CBC jumps feet first into soccer

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

The television images will show the nation a full, brand-spanking-new stadium on the Toronto lakefront -- perhaps the clearest indication of all there's indeed a buzz about this newest entry on the Canadian professional sports scene.

But can Major League Soccer -- more precisely, Toronto FC -- gain a foothold with viewers beyond southern Ontario? We'll begin to find out tomorrow, when the MLS expansion team plays its first home match at 19,500-seat BMO Field.

CBC Sports will beam all the action nationwide starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. And the network is pulling out all the stops with a 21/2-hour production that includes pre- and post-game material, and a wealth of features about the team and its players.

It's also home base for Sports Saturday and host Scott Russell. But the question remains: Will Canadian soccer fans buy in to this new arrival, which is 0-3 and goal-less this season?

The network is betting the answer will be yes.

"It's hard to define what the expectation is (for TV audiences)," CBC Sports executive producer Chris Irwin said. "But I think we're jumping in at an excellent time. Soccer is cresting in interest (in Canada) with the U-20 (World Cup) tournament this summer, and with the World Cup last year."

Irwin attended the MLS Cup final in Dallas last year, in a sold-out stadium in a "festival atmosphere."

"It was impressive to see we're getting on board with something that is so well established," he said. "We would rather start to produce a soccer property that is gaining in momentum."

CBC will air 14 Toronto FC matches this season -- The Score and Rogers Sportsnet have eight games each -- plus the league final.

FEELING THE DRAFT: ESPN's NFL draft coverage rarely lacks for chatter. But the network best clear aside plenty of time for its newest addition, outspoken Carolina Panthers receiver KEYSHAWN JOHNSON. "The least of my worries is ... whether I rub a guy the wrong way," he said in a conference call this week. Added ESPN senior producer JAY ROTHMAN: "Keyshawn has the tell-it-like-it-is factor. He shoots straight." ... TSN is carrying ESPN's coverage, noon-3 p.m. tomorrow. Its alternate feed picks up another four hours, 6-10 p.m. ... If you're a hard-core draftnik, the NFL Network is the place to be. Wall-to-wall coverage runs 11 a.m.-11 p.m. tomorrow, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Ottawa's Jesse Palmer is one of the draft analysts.


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