Three downs on the CFL on TSN: analyzing Week 1 television broadcasts

Screenshot courtesy: TSN

Welcome to a new feature from yours truly on 3DownNation: three downs on the CFL on TSN.

This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a few years now but frankly never really carved out the time to do. As someone who used to work in broadcasting, it’s an industry I’m passionate about, even if I’m happy being behind the keyboard now.

In this space, I’ll share my thoughts — both good and bad — on the week that was on the league’s television broadcasts. Without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the opening week of the CFL on TSN’s 2023 season.

First down

Rarely does one segment on a CFL broadcast seem to unite fans like the one we saw on Sunday night during the Elks-Riders broadcast.

In the third quarter of the game, we got a look behind the scenes at the player interviews TSN conducts on walkthrough day. This footage is used when you hear players and coaches talking throughout the game and most of it is usually pretty mundane.

This past week, Trevor Harris decided to have some fun with it. The veteran quarterback has been encouraging teammates to create their own nicknames but with an added twist: players have only 15 seconds to choose and they can’t pick something they’ve previously been called. If players fail to come up with something, Harris picks a bad nickname.

Harris ambushed receiver Derel Walker during his interview when we learned he picked the name “The One.”

However, the moment we all remember came later when Harris sat down with reporter Ryan Rishaug, who was put on the clock.

“You’ve got 12 seconds [left to choose a nickname], butt sniffer,” Harris told Rishaug, hinting at what his nickname would be if the TSN reporter didn’t come up with something else.

Rishaug landed on “Glue Guy” but something tells me it might not stick as much as Harris’ choice. It was a great segment and really let us see a little bit of Harris’ personality and leadership style.

Second down

It’s been a few years since TSN was forced to make some changes to their play-by-play crews following the departure of Chris Cuthbert, the longtime voice of the CFL, to Sportsnet.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t get to hear them work together all that often, but it’s abundantly clear at this point that the best duo TSN has to offer is Dustin Nielson alongside colour analyst Duane Forde. Their broadcast on Friday night flowed better than any of the others that week.

They also had some fun when the Bombers gave them their new “yard dog,” a yard-long hotdog adorned with indulgent toppings, which always adds to a broadcast.

I think Nielson has been TSN’s best play-by-play guy since Cuthbert’s departure and he’s been making strides in the booth every year. He sounds even more polished this season and appears ready to make the jump to the big chair for the Grey Cup game, an assignment I hope he gets.

As for Forde, I appreciate that he comes prepared with stuff to talk about like every analyst does but he also lets the game tell the story. He breaks down what he sees and doesn’t try to pigeonhole something that doesn’t work.

If the CFL hopes to grow, it’s time for new voices around the league.

Third down

If you were hoping this would be the year that we finally wouldn’t have to endure any more in-game interviews, your hopes were dashed not even two quarters into the season.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie was on hand for the first game of the season in Calgary between the Stampeders and Lions and was brought into the booth for yet another lengthy discussion in the second quarter.

This is something that has been happening for far too long. It takes away from the game when the focus needs to be on the action. Almost without fail, something important happens during these interviews and Thursday’s game was no exception.

Two plays into the interview, Vernon Adams Jr. tossed his second touchdown pass of the game and Smith was forced to interrupt Ambrosie announce it, which was awkward and unnecessary.

What’s even worse about this interview was there was a pregame show on which Ambrosie could have been interviewed. Halftime would have worked as well. It makes sense to hear from the commissioner on the league’s opening week but it simply doesn’t make sense to turn attention away from game itself.

Enough is enough already.

Some other thoughts

  • It’s about time timeouts were added to the score bug.
  • It’s great to see a cable cam in every stadium; there’s a bit of a learning curve that’s coming with that, but it definitely helps the broadcast.
  • I did not like the CFL vs. NFL rules bit during the Lions-Stamps game. I get it’s the first game on CBS Sports Network but there are more subtle ways to educate a new audience.
  • A rare moment stood out from the panel when Milt Stegall and Davis Sanchez demonstrated how a player like Elks’ receiver Geno Smith makes catches over a defensive back; I enjoyed it.

Watchability Rankings

  1. Hamilton vs. Winnipeg: as mentioned, Nielson and Forde work very well together with the right balance of energy and information.
  2. Ottawa vs. Montreal: I always appreciate Matt Dunigan’s enthusiasm in the booth and would like to see him used more in that role.
  3. Saskatchewan vs. Edmonton: two and three were pretty close this week, to be honest.
  4. BC vs. Calgary: the in-game interview is hard to overcome.
Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.