote the league in their sportscasts or online (much as ESPN has virtually forgotten the NHL since losing its rights in the U.S.).

Last November's 100th anniversary Grey Cup game drew an average audience of 5.8 million viewers on TSN and RDS to watch the Toronto Argonauts beat the Calgary Stampeders 35-22 at Rogers Centre.

While the CFL brand remains strong in the West, a lack of coverage could be crucial in Ontario, where the league is fighting to retain its profile against a number of competitors.