CFL likes its younger view

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

Here's a bit of news sure to warm your insides on this Canada Day ... not that any of us need much help in that regard in the steamy nation's capital.

The Canadian Football League is off to a rousing start in 2005 in TV Land. Okay, so one week is hardly enough to start developing trends. But the powers-that-be at TSN and CBC have to like the numbers that rolled in for Week 1.

TSN's opening-night audience of 376,000 (Hamilton-Montreal) was up 4% over the network's 2004 season average. another 145,000 watched on RDS.

The bigger news came Saturday, when an impressive 492,000 tuned into the Toronto-Vancouver lid-lifter on the CBC. That was about a 40% jump over Montreal-Edmonton a year ago -- both of them Grey Cup rematches, it should be noted (a tradition that should continue, it says here).

The other two games -- Ottawa-Edmonton and Winnipeg-Saskatchewan -- both produced audiences of 290,000 or better. But considering both were blowouts and late starts, they're healthy figures.

"It's an excellent start," said CFL broadcast director Chris McCracken. "It's no secret there's a real feeling of regeneration in the league overall the last couple of seasons.

"The TV numbers are a really good indicator of where things are going."

There's a number that's actually more telling in the league's eyes -- its rating for the men's 18-34 demographic is "up significantly on both networks," said McCracken.

"Well into double-digit percentages ... that's very important to us."

The league also realizes conventional TV and radio aren't necessarily the only -- or best -- ways to attract the younger generation. Satellite radio is on a steep upward growth curve, McCracken said the CFL has already had discussion with Sirius Canada and Canadian Satellite Radio, which recently received CRTC approval to open for business.

But there are even funkier worlds to discover.

'CELL-O-VISION'

McCracken talks with enthusiasm about "cell-o-vision" -- the ability to transmit video to wireless phones.

"It's an interesting area," said McCracken. "It's all about delivering content on a number of different platforms, and reaching our fans wherever they are and whenever they want to listen."

What's important to note, he added, is that "the younger demographic has that ability to multi-task. They use their cellphones for text messaging. They're more than likely to be the first adopters of (video cell technology)."

Podcasting, which involves the must-have tech toy of today's youth -- the iPod -- might also be on the league's horizon, though McCracken said more study is needed on that front.

In the meantime, the league will forge ahead on the TV front. Through a number of deals with regional networks and America One, the CFL has boosted its U.S. penetration to 70 million viewers (up 20 million over 2004).

"It's about building our market south of the border, and exposing our product to more people," said McCracken.

At home, it seems, there's no problem in that area.

Said McCracken: "It's still too early (to discuss trends), but we're going in the right direction."


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