In an ongoing attempt to find ways to make the CFL a larger, more successful professional sports league, I will be looking at ideas that can push the CFL to the forefront of pro sports in Canada and North America. I have titled these articles "Ways to Grow the Game."
We live in a time of instant news, social media, and sports leagues and teams having their own TV stations. The NFL Network is one of the most popular stations in the US, Leafs TV is very successful in Canada, Raptors NBA TV has been a huge hit with basketball fans north of the 49th parallel, and the MLB Network is gaining traction down south after just launching in January, 2009. Heck, even the Big Ten Conference (an NCAA body) has gotten in on the act. This begs the question: when will we be getting a CFL Network?
The CFL is more popular now than it has been in decades. Fans turn out in droves to watch games. The ratings on TSN are through the roof. The annual CFL Canadian Draft is now televised. The Grey Cup is a ratings juggernaut. Merchandise can't be kept in stock. Dare I say it, the CFL is cool. With the league gaining unprecedented success it would seem the time is nearly here to create a dedicated channel for Canadian football. (NOTE: At one time there was a Canadian Football Network, but it only lasted from 1987-1990 and isn't the same as the network that I am proposing here.)
The video library that the CFL has access to is unparalleled. Imagine all the great games that could be rebroadcast on a CFL Network. The league could look at the model that the NFL uses for their network when trying to start their own. Classic games, in-season replays of games, weekly shows dedicated to each team or division and original programing to grow the CFL brand. All the tools are there to make CFL TV or CFL Network a smash success.
With all the money that TSN has sunk into the CFL product, it would only make sense for them to one day try and start a CFL-dedicated channel. The CFL has always been a little behind the other leagues when it comes to change. The league didn't broadcast all its games until very recently. It used to be that CBC would only start showing games from Labour Day to the Grey Cup, with TSN showing some games from opening week to Labour Day. Now every single game is broadcast. In the 1990s the league blacked out games, which cost them an untold number of fans. A generation was lost because of this; fans who could have been, never were. The tables are turning, and clearly the CFL is consistently making the correct decisions.
Under the direction of Commissioner Mark Cohon, the league has seen exponential growth across the board. Like I said before, the CFL is more popular now than it has been in over 30 years, and adding a CFL Network could keep the positive momentum going.
I understand developments like making a channel devoted to a sports league don't happen overnight. I don't expect to see a CFL Network in the next year or two. Maybe five or so years from now is a more realistic goal. I just believe that something like this needs to happen for the CFL to grow as a brand. Hopefully within the next 5 years the league will have a 9th team (Ottawa) and, perhaps, a 10th (Quebec City? Moncton? Halifax?). A CFL Network would be a reasonable extension of the CFL brand, a way for the league to bring in even more revenue and keep the CFL going throughout the off-season, similarly to what the NFL does with the NFL Network. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the old saying. With a channel dedicated wholly to the CFL, the league would never be out of the spotlight. Hopefully, some day soon, we'll all be tuning in to CFL Tonight on a nightly basis for our CFL news all year round.