CFL considering testing ‘direct-to-consumer’ streaming in US market: commissioner Randy Ambrosie

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The Canadian Football League is finally looking to modernize their broadcast offerings, though don’t expect changes to come for Canadian consumers anytime soon.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie joined 980 CJME’s The Green Zone this week and faced the usual queries regarding the future of the league in an evolving broadcast landscape.

Some have questioned whether Bell Media’s current monopoly is healthy in an era where more fans are cutting the cord and turning to cable. While the commissioner continued to praise TSN for their investment in the league, he acknowledged that the board of governors has been carefully considering that exact dilemma.

“This is exactly the kind of question that we are exploring,” Ambrosie admitted. “On a very positive note, our relationship with Bell runs ’23, ’24, ’25 and ’26, it’s four more years and we are really excited about that relationship with TSN and Bell. We both know, TSN and the CFL, that a bigger, stronger CFL is good for everybody and they’re working with us to help realize that goal. But more broadly, we are looking at all of the pieces that are going to be necessary.”

Broadcast diversification has been a hot topic around the league after the sale of the Montreal Alouettes to Quebec telecommunications billionaire Pierre Karl Peladeau, who owns TVA Sports — the chief competitor for TSN’s francophone affiliate, RDS. Speculation has run rampant that the purchase lays the foundation for a bid for the league’s French-language rights in four years’ time, breaking the vice-grip held by TSN since 2008.

The network currently pays approximately $50 million CAD annually to be the CFL’s exclusive rights holder, making them the league’s most important financial partner. However, critics argue that a lack of competition has created a stagnant product and prevented innovative avenues for growth, including holding them back from the streaming market.

That could be set to change, as the league is working on testing new ideas with their much-talked-about data and technology partner.

“This was one of the reasons why Genius Sports was such an important partnership because they’re also helping us to look at how this landscape is going to unfold and what are those tools that we’re going to have to have available. Do we start building out a small, direct-to-consumer offer?” Ambrosie said.

“One of the places that we’re thinking about doing that is potentially in the US market. Get some experience, learn some valuable lessons, understand how it works. We’re not that far away from announcing our US broadcast partner, how do we collaborate with them? What lessons can be learned there?”

The commissioner has been teasing a new American television deal since January with no updates, looking to improve on their previous deal with ESPN which paid them between $100,000 and $200,000 USD annually. However, the idea of an American streaming option has not been addressed publicly to this point, potentially providing a long-desired avenue for future growth.

The CFL has offered direct-to-consumer streaming before, but only to international audiences through Visaic and YARE Media. Fans wishing to stream games in Canada, the US, the U.K., and Ireland have only ever been able to do so through online services offered by their respective broadcast partners — TSN Go, ESPN+, or BT Sport.

“The good news is this is a demonstration of a board that is very active, very progressive, and encouraging us to think about all the pieces that will be necessary for this league to reach its potential,” the commissioner stressed.

Ambrosie provided no assurances that American streaming would be available this season but the news that it is even being considered will delight many fans. While the CFL has been late to the modern age, their arrival could soon be imminent.