Will CFL's fans catch on?

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

With 5,500 of its employees still locked out, the CBC is pressing forward with Week 2 of its scheme to keep CFL broadcasts on the air. That means another week of no game announcers and -- undoubtedly -- more negative fallout sure to come by Monday, if not sooner.

But while the critics and league governors were aghast at what was presented last Saturday from Edmonton, funny thing is, viewers tuned in. Some 449,000 of them, a number above the CBC's season average of 408,000.

No doubt, more than quite a few of them were caught up in the buzz and speculation about the "no commentary" broadcast during the week. Whether the curiousity factor turns its eyes toward Regina's Taylor Field tomorrow night ... well, that might be the most interesting tale of all.

Surely, eyes in the league's office figure to be riveted firmly on the Roughriders-B.C. Lions matchup. There's no doubt the CFL is less than enamoured by the CBC's current plan. Toronto Argos president/CEO Keith Pelley told the Sun earlier this week he was "extremely disappointed" the CBC didn't consider stronger measures to improve its game presentation.

He talked about "a sense of bewilderment" among league governors about the CBC telecasts.

Understand this. Pelley was president of TSN before he joined the Argos. His background is in television production. Let's just say there's a reason why he heads up the league's marketing and broadcast committee.

No doubt his views have made their way into the office of CFL commissioner Tom Wright, who told a Toronto radio station this week "continuing like this for a long period of time won't work ... Ultimately, we have to do what's right for our fans. They deserve a quality broadcast."

Some audio improvements are on the way. Wright said two officials will wear wireless mikes tomorrow night, with the hope it can give fans a better sense of what's going on (though, it says here, some things are better left in the hands of analysts. That's what they're paid for, after all).

But if the sub-standard quality continues, what next? Some have suggested the league could force the CBC to hand games over to another broadcaster, such as TSN, Rogers Sportsnet or The Score. Especially with the big Labour Day doubleheader on the horizon.

Wright, however, said "at this stage, we can't invoke that sort of hammer on them. But a repeat of last week's broadcast would be unacceptable to me."

The CBC promises things will be better tomorrow night.

The league is demanding it.

Will viewers?

We'll know soon enough.

BONUS QUESTION: The NHL's new U.S. cable TV contract with Comcast/OLN could be on the verge of becoming a little more lucrative. Mediaweek.com reported this week that OLN has set its sights on acquiring Major League Baseball's Sunday-Wednesday cable package (ESPN's deal expires after this season; it still owns the Tuesday-Thursday rights for another year), adding further fuel to the speculation that Comcast plans to build a full-fledged sports network (the new Thursday-Saturday NFL package is also rumoured to be a target). Why does any of this interest the NHL? Here's why: A clause in its OLN contract states the network must fork over another $15 million to the NHL if it signs any deal with another pro sports league.

OK, BLUE JAYS: The Yankees-Blue Jays series has been a big deal for both Rogers Sportsnet and TSN this week. Monday's series opener attracted 577,000 viewers -- Sportsnet's largest Jays audience ever. On Tuesday, another 558,000 tuned in on TSN, the network's biggest Jays number since April 2001.

AROUND THE DIAL: Sportsnet has hired Erin Paul as a feature reporter and producer for Sportsnet News. She comes to the 'Net from CBC Sports, where she worked as a producer on CBC Sports Saturday. She also won a Gemini Award in 2000 for a Fifth Estate segment ... The Toronto Raptors broadcast schedule, released Monday, includes coverage of all 82 games on three networks -- Sportsnet (35), The Score (32) and TSN (15). Twenty games will be simulcast on Raptors NBA TV.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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