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CFL games to air on ESPN2 and NBCSN in U.S. and be webcast on ESPN3—reports

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

Reports Sunday night suggest ESPN2 will show CFL games this season.

The CFL's U.S. broadcast schedule for this season remains officially unknown (as of Sunday night, the league's broadcast page still read "The 2013 US broadcast schedule will be announced shortly"), but network programming schedules seem to have let the cat out of the bag. U.S. sports media blogger Ken Fang of Fang's Bites and Awful Announcing passed along the news Sunday from Twitter user Andy Pierce, who found CFL games (including June 29's Saskatchewan-Edmonton clash) listed on ESPN2 on ESPN's programming website for the first several weeks of the season. (This has apparently been pointed out on the StampsFans board before, but hasn't gained wide attention until now.) It was known that web service ESPN3 would be carrying games, but the ESPN2 news is new. Moreover, SB Nation's Steve Lepore chipped in that NBC Sports Network is apparently set to continue on with the CFL broadcasts they started picking up last year, so if the schedules are accurate, the CFL could potentially see two games televised in the U.S. each week. That would be a big step forward for the league's southern exposure, which is critical—not for fans or money, but rather for current and future player recruitment.

As has been discussed here many times over the years, the CFL needs as much of a presence on American television as it can get. Unlike most sports TV rights deals (including the CFL's northern television deal), this isn't really about revenue for the league or even growing the fanbase, though. It's long been suggested the CFL's income from U.S. broadcast deals is minimal to nil, and while reaching out to existing and new fans in America can be valuable, that's hardly the primary goal here.

What really matters to the league is improving their ability to attract talented players from the U.S., and a solid TV deal south of the border is crucial for both the present and the future of player recruitment. Current players are much more likely to be happy in the CFL and seek to stick around if their families and friends at home can easily watch them play, and that also boosts the profile of the league, putting it on the radar for future prospects. Thus, the success or failure of a U.S. TV deal for the league isn't measured by how much they get paid or how many people watch the broadcasts (although that latter metric's necessary to maintain good American TV deals going forward); it's about if the deal will allow the league to keep its current players satisfied and potentially aid them in recruiting new ones down the road.

It's worth keeping in mind that there are a lot of details still to come out here. We don't know just how many games will be televised each week, and we don't know if the dual-network setup is just for a few weeks in the summer or if it's a longer-term deal. We also don't know if the playoffs and the Grey Cup will be televised this year; the Grey Cup and some of the playoff games were shown live on NBCSN last year, which was a big step forward for the CFL, but is more difficult than arranging live broadcasts during the summer given that college football and the NFL are both in full swing by November. Thus, this news can't be fully evaluated until we know how the whole year's broadcast schedule will shape up (and there's also even the potential that this could all be thanks to inaccurate information on a network programming guide).

For the moment, though, having CFL games broadcast on both ESPN2 and NBCSN seems like a substantial gain for the league. NBCSN has recently been involved with the league, but it's been a while since ESPN's TV side broadcast games (although that did lead to such great things as Gus Johnson and Mike Mayock calling the 1994 Grey Cup). If both networks are going to broadcast CFL games this year, that would seem to be a tremendous positive for the league's efforts to boost their southern exposure.

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