The Grey Cup game will move to cable television in 2008 as part of a massive new rights agreement that will make TSN the exclusive carrier of Canadian Football League content.
Rick Brace, the president of CTV, which owns TSN, called the TV deal, announced yesterday, a "landmark achievement" for the sports network.
"Bringing us the Grey Cup is perhaps the most significant announcement that we've had in our history," Brace said. "This to me is akin to the Super Bowl in the United States being aired on ESPN."
The Grey Cup is the single largest sporting event in the country, drawing an audience of between three million and four million viewers each year.
The five year agreement, which includes an option for a sixth year, cuts out the CBC completely as a CFL broadcaster.
The network has been airing CFL games since 1952, when it showed the first televised Grey Cup game. However, in this negotiation, it wasn't given an opportunity to present a bid. The 2007 season will be its last.
"We're disappointed," CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said. "We have a long tradition of making football available to Canadians across the country. And we were not given an opportunity by the CFL to participate in the bidding process."
League commissioner Tom Wright said the CFL did not solicit a bid from the CBC because the league was satisfied with the rights fee that TSN was willing to pay. TSN, as the master licensee in the current deal, had a window of exclusive negotiation.
Sources said TSN, along with its French language arm RDS, will pay the league about $16-million annually, or $2-million for each club.
The current deal, in which TSN-RDS and CBC carry regular-season games, with the CBC providing postseason coverage, is worth about $10-million annually.
Asked if the league took a risk by not accepting a bid from CBC, Tom Wright said: "You might say it was [a risk] But we felt very confident that what we finally arrived at with TSN and RDS was the right deal for our brand and the right deal for our league."
The CBC, which had planned to align with CanWest Global in its bid, is a free over-the-air broadcaster reaching about 13 million Canadian households. TSN, a cable service, is in about 8.8 million households.
"Had we been given the opportunity, the CFL would have seen that our offer would have given Canadians across the country free access to all CFL games on conventional television," Keay said.
However, in terms of audiences, Wright said there is little to choose between the CBC and TSN. Of the CFL's nine largest regular-season audiences in 2006, not counting the Labour Day and Thanksgiving doubleheaders, six were on TSN. Of the top four, three were on TSN.
In a tone that sounded somewhat elitist, Wright said the quality of an audience is sometimes more important than the quantity.
Wright is leaving his job at the end of this month, forced out by the owners. Although he was involved in the negotiation, it is believed Toronto Argonaut president Keith Pelley led the negotiating group. Pelley chairs the league's broadcast committee and is a former president of TSN.
Another reason for CFL not requesting a CBC bid might have been a deteriorating relationship between the two sides.
Club owners were angered when the CBC aired games without play-by-play audio during its lockout of employees in 2005. There were further tensions when the CBC opted to produce only Western Division playoff games in high-definition television in 2006.
The CBC could return as a Grey Cup broadcaster if TSN chooses to put the game on conventional TV. The CBC would have first rights to the telecast. However, King said the plan is to air the Cup on TSN only.
In the new deal, TSN will telecast every CFL regular-season and playoff games, plus the Cup, and plans to produce all games in HDTV.
Another incentive for the CFL was the multiplatform strategy presented by TSN. The rights acquired by TSN include live streaming of games, video on demand, mobile phone content and Internet interactivity.
Wright said the popularity of the TSN.ca brand was a factor is selling new media rights to the network.
"We came to the conclusion that we were best suited for the growth of our brand and growth of our overall business by partnering with TSN and RDS and allowing their technological expertise to build our conventional media assets."
The TSN agreement also sends sponsorship money to the clubs.
The issue of the CBC's termination as a rights holder somewhat eclipsed the significance of TSN, a cable service, acquiring the Grey Cup. King said it was "amazing" and the realization of a dream. Wright called it "tremendous and historic."
Pelley said, "It's certainly a landmark deal and it involves more than just the league.
"The actual teams will have the broadcaster sponsoring them with signage in the stadiums. It's a gargantuan deal on all fronts, from promotional to broadcast."
King said TSN will dedicate a second night of the week, in addition to Friday, for CFL telecasts.
Brace said the idea of putting the Grey Cup on CTV was discussed internally, but the main objective was to "build the profile" of TSN.
TSN's Chris Cuthbert and Brian Williams, both regulars on the CBC's Cup telecast until they unhappily left the network, will be important players on TSN's coverage of the championship game as announcer and host respectively.