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Volume 21 No. 43
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CFL set to extend media rights deal with ESPN

Startup football properties, like Charlie Ebersol’s AAF and Vince McMahon’s XFL, have been getting plenty of ink these days as they prepare to launch spring leagues over the next year.

In the midst of those well publicized launches, the 60-year-old Canadian Football League also has been making moves to grow and modernize. The league, known for only having three downs and much wider fields than the NFL, will announce a multiyear renewal of its media rights deal in the U.S. with ESPN this week.

“I’m always mindful of what’s going on in the world around me,” CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said of the spring football upstarts. “But it’s more important to us that we execute our plan.”

Financial terms for the multiyear deal were not disclosed though Ambrosie said the new deal represented “an improvement in economics for us reflective of last season’s ratings.”

ESPN2 coverage of CFL games averaged 163,000 viewers last season, a 19 percent increase from the previous year.

At least 20 games per season will be on an ESPN linear network, including the Grey Cup championship.
Photo: cfl

The new deal calls for at least 20 games per season on one of ESPN’s linear television networks, usually ESPN or ESPN2. That includes at least one division final and the Grey Cup championship game. It will place at least 65 CFL games on the direct-to-consumer service, ESPN+. The CFL says every game will be available.

“I feel like we have the right partnership with ESPN,” Ambrosie said. “We have big, bold, new plans to expand our league and grow our business.”

This is part of what Ambrosie has referred to as CFL 2.0, which means expanding globally. This week, the CFL is holding its first scouting combine in Mexico City. It is looking into partnering with American football leagues in other countries and scouting players outside of the U.S. and Canada.

The multiyear deal with ESPN gives the CFL a consistent outlet in the United States. ESPN has carried CFL games since 2014. Prior to that, the league bounced around from NFL Network to NBC Sports Network.

Ambrosie led the negotiations for the CFL. Linear programming executive Gregg Morriss and direct-to-consumer programming executive John Lasker led negotiations for ESPN.

The CFL season runs from June through November.

Christina Litz, chief marketing, digital and strategy officer, was the lead negotiator for the CFL.