Some unsolicited advice for TSN heading into their new TV deal

Like it or not, the CFL on TSN is set to continue for at least another eight years.

The league and Bell Media announced a new long-term extension during Grey Cup week. I had some thoughts on the timing of the deal, but none the less, it’s going forward.

Even though no one asked and no one will listen to little ol’ me, I’ve got some thoughts on what TSN can do to improve their conventional broadcasts and what else they could do with the product over the course of their deal to not only improve the experience for the fans but also their return on investment.

Time for an update

One of the first and easiest things TSN can do is update the look of their broadcast.

It seems like TSN has been using the same graphics package for a long time now. Down south, the sports channels and national networks (other than CBS) are updating and changing their packages quite frequently.

I’m no expert on what the new look should be, but a refresh is overdue.

They also could include more information on-screen during broadcasts. This season, down and distance markers on the field appeared on the broadcast during a Redblacks-Lions game, except they featured Oakland Raider and L.A. Rams’ logos. Why aren’t these already on the screen? Including play clocks would help too.

TSN jumped on the first down line pretty quickly but hasn’t done much in terms of graphics innovation since. I’m not suggesting a glowing puck-type thing, but there’s a lot more they can do. Some of it I’m sure is accessible through their minority owners ESPN.

Let’s install cable cams in every stadium too, not just Toronto and Hamilton. Other ideas there could also include pylon and goal post cams.

If there’s one thing you can say about NFL and XFL broadcasts, even when the game is a dud, the broadcast is still generally interesting to watch. That could be because I’m a nerd. I can’t really say the same thing for TSN.

Give me pre-game

Over the years, TSN has worked on trying to tell stories, despite the roadblocks some in football ops departments have put up on media doing so. We don’t want your secrets, we want to be able to tell your players’ stories.

However, there’s a time and a place for it. It’s called pre-game shows. Not the third quarter while a big play is going on.

We’ve seen an increase in CFL programming before games, but there needs to be more. One pre-game show before every block of games. Whether there’s one game that day or three (though, the triple headers might be proving to be a bit much), I’d like to see at least half an hour dedicated to the games to come.

Part of the NFL’s hype machine is their variety of pre-game programming that tells stories, previews games, talks fantasy and rumours (this would also require the league/teams to be forthright about things like depth charts and injuries). These features have lived on Sportscentre, but fewer and fewer people are tuning into traditional late night sports news programs.

Giving fans an opportunity to learn more about players and teams across the league can help grow many casual fans who only really follow their team into consumers of the entire league.

Grey Cup hype

Along those lines, I’d love to see TSN pump even more into the Grey Cup.

It’s already one of their most advanced broadcasts of the year — in any sport — but there’s still potential for more.

The NCAA National Championship Game on ESPN is a good model to follow. They have multiple feeds with different ways to watch the game. From instant analysis, to coaches breaking down the game and local radio broadcasts.

It would be good to see TSN do something similar. That many different feeds probably isn’t feasible given the current state of Canadian media but at least one alternate feed — perhaps the coaches feed — could be shown online.

Let’s get digital

Like under the current agreement, it appears that TSN will continue to own all video rights no matter the platform.

While I would have preferred to see the CFL sell off streaming rights to another entity, not all hope is lost on this front.

You only have to look at Bell’s main competitor Rogers to see you can turn a broadcast rights deal into a digital opportunity. When Rogers massively overpaid for the NHL’s broadcast rights, they also acquired the rights to what was NHL Gamecentre Live (now Rogers NHL live).

They saw that as the future of sports broadcasting. Whether that actually happens or not is another story.

Even if it doesn’t turn into the be all, end all, it’s still been a good property for Rogers to own. I feel like Bell could make some decent money with little investment to roll out a CFL package for fans to purchase, giving them access to live and archived games, CFL-related programming and perhaps some other goodies.

Yes, you can subscribe to TSN Direct at basically $20 a month, but that wouldn’t offer the extras that fans would expect from a fairly pricey service for what it is.

It would also be nice to see the grip on social content loosened. Teams should be allowed to post different angles of plays that they produce themselves during games. You see it in other sports. Also separate highlight packages after the game would help enhance marketing.

An inside look

One thing we’ve seen this season in the XFL and last season in the AAF is a direct feed into what’s happening in the video replay booth.

Adding this to the broadcast would bring fans inside the decisions made during the game.

This won’t mean that every call would be correctly made, but at least we’d get insight into what the replay official is thinking.

The good news? It seems the league is looking into it.

Talent shuffle

I’m going to start off this section by being clear that I’m not advocating for anyone to lose their job.

That said, it feels like the broadcast crews could use a shot in the arm and I don’t just mean Matt Dunigan (who I actually quite enjoy in the booth — his passion is contagious).

A couple of years ago CBS made the bold move of shifting Phil Sims, who many didn’t like, to the studio panel for Tony Romo. It turned out to be a genius decision as Romo has since become an even bigger star than he was when he played. It’s also seemingly rejuvenated Jim Nantz as he sounds like he’s having fun broadcasting NFL games again.

I don’t think any of the current crop of colour analysts are as bad as Phil Sims but some new blood could be good for the league. Henry Burris did a pre-season game to rave reviews a few years ago, so he’s an option. So could the recently retired Travis Lulay (who has done some work for Sportsnet). He’s always been very articulate and good with the media in the past. Playing in the league recently is also a major asset.

Even without making a major change, when or if the Atlantic Schooners get on board, TSN is going to need at least another broadcast crew, if not more. In a perfect world, each game would have its own dedicated crew. They could spend the entire week focusing on just one game, which should allow for more developed talking points and storylines. Considering the current media landscape, budget probably prevents this from happening.

I know there’s going to be a lot of comments on Rod Black here and I’m not his biggest fan either, but I don’t see that changing especially with an increase in broadcasts on the horizon.

Hopefully some of this kind of stuff is included in the new deal. We’ll have to wait and see as details start to become more public.

So, there are some of my thoughts. What would you like to see added to the CFL on TSN?

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