'A cooler, hipper league'

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

It's cool to be a CFL fan these days. Maybe more than it's ever been.

Among all the positive ratings numbers the CFL spawned this season -- and there are plenty of them -- none excite the league more than the gains it has made among younger viewers.

On TSN alone, CFL viewership is up 30% in the 18-34 demographic. But the league isn't stopping there in reaching younger viewers. As we've mentioned here before, the CFL has plans to hit youth where they live, so to speak -- on their computers or cellphones.

"Young viewers, young fans ... this is what they're using," said CFL broadcast director Chris McCracken, who's intrigued by the potential that lies in emerging technology such as mobile video. "Kids don't go to TV for their primary source of information anymore."

But lots more Canadians of all ages, it seems, are plopping themselves on the couch when there's a CFL game on the tube. TSN president Phil King believes the CFL's improved marketing efforts at the grassroots level play a key part in the ratings gains.

It's also why he sees no end in sight to the increases.

"I can't see why (they can't keep improving)," he said. "There's still growth (potential) there. The league is just now starting to reap the benefits of its grassroots marketing.

"(The CFL) is seriously trying to reach out to the younger generation. Once you're a fan of something when you're younger, you tend to still be one when you're older.

"The trick is to get that new blood. That's helpful."

TSN saw its audience average for CFL games rise to an all-time high of 395,000 this season -- a 27% increase over 2004. And the network finished on a high, attracting 643,000 sets of eyeballs for Sunday's Edmonton-Calgary season finale -- TSN's second-highest number of the year.

The CBC, meanwhile, finished with a per-game average of 462,000 viewers, up 6% over last year. Even a labour disruption, which led to a handful of "no commentary" broadcasts, couldn't slow the momentum.

"Certainly, we did exceed our expectations," said McCracken. "To have (audience) increases on both networks says a lot about the competitiveness on the field and the high level of production on both networks.

"Obviously, something is working. There's more interest in the league and in the broadcasts."

Or maybe, as King puts it, the CFL has truly become "a cooler, hipper league."

And as any good marketer will tell you, that's never a bad thing.

ROAD TO THE GREY CUP: The CBC gets the CFL playoff ball rolling with the East and West semi-finals Sunday. Mark Lee, analyst Chris Walby and reporter Elliotte Friedman work the Roughriders-Alouettes game in Montreal (3 p.m.), while it's Steve Armitage, Darren Flutie and reporter Bruce Rainnie in Calgary for the Eskimos-Stampeders tilt (6 p.m.) ... The CFL on CBC Pre-Game Show, fronted by Brian Williams, sets the table for both games at 2:30.

MONDAY NIGHT HIT: The much-ballyhooed Colts-Patriots game did wonders for Monday Night Football this week. It pulled in a 14.3 national rating, MNF's highest in five years. The game was seen in 15,719,000 homes, the largest such number for MNF since 1999.

MUST MISS TV: Last Sunday, CBS' Phil Simms had this to say about former NFL quarterback Gary Hogeboom: "He could have won five Super Bowls, and he'd still have gotten less publicity than he's getting for being on Survivor." Sad, but true.

AROUND THE DIAL: GolTV Canada, a 24-hour soccer channel now available on Rogers digital TV (channel 428), is airing two World Cup qualifying matches tomorrow -- Uruguay-Australia at 3 p.m., followed by Spain-Slovakia at 5 p.m. Return matches will be televised Wednesday ... Former Team 1200 reporter/producer Mike Ross has joined XM Satellite Radio's new NHL station, which is building toward a launch date before year's end.


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