We're almost at the start of the CFL season, but fans south of the border still don't know where the games will be shown. Of course, that's not all that unusual; the deal to have games carried on NFL Network for the second consecutive season wasn't struck until June 21 last year, less than 10 days before the first broadcast on June 30. Still, a report has popped up that the CFL may not be back on NFLN this year and may be relegated to online-only feeds. While that information hasn't been confirmed yet, it's certainly significant, as that would represent a step backwards for the league that could adversely affect future player recruitment.
Here's the report in question, from (Middleton, NY) Times Herald-Record sportswriter Ken McMillan at hudsonvalley.com (part of the Dow Jones Local Media Group, which also owns the Times Herald-Record):
The NFL Network will not be airing weekly games from the Canadian Football League this season, a NFLN spokesman said Friday. Though yet to be announced by ESPN, CFL games are beginning to show up on ESPN's future schedules on web channel ESPN3.com. CFL games, which are produced by TSN in Canada, generally air on Friday and Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons and even the occasional holiday Mondays.
Of course, nothing's set in stone until the CFL announces where its games will be shown, and a ESPN3 presence won't necessarily translate into no TV presence; games that weren't on NFLN were carried on ESPN3 last year. It's interesting that Montreal defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold tweeted last month that the CFL would be on NFLN again, too. That could be just him going off what he saw last year, though; I don't expect assistant coaches to be up on the innermost workings of league-wide media deals, as they've got more than enough on their plate in other areas.
Brendan Taman spoke of the benefits to a NFLN deal in May.If it's possible, though, it would certainly be to the CFL's advantage to strike another deal with NFLN (or perhaps even with a competitor like ESPN or the NBC Sports Network). While promoting the game to fans in the U.S. is nice, the far more crucial element is making it so current players' families can watch their games easily and new, up-and-coming football players can view the CFL as a reasonable playing option. A televised presence south of the border is huge for the CFL's credibility with and appeal to players. Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman confirmed that last month, saying "With the exposure we have, especially on the NFL Network, a lot of these guys have had exposure to us."
That south-of-the-border television presence is tremendously valuable for the CFL, especially from a recruitment standpoint. If your league's on TV regularly, and on a reasonable channel, it becomes a more well-known entity and one that more players will seriously consider. The ability to have their families watch from home also helps to keep current American players from feeling lonely. A deal isn't the easiest thing to land, especially given that the CFL doesn't tend to draw massive television ratings in the U.S., but it's an important goal for the league to continue to pursue. We'll see what they're able to do.