For many years, US CFL fans have had to search long and hard to watch an entire season of Canadian Football. The Canadian Football League has a difficult time in obtaining a consistent American television partner. NBC picked up a couple of games during the 1982 NFL strike, but blowouts led to low ratings and the idea was quickly dropped.
After that failed attempt, ESPN, FNN-Score and SportsChannel America all carried the CFL into the early 1990's.
When the CFL expanded to several US markets in the1990's, ESPN2 carried games teaming current sportscasting icons Gus Johnson and Mike Mayock. When the CFL returned to being a strictly Canadian league, ESPN2 dropped their games.
In 2004, America One brought together a consortium of regional sports networks to air the CFL and this continued until 2008.
Only since 2010 have major US outlets begun to pick Canadian Football. For 2010 and 2011, NFL Network aired the CFL, but only a partial schedule and never any postseason games. Last year, NBC Sports Network signed a contract midway into the CFL season and aired 9 games including the Grey Cup.
ESPN has had online rights to the CFL dating back to 2008 streaming either through ESPN360 or ESPN3.
But now, CFL fans not only have ESPN3, they also have two, count 'em, two television networks! ESPN2 and NBC Sports Network will combine for 22 games including two in the postseason and the Grey Cup.
What brought this on? Inventory. With the CFL playing in July and August in what are known to be slow months, it provides fresh summer content for both ESPN2 and NBCSN. However, due to its college football commitments in the fall, ESPN2's schedule will end on July 25.
ESPN3 will stream 55 games including two playoff contests while ESPN 2 will air five games.
As for NBC Sports Network, it will air 14 regular season games beginning with tonight's season opener between Montreal and Winnipeg. In addition, NBCSN will air the Eastern and Western Finals as well as the 101st Grey Cup. Awful Announcing has learned that the agreement between NBCSN and the CFL is for this season only. No financial terms were released.
NBCSN also has online rights so all games seen on the network will also be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. That means the Grey Cup will be seen on NBC's platforms.
ESPN2 and NBCSN will utilize CFL rightsholder TSN which will provide the production and announcers for all games.
It's a cornucopia of Canadian Football in the United States. Twenty two games on television will be quite the extravaganza. And if the arrangement can be made again next season perhaps ESPNEWS can be used which could lead to even more of the CFL on your HD set.
I think the ESPN2 share has more to do with NBC Sports Network airing the Tour de France in July. Outside of opening week, when both NBC Sports Network and ESPN2 have a game, there is usually a Game of the Week format being done here in the US. Weeks 2-5, when NBC Sports Network is covering the tour, is when ESPN2 is showing games.
If it were solely because of college football, then ESPN2 should have been able to broadcast an additional 3 weeks, seeing as college football kicks off August 28. Personally I would hope that the CFL would look to ESPN to become the regular TV partner next year and let ESPN broadcast every game on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, or ESPN3.