The Canadian Football League, the plucky little collective that has survived almost in spite of itself since 1958, is about to enter its post-season. It’s my favourite three sporting weekends of the year, culminating in the 99th Grey Cup (or, to put it in terms Americans would understand, Grey Cup XCIV).
I love good ol’ CFL. A lot of Canadians snub the league because it’s not “world class” like the behemoth that is the National Football League. Our players are smaller, and somehow lesser athletes, to listen to the distracters. In their thinking, our game is somehow lesser simply because it’s, well, Canadian.
That is so Canadian, isn’t it?. I could argue back and forth about the merits of both games and both leagues, but why bother? I have nothing against the NFL. My problem with the NFL is that I don’t have a team to support, and I’m not the kind of guy who can just plunk himself down in front of a TV and watch a sporting event. I watch the CFL because, to paraphrase their slogan, it’s our game. Canadian rules, Canadian cities (with lots of American players); what could be more Canadian than that?
But here’s what I don’t love about the CFL, and I think it’s the single biggest reason so many Canadians turn to the NFL for their football fix — TSN, home of every single CFL game, pretty much sucks at televising football. I believe that if TSN produced games up to the same standards as American television — or even a close approximation — the CFL would gain in popularity by yards.
Nobody expects the CFL to look as good as the NFL does on TV. The NFL, with its two-billion-dollar TV deal, is the most prized franchise in television. The CFL cannot compete with the NFL in production values. But it can try. And to my eyes, TSN has stopped trying.
The CFL on TSN is in a rut. The production has remained unchanged for years, from its dreadful opening music to its tired graphics to its high-school announcing crews.
The biggest problem with TSN broadcasts is the direction. We need an American to show us how to televise a football game.
For instance, what is with the obsession with lingering close ups of players? I like the idea of seeing what these guys look like, but anything over 10 seconds gets downright creepy. And it’s painfully obvious that the players are embarrassed, too. While a TSN game will hold a shot for 20, 30 seconds (often a coach staring off into the distance) a typical NFL broadcast will have show the coach, a player, some fans and some cheerleaders in the same amount of time.
Then there’s the technology. The most recent technological innovation at TSN is the virtual first down line, which first appeared on TSN years after it first appeared Stateside. (I get the feeling TSN purchased used equipment from the American networks; the line tends to fade in and out, and sometimes even moves.) Incredibly, TSN has not invested any of its fabulous profits into super slow motion technology, which is at least a decade old. The fact that a so-called sports network hasn’t invested in cutting edge technology for one of its premiere products tells me they’re doing everything on the cheap.
And now we come to the guys in the booth.
I have no complaints about Chris Cuthbert, the lone saving grace of the CFL on TSN. After that, it’s community access TV. There’s Rod (Red Zone, Green Zone) Black. He might know figure skating, but he is clueless about football. His partner in tedium, Duane Forde, brings nothing to the broadcast, but I’ll take a whole season of Duane Forde over the verbal diarrhea that spews forth from Glen Suitor. Suitor, who fills every available second of airtime with prattle, talks to viewers like they’ve never seen a football game before. Suitor and all of the TSN crew have a see no evil attitude towards the players and the referees. Watch an NFL game, and chances are a commentator will call a bad play a bad play. Not so in the rose colored universe of the CFL on TSN.
The CFL certainly benefited financially from its exclusive deal with TSN, but I still think the league has been shortchanged. Bell Media owns CTV and TSN, and when the contract comes up for renegotiation, the CFL should insist the Grey Cup be simulcast, and promoted heavily, on CTV. CTV promotes the hell out of the Super Bowl, but acts like the Grey Cup isn’t happening.
If I were the CFL commissioner, I would insist that TSN:
1) invest in new technology
2) get some fresh blood in the booth
3) ban the lingering close ups of players
4) hire some directors — Americans, if need be — who know how to televise a football game.
5) Insist that CTV promote the CFL as heavily as it promotes its NFL broadcasts.
The CFL on TSN needs a revamp, from top to bottom. And if TSN isn’t interested in making changes, the CFL should go elsewhere.
In the meantime, enjoy the playoffs. I predict Calgary will beat the Esks (sad to say), and Hamilton will finally get past the first round and beat Montreal. And nobody is going to stop the B.C. Lions.