TSN and Toronto media has been slowly and surely succeeding in killing off Canadian football
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
I'm looking at my Toronto Star online paper. How do I get Toronto Argonaut news? It's not under NHL. Nah, it wouldn't be in the NBA section. MLB? Nope. Maybe they threw it in with the NFL section?!? Bingo. WTF, since when are the Argos in the NFL? Why is there an NFL section in the first place? Couldn't they have just labelled it "Football" like they did with "Soccer"? In the NFL section, there is a separate, little brother section for CFL News right below the NFL section. To be fair, they also threw the NCAA section in the NFL section as well. Such is how a newspaper that celebrates and staunchly defends all things Canadian treats the Canadian Football League. I don't get it. The Star is nationalistic in how it publishes articles on how unique and proud we are as a Canadian culture, but it obviously jumps on the "Toronto is just as good as American cities like L.A. and New York City" bandwagon. Apparently, there is no room in the Toronto Star's Canada for Canadian football.
But the Star is just one of the Toronto-based media outlets that gives Canadian football the cold shoulder. For years, Rogers Communications has outright displayed hostility for three-down football, doing everything in their power to screw the Toronto Argonauts and Canadian football at every turn, even though their former CEO (and current Toronto mayor), John Tory, was once the commissioner of the CFL. As a tenant playing in the stadium that Ontario taxpayers built and purchased by Ted Rogers for a song, the Argos were always going to be treated second-rate when compared to the Rogers-owned Toronto Blue Jays. However, some of the shenanigans Rogers pulled were downright evil and unconscionable. It started with giving the Argos the worse dates they could find for games played in the Rogers Centre - braying the excuse that it takes time to turn around the stadium from Blue Jays games to Argos games. Apparently, it's not a problem for NFL football fields though because when the Bills had their annual games there between 2008 and 2013, it could be changed over the next day. There were also times when fans were needlessly delayed entering the stadium due to extra security checks for Argos games but which were not required for Blue Jays games. Rogers also (and they will admit off the record) severely limited or even banned any CFL content on Sportsnet and their sports-based talk radio stations. Rogers last act of tyranny was kicking the Argos out of Rogers Centre for good in 2015 by claiming they were investigating installing natural grass in the stadium and, when it was done, it would be for a baseball configuration only. Grass never did make it into Rogers Centre but it just shows the contempt that Rogers had for the CFL. This wasn't one corporation (Rogers) who was trying to one-up the competition (Bell, who owns TSN and thereby owns the CFL television rights), because none of this affected other leagues that TSN broadcasted, like the Toronto Raptors or Toronto FC, who gets plenty of coverage on Rogers stations. No, this was a cool, calculated plan for the genocide of a sports league.
Even the CFL's broadcasting partner, TSN, doesn't do the league any favours when it comes to coverage. While not going out of its way to kill off the CFL, the programming people have been conditioned to believe that the NFL is "the league" and the way to get the most people to watch CFL games is to give the NFL games a wide berth - steer clear of the mighty NFL and put CFL games in slots where it won't need to compete. Sunday afternoons? No way, that is reserved for the NFL even if that is when CFL ratings are at their best. Thursday Night Football on TSN? Only during the summer because as soon as the NFL season starts up and they have Thursday night games, TSN gets the CFL to kill their Thursday night games. When you are avoiding the NFL at all costs, the problem is the CFL gets put into time slots when nobody is watching football. There is a reason the NFL wants Sunday afternoons - because that is when people have time to watch football. TSN Radio stations, many of whom carry the CFL games in their market, rarely do CFL talk. Try listening to Toronto TSN 1050's OverDrive show in the afternoons where the hosts sound like experts on every sports topic - NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, junior hockey, golf, motorsports, MMA, boxing, tennis, lacrosse, X-games, Olympics, soccer, cricket, spelling bees, hot dog eating contests but suddenly clam up when the topic is the CFL. Other than around Grey Cup time (and only if the game is hosted in Toronto or the Argos are in it), there is practically zero Canadian football talk with host Bryan Hayes openly admitting that he only watches the NFL and never watches the CFL, although he has some buddies that do. Well God bless his buddies' hearts.
Point 1 - When did the hate for the Canadian Football League begin in Southern Ontario? It is very clear that you can trace it back to between 1982 to 1985. I think the genesis had its roots in 1982, when the NFL players went on strike. NBC was looking for something to fill the football void on Sunday afternoons and turned towards the CFL for that content. Sending their regular NFL broadcast teams to Canada (Dick Enberg/Merlin Olsen, Don Criqui/John Brodie), they broadcast four CFL games over three weeks. Each of the CFL games were uncharacteristically lopsided games and NBC finally pulled the plug after Edmonton clobbered B.C. 30-1 and didn't even finish broadcasting the game, cutting away with minutes left in the game. It was a black eye for the league and Americans started making fun of the CFL (Google the references to the CFL that are made on The Simpsons). Instead of Canadians defending the CFL, as is Canadian fashion, there is agreement and many American fanboys just loved to pile on. "The CFL sucks" becomes a meme before memes were even a thing.
