With U.S. ratings up, CFL signs new deal with ESPN

According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, the CFL is set to extend its American broadcast deal with ESPN.

The new arrangement is similar to the old one: at least 20 regular season games on legacy networks ESPN or ESPN2, including the Grey Cup, and 65 games on the paid ESPN+ app. The original deal with ESPN was signed in 2014 after stints with the NFL Network and the NBC Sports Network.

The story says that the CFL averaged 163,000 viewers on ESPN2 last season, a 19 per cent increase from 2017. The presence of Johnny Manziel in Canada likely had something to do with that, given that his debut was the most-watched CFL game in ESPN history.

In Canada, rights holder TSN saw a slight ratings decrease for 2018 – despite a regular season that saw a modest uptick. Overall, ratings declined 0.3 per cent for the 81-game season, including playoffs, though the average audience is still over a half million viewers per game.

Viewership for the CFL’s championship game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Ottawa Redblacks was just 3.1 million on TSN – a decline of over 23 per cent from the 2017 game. It’s the lowest-rated game since 2001 (2.7 million) and the worst showing for TSN since they took over the broadcast rights 11 years ago.

Interestingly, terms of the deal were not disclosed so, at this point anyway, it’s impossible to know what the CFL is getting paid – if they are getting paid at all. Ambrosie did say that the new deal “an improvement in economics for us reflective of last season’s ratings.”

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