CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says a new deal with broadcaster ESPN is a key piece as the league tries to expand its fan base in the United States.
The ESPN and CFL announced a multi-year extension to their partnership on Monday, a deal Ambrosie had been negotiating since last spring.
“We started this conversation with a couple of executives from ESPN and by the end of the day there was a whole crew of people from College Gameday,” Ambrosie said.
The original five-year agreement with ESPN was signed before the 2014 season. At least 17 regular season games, East and West Division Finals and the Grey Cup were broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 for the duration of that contract. Any other games that weren’t put on those channels were made available on ESPN3 which streamed across the United States.
The new deal has a minimum of 20 games, including the Grey Cup broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2. More than 65 regular season games will be available exclusively on ESPN+ the subscription streaming service. Every CFL game watchable in some form for viewers in the United States.
“Most powerful [NCAA] teams, five of those players are probably of the physical type to play at the NFL level, when you’re a 365-pound nose tackle you go sideline-to-sideline in our league you would be coughing up a lung,” Ambrosie said.
“Five of them are perfectly well suited to our league, their athleticism is staggeringly good, but their physical profile is different. And in that 10 probably four, five and six could go into either league.”
During the 2018 CFL season, three-down games on ESPN2 averaged 163,000 viewers, up 19 per cent over 2017 ratings.
“We need to do more to expand our fan base in the U.S. because so many of our players come from NCAA programs,” Ambrosie said.
“Many of those players are stars coming out of those programs with fans that love them. These are not people that need to be convinced to be a football fan.”