Point 2 - The emergence of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Argos finally winning a Grey Cup. In 1983, the Argonauts won their first Grey Cup in 31 years and Toronto went nuts. At the time, the Argos were still considered a big thing in the Toronto sport scene and the itch had finally been scratched. Check that one off the Toronto sports fans list. Now looking for the next thing, the Toronto Blue Jays starting to get good around that same time and it had Toronto sports fans turning their attention to their MLB baseball team. They realized that a Canadian team can have success against iconic American teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Someone, somewhere started perpetuating the thought that the CFL is second rate. You started hearing "the CFL sucks" more and more often. By 1985 and 1986, it is becoming quite clear that the younger crowd in Canada, with greater access to American television stations on cable, was being swayed by the NFL's massive marketing machine and that machine was saying "the CFL sucks".
Point 3 - A lie begets a truth. Perception becomes reality. Making the numbers fit the narrative. Starting in 2018, TSN started "bans" of Sunday CFL games even though evidence showed TSN gets their best CFL ratings on Sundays even when going up against NFL games. In 2008, under pressure from TSN, the CFL agreed to move all playoff games to Saturday. What followed was TV ratings bust (What's to blame for poor CFL playoff ratings? - The Globe and Mail). In 2009, the CFL moved playoff games back to Sundays where they have remained since, although in 2019, they again toyed with the idea of moving it to Saturdays (again due to pressure from their broadcast "partner", TSN). In 2008, TSN claimed the move had nothing to do with avoiding taking away viewers from CTV's NFL games but in 2021, they openly admitted they did not want CFL games going up against NFL games and cannibalizing their TV numbers. Unless you are NCAA alumni, Saturday afternoons are not typical times for people to sit at home and watch sporting events. Why do you think CBC broadcasts obscure sporting events as filler on Saturday afternoons, where there is little to no audience. Sacrificing CFL TV numbers to boost NFL TV numbers - again to create the impression that more people watch the NFL over CFL, which was not the case until the last few years when CFL stopped being played on Sundays (save for the Saskatchewan/Winnipeg Labour Day weekend games that are played on Sundays and a game rescheduled due to Covid, which had the highest ratings of any CFL games that same week (CFL posts largest average TV audience of 2022 season in Week 7 on TSN - 3DownNation). It is also astonishing to think how little money or respect that TSN pays to broadcast CFL games as opposed to their other sports properties, like the Raptors or Toronto FC, yet either of those teams would kill for the numbers that the CFL games pull in. Prior to Covid, CFL games (even Argos games) could generally be counted on to be either the second- or third-highest rated sports on Canadian television, averaging about 650,000 viewers per regular season game and well over 1M for playoff games and 4M for the Grey Cup. NHL games were undisputedly number one (averaging over 1.8M viewers for Hockey Night in Canada) and, depending on how the Blue Jays were doing, they would see-saw with the CFL for the number two spot (aza on Twitter: "TSN reporting today that the CFL has higher TV ratings than the #BlueJays so far this year. No big surprise 😏 #Argos" / Twitter). After hockey, Blue Jays, CFL, it was the NFL, Raptors (about 180,000 viewers per game - Adam Seaborn on Twitter: "Abysmal TV ratings for Raptors/Hornets on TSN 🇨🇦 last week Only 167,000 viewers and only 80,000 under that age of 50" / Twitter) and Toronto FC (less than 100,000 viewers per game). CFL games generally get three and sometimes four times the number of viewers that Raptors games would get on TSN. When comparing to Toronto FC, the spread is even greater with CFL games getting five and even six times the number of viewers (The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Toronto FC continues to struggle on TV (yahoo.com)). Yet, based on the media coverage and marketing, you would not have been faulted if you thought the rankings were (in order) - NHL, NFL, Blue Jays, Raptors, TFC, CFL. Post-Covid, and following the lost 2020 season, the NFL now pulls in about 900,000 viewers per game and has clearly overtaken the CFL in TV ratings, although you have to keep in mind that Bell has decided that NFL games are shown on the free, over-the-air CTV network, while CFL games are relegated to be only available on cable through TSN. Also, CFL ratings do not include those from French-language RDS, who carry the Montreal Alouettes games. If CFL games were on CTV on Sunday afternoons, it would not be too much of a stretch to think they could pull similar, if not even better, numbers than what the NFL pulls. Even still, the numbers, as they are, don't fit the perception that the CFL doesn't belong on the same Toronto Star sports pages as the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL. Need more proof the CFL gets the shaft? In April 2021, TSN 1050 was celebrating its 10th anniversary and put out this banner of Toronto sports teams it covers - Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, TFC and Buccaneers? WTF?!?!
TSN 1050 has been the Argo's official radio broadcaster since they came on the air in 2011 and helped launch the station for f*%k's sakes and this is how you thank them?