CFL signs new TV/radio/digital deal with TSN, boosting revenues through 2018

The CFL has signed a new media rights deal with Bell Media for the 2014-2018 seasons, which includes television broadcasts on TSN and RDS, digital rights and exclusive radio rights to the Grey Cup for TSN and TEAM radio stations. The move wasn't unexpected, as The Globe And Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin wrote the league had reached an agreement in principle with TSN on Feb. 1, and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon told The Regina Leader-Post's Murray McCormick a deal was "close" at the end of February. The numbers involved are notable, though. A Canadian Press source pegs the deal as worth more than $30 million annually, and CHED's Dave Campbell has the numbers at around $4 million per team (which, given that the league will have nine teams in 2014 thanks to Ottawa's return, suggests a total deal of around $36 million annually). That would about double each team's current take (around $1.9 million in 2010), and that's promising for the league.

Strong television revenues are essential for the CFL at this point, as attendance and gate revenues aren't consistently great in every market. something most professional sports leagues are struggling with thanks to improvements in TV technology that makes staying home to watch more compelling than it once was. The TV side has been impressive over the last several years, though, and ratings rose six per cent on average across TSN and RDS last season. Moreover, on average, CFL broadcasts are TSN's second-highest rated regular property (behind only hockey), and in some years, they've even topped the average hockey broadcast. That has a lot to do with why the CFL landed what looks like a pretty good television deal despite the lack of competition here.

Bell and Rogers collectively control the Canadian TV sports media landscape at the moment, particularly that Rogers now owns The Score's TV side, and Rogers has previously expressed very little interest in the CFL (although they're reportedly gunning for CIS rights, including the Vanier Cup). That's reasonable for them, as their key property is the Blue Jays, whose season significantly overlaps with the CFL. It does mean the CFL's alternatives were limited, though. CBC reportedly expressed interest in a split package with TSN, but that wasn't a great solution from many standpoints; splitting games between networks can be awkward, it removes a lot of incentive for networks to promote the league (as it's no longer their exclusive property) and CBC doesn't have much other sports content where the CFL can be promoted regularly (unlike TSN, which can feature it on everything from SportsCentre to Off The Record). Add it up and a TSN deal seems like the best fit for the CFL, so it's impressive that they still pulled in a solid amount of money despite limited other suitors.

What's the CFL going to do with the new money? Don't expect it to all stay with teams; the league's CBA expires after this season, and it would seem logical that the players' association will push for a higher salary cap and higher minimum salaries in the next agreement thanks to this extra revenue. For reference, the cap is $4.4 million per team in 2013. With each team hauling in almost that much from this media deal, it would be tough for the league to keep the cap that low. The cap isn't likely to rise by the full amount of extra revenue here, though, so that should leave the league and its teams with some extra money. That could help pay for stadium improvements or serve as a buffer against rough financial times. Regardless of what it's eventually used for, though, the CFL's teams should have additional revenue through 2018 (and that's probably a smart endpoint for this contract, as the league may be close to further expansion by then or may have decided to stick with nine teams, each of which would affect the TV landscape). That's good news for the future of the league.