Why did the CFL rush to extend their TV deal with TSN?

It looks like we could all be playing the Rod Black drinking game for a long time to come.

The league and TSN have come to an agreement on a new six-year broadcast rights extension. We don’t know all of the details but it looks like there’s a slight bump in money, about an extra four million dollars per year. That dollar figure could climb with some incentives that are built into the contract.

From TSN’s perspective, the deal makes all kinds of sense. Since their current pact wasn’t up until 2021, Bell Media had a head start in negotiating with the league on a new deal. This keeps away any potential offers from competitors that could drive up the price.

Also, even with the slight increase, the CFL comes in at a pretty good price point for TSN for the relatively consistent ratings they get from June through November. It also continues to give them exclusive access to one of Canada’s biggest sporting properties in the Grey Cup.

I know some of you want to see the playoffs and Grey Cup on CTV, but that won’t be happening any time soon. The Grey Cup is a property Bell can use to justify carriage fees they charge to television providers, where a large chunk of cable network revenue comes from now.

If the Grey Cup is going to return to traditional networks, that’s on the league. Could there be room for some regular season games? Perhaps.

While the timing of the deal is easy to understand from TSN’s perspective, I don’t really get it from the league’s side of things. It’s entirely possible that they left some money on the table by signing a new deal with their current partners so early.

The league could have had more leverage had they waited, say, another year. At this point, every dollar counts for this league and as good as TSN has been to the league over the years, this is still a business and the bottom line matters most.

The league could have even been really daring and got to a point where they could have heard some offers from other broadcasters or perhaps even signed deals with more than one network.

It’s hard to say if there would have been serious interest from other parties, but content is king. Even networks who may or may not care for a property now would potentially like to get at least a piece of the pie, even if it’s just to take it away from a competitor.

Would those offers have come? Who knows. Sportsnet is the obvious competitor but they’ve let go of a number of hockey personalities and slashed the Blue Jays budget as well. The dark horse for me might have been Shaw. I didn’t think they were sponsoring the league and Grey Cup just for the marketing. It could have been a long play to potentially land some games on Global or another one of their properties.

Unless the money was stupid, the CFL was never going to leave TSN entirely, but a game or two elsewhere could have been good for business thanks to extra cash and two broadcasters pushing each other to be better, something that doesn’t exist right now. Hopefully some of the ratings incentives can help with this.

Being on more than one channel might help the league feel less “minor” in the eyes of some. Not to mention, if the league does get to 10 teams, five games in a short period of time every week on one network might be a bit too much to ask of a shrinking industry in this country.

As for some other questions I have, like what TSN plans to do with digital rights (something that is becoming increasingly important) we will have to wait until we learn more about the deal.

All told, TSN has been good for the CFL and there’s nothing inherently wrong with continuing as is but it feels like the league might have missed an opportunity to take their business to another level.

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