Ambrosie ‘moving forward’ on long-term contract with ESPN

The Canadian Football League is working to extend its relationship with a major television partner in the United States.

“(CFL chief marketing, digital and strategy officer) Christina Litz and I went down to ESPN in December and started discussions about renewing the agreement. We had a follow-up meeting at the Pro Bowl,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie told the Ottawa Sun.

ESPN is in favour of changing the CFL schedule so that the season begins and ends earlier in the calendar year, an idea Ambrosie first floated at Grey Cup last November.

“They like the idea of a season shift, they like the idea of a bunch of our content being post-NFL Draft and pre-NFL and college season. They like our game. We talked a lot about tapping into their big college market. So many of our players have been stars in U.S. college football. They are a huge college football broadcaster. We talked about how we can do more so the fans in Alabama and Florida know that one of their star players is playing in Ottawa or playing in Calgary or playing in Toronto and they’re playing in a game this weekend. We agreed we would keep moving forward to a long-term contract,” Ambrosie said.

Alternate ways of getting the three-down game out to consumers has been discussed.

“We aren’t going to ignore what’s happening in social media. If I’m correct, Facebook made a bid for Indian cricket (for $610 million). That’s just evidence of a completely changing landscape. I wouldn’t ask Facebook for anything more than about $300 million if we were talking to them. Of course, I’m smiling,” Ambrosie said.

“ESPN has some capabilities that are incredibly impressive. They are changing their platform to address the changing viewing habits. That was some of what we have been talking about, what are they doing to address the changes … so much consumption is happening on mobile devices. They wanted us to know how they think that could help us drive a bigger TV audience in the U.S.”


86 Comments on Ambrosie ‘moving forward’ on long-term contract with ESPN

  1. true green // February 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm //

    A quality and profitable contract with ESPN sounds like a great idea. Drive up revenue. Pay players better salaries. I am embarrassed by what most players make. I don’t see why CFL cant gather a larger fan base by promoting south of the border.

    • cvmurrieta // February 17, 2018 at 7:28 pm //

      Here, here about the players’ salaries. I remember reading about how one TiCat retired so that he could become a computer programmer. I don’t want salaries to reach the NFL level and keep long-time fans from the game, but at least pay them enough so that other non-football options are not as attractive. After all, regardless of citizenship, these guys just love to play football. If the XFL can try to make another go here, there is no reason that the CFL can’t either. Better marketing as well as confidence will help. Help sponsor CFL fan clubs in US cities. I would definitely be on board with a CFL fan club of ANY team if that team had a fan club or Meetup in metro Detroit.

    • I Think the c.f. needs to make the game more accessible in Canada. The c.f. is the only major professional sports league that all games including the grey cup are hidden away on a specialty sports network. So many people especially young people do not access to tsn. Tsn has a relationship with ctv yet they give the c.f. the exposure as darts

      • TSN is on basic cable here

      • Why would it make a difference in having it on a non-sports/cable network?
        The Jays are on Sportsnet and average a million viewers a game.
        The Super Bowl numbers on RDS was ONE MILLION !!, yet less than 200k in Quebec watched the Grey Cup on RDS
        If games were on CTV there would be no reason to have TSN
        The fact is that if you are a sports fan and a CFL fan you are going to subscribe to TSN.
        TSN/RDS is available to around 30 MIllion I believe, yet the TV ratings average 500k for the CFL.
        How would putting it on CTV add more viewers when there are something like 29.5 MILLION on TSN/RDS NOT watching the CFL.

        The answer is to get more of the existing viewers on TSN/RDS to watch it.

        • Yes you are correct. I have heard this before, “why aren’t games on CTV”?
          It wouldn’t increase TV ratings.
          It’s not like very few people subscribe to TSN/RDS they have a huge audience.
          But very few out of the 30 MILLION or whatever it is are watching CFL football.

          The Jays had around 7 million watch their wild card game on Sportsnet, Sportsnet has fewer subscribers than TSN.
          Would the Jays get more viewers if their games were on CTV or CBC or Global? NO because Jay fans subscribe to sportsnet!!

        • To pick just one of the problems with this post, the Jays don’t average anywhere near 1 million viewers. Their natural level is around 300,000. I think two years ago when they were contenders their numbers jumped up to about three times that. This year they were around 700,000, and next year expect them to be back to around their natural level.

    • It won’t really drive up salaries, they are talking about an ESPN deal that would only show games in June & July before the NCAA & NFL begins in August.
      They would cover the playoffs and the Grey Cup.
      A small dollar value contract. The CFL wants the exposure and there own’t be a lot of money involved.

      There is no comparison to the Indian Cricket contract, that is an emerging country with 2 BILLION people that is crazy about cricket.

  2. cvmurrieta // February 17, 2018 at 7:21 pm //

    As a fan in Michigan, I have mixed feelings about changing the season start and end dates. Sure, I would like to have other fans where I live to discuss the CFL with. But, as others have pointed out in the past, starting earlier will still mean relatively cold weather in other parts of Canada. In the end though, I do want to see more games televised on ESPN and not just on the app.

    • Starting a month earlier is not going to be during cold weather in Canada. Finishing the year in November is when you are more like to coincide with colder weather. A June 1st start to the season would be great. End in Mid-October. Let’s do it!

      • cvmurrieta // February 17, 2018 at 8:00 pm //

        Hey, if you’re on board, then I’m on board. I do think there is an opportunity to pick up more die-hard football fans in the US since those are the types that will not watch either MLB or MLS. In addition, they are just chomping at the bit for more football action. Now is the time for the CFL to grow its exposure to a wider audience.

        • True green // February 17, 2018 at 9:26 pm //

          CFL is great football! More exposure to football fans in the US can only be good for the league.

          • except that the CFL is a gate driven league and we need more bums in the seats in Canada.
            An ESPN2 contract and the streaming of games on ESPN3 is not worth much money.

            The CFL and TSN needs to figure out how to get more fans watching on TV here.
            TSN/RDS goes out to roughly 30 MILLION people but only an average of 500k tune in?

        • The main reasons for moving the season up are not about the US TV deal, although it is a very nice side benefit.

      • True green // February 17, 2018 at 9:24 pm //

        100 % agree. Here in SK the later season night games are hard to commit to. I drive from saskatoon, which means a 10 hour round trip including the game. I’m happy to do it but it’s a friendly fan experience when it’s not cold and dark.

      • Agree. Grey Cup near the end of November not a good experience. This year in Ottawa was cold. A starting the on June 1st and the Grey Cup game the end of October may actually be an advantage.

  3. Tell ESPN to put all the games on television (rather than ESPN3) or tell them to take a hike.

    • cvmurrieta // February 17, 2018 at 8:02 pm //

      I’d rather have games on the app than not at all. Fewer televised games (or none at all) means that I will be listening to TiCats games on Hamilton’s local radio station via the internet.

  4. ESPN is on the verge of shutting its doors.

    • Hahahaha…not even close! They are like Nike…numbers can go down because there was no where to go. Yeah lose market shares but they still have WAY more than 2nd place!

      • cvmurrieta // February 17, 2018 at 8:06 pm //

        Agreed. ESPN has been subjected to self-inflicted stumbles, but it is far from shutting its doors. Fox Sports and NBCSN wouldn’t be able to salvage all that ESPN offers. I still want ESPN around.

    • Waiting For Gaudaur // February 18, 2018 at 10:36 am //

      They just bought all of the Fox Sports regional networks and are starting a new streaming service. ESPN3 is how I can watch all the games, so I’m glad to hear they are working on a long term deal. Put a map of Canada and the United States on the CFL website, in each area put the players in the province or state based on their hometown and college. Allow fans to click on their province or state and see what players come from their area.

  5. Leave the season alone! Don’t ruin our football game to appeal to out of market television deals.

    • How about appealing to our sensibilities and start/end the season a month earlier?

    • I completely agree. The Grey Cup should be the last Sunday of November.

    • True green // February 17, 2018 at 9:29 pm //

      Earlier season would be better for the prairie markets. I don’t see how it would hurt the eastern markets. And I don’t think BC cares they can’t fill the lower bowl of their stadium.

    • Two weeks earlier, no more!!!

    • Tailgate YYC // February 17, 2018 at 9:50 pm //

      The CFL is just doing what the NFL and NHL have done for years. It’s progress. I fear the CFL can’t survive on Canada alone anymore.
      Just think…..more TV money and top players stay in Canada instead of the NFL. It’s a win win!!

    • I agree… leave the season alone – if anything, tell ESPN to lobby the NFL to start a month later. It works both ways.

      • Grey Cup near the end of November not a good experience. This year in Ottawa was cold. A starting the on June 1st and the Grey Cup game the end of October may actually be an advantage.

      • @David, you’re missing the point regarding starting the season a month earlier. The decision should be weather-driven, not ESPN-driven.

    • It’s not just about the TV deal. It’s about allowing more cities to comfortably host a CG. It’s about the fact that people are getting soft and attendance is dropping during bad weather games late in the year. It’s about hopefully getting more people fully involved before summer, instead of after Labour Day.

  6. A big issue with in the cfl is the high player turnover each year. Fans can’t develop to players because many disappear after the first good year in the league. Until the league makes enough profit to increase the average salary to be larger than the NFL practice roster wage then there will continue to be too much turnover that loses fans and audiences. The idea is good but I don’t think that they’ll get enough money from ESPN3 to increase the salary cap significantly.

  7. Thank you Mr.Ambrosie !!!!!!

  8. Can’t see ESPN paying much more than they do now. With no big increase, the CFL salaries are not going to improve much.

    One concern about a future with ESPN is how the channel will utilize the new OTT service ESPN+. Will current ESPN subcribers still get the CFL on this new deal? Could ESPN change and put the CFL only on ESPN+ which costs $4.99 a month? Might be a big difference on the number of viewers who have access to games.

    Now that I think of it more, what is going to happen to ESPN3? If it remains, will ESPN split the content between ESPN3 and ESPN+? Whatever happens, I just hope there’s not more hoops to watch the CFL in the United States.

    • I’m in Western New York (Rochester) and ESPN3 carrying every one of TSN’s broadcasts was fantastic (have a Roku). I could actually keep up with the Argos instead of following on Twitter.

      My guess is that ESPN+ won’t carry anything that’s on ESPN or ESPN2, so my satellite subscription won’t all of a sudden be useless and ESPN3 will still exist.

      That said, they could easily decide to move the TSN simulcasts not being broadcast on the network to the new service. (And with ESPN still having NBA/MLS/MLB rights, it’ll still be a challenge to put games on broadcast TV until the NBA playoffs are over.)

      Unless there’s a huge increase in rights payments coming and more network broadcasts planned, I’d play the wait and see game before allowing ESPN to move games behind ESPN+.

  9. I travel into the northern United States from Washington State, Idaho,Montana, North Dakota, Minnestoa, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan. During the CFL season and i stop into a sports bar to watch a CFL game and I ask if they have ESPN 3 and they laugh and say no body carries ESPN 3. They 1 & 2 but no 3. There is a lot of fellows from the northern states that play in the CFL. The league is missing a complete audience of 68 million people. Think about it. The people i met down there love our game but can never watch it on a regular basis. Randy i hope you read these comments.

    • ESