Three downs on the CFL on TSN: analyzing Week 17 television broadcasts

Courtesy: TSN/CFL

October is here and that means the CFL playoffs are right around the corner.

It’s also a busy time of year in sports and it’s only going to get busier with the Toronto Blue Jays playing playoff baseball and the start of the NHL regular season right around the corner. The fight for eyeballs is on.

Here are my thoughts on the week that was for the CFL on TSN.

First down

I’m surprised it took this long for TSN’s various feeds to be a source of controversy this year, but it finally happened over the course of last week.

Just about every season, a bunch of CFL fans get upset at one point or another when games aren’t on TSN1. That’s especially true when there’s something being broadcast that they consider less important than the CFL.

In their minds, fans appear to believe Bell ranks the content on its five feeds based on their importance. In reality, that’s only true of TSN2 as the other four feeds are essentially treated as regional feeds.

TSN3, TSN4, and TSN5 were created when the network lost the NHL’s national broadcast rights and were forced to place a greater emphasis on their regional broadcasts. Around that same time, the CRTC changed the rules that both Sportsnet and TSN had to follow. Essentially, both networks could operate the same with one national feed and multiple regional feeds. Before, Sportsnet was supposed to be a regional network, while TSN was a national network.

TSN3 was created for the Winnipeg Jets, TSN4 for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and TSN5 for the Ottawa Senators. Since then, the Montreal Canadians have made their way to TSN2 and without any rights in Alberta or B.C., TSN1 has become the default regional feed there. TSN2 is supposed to be an alternative feed and can’t show anything that’s on any of the other four feeds.

Many cable packages only include the appropriate regional TSN feed and TSN2. This means that when TSN has a scheduling conflict with other events it has to show alongside a CFL game, the appropriate regional feeds will take precedence over being on TSN1.

Even the mighty NFL was shuffled recently as TSN continued to show curling on TSN1 with the Thursday night game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers being shown on TSN3 and TSN5. That game still averaged around 711,000 viewers, while the previous week’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants averaged around 795,000 viewers.

Looking at CFL numbers provided by 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk, the most recent game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, which wasn’t on TSN 1, drew 453,700 viewers. On Labour Day, when the game has far less competition, the same teams drew 466,600. The figures are essentially the same.

Last week’s game between the Argos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers was only on TSN1 due to NHL games across the rest of the network, which isn’t the regional feed for either market. It’ll be interesting to see how that game does ratings-wise.

To sum it up, TSN doesn’t have a “main feed” and hasn’t for many years. If the CFL is on a feed other than TSN1, it doesn’t mean the network doesn’t care about the league. A lot of this confusion could probably have been avoided if Bell had differentiated the feeds more clearly instead of simply assigning them arbitrary numbers.

Second down

Week 17 in the CFL featured some pretty wild and unique moments.

We saw a rarely used, uniquely Canadian play when Alouettes receiver Jeshrun Antwi reset the downs thanks to a short onside punt. We later saw Montreal punter Joseph Zema force a fumble with his foot as he was falling down on a missed field goal attempt, setting up a fumble recovery for his teammate. Redblacks quarterback Dustin Crum also nailed the upright trying to throw out of the end zone, which was caught by Alouettes defensive end Shawn Lemon.

While the CFL was slow to get these wild and wacky moments on social media — and they really need to get this kind of stuff out there, as they are the moments that tend to go viral — that’s not my point here.

It’s time TSN brings in a rules analyst to help break down plays. There can be a lot of nuance to Canadian football and sometimes there’s stuff we don’t know about. Having a voice of authority to explain the details would be helpful for the audience.

Third down

I always enjoy it when the players have some fun with the broadcast.

We saw that on Friday night during the game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and B.C. Lions when defensive lineman Mathieu Betts got into a staring contest with the camera.

Later on Sportscentre, the stare-down was clocked in at 23 seconds. Players having fun always makes for good TV and any little bit of their personality they’re willing to show is a good thing.

Joel Gasson is a Regina-based sports writer, broadcaster and football fanatic. He is also a beer aficionado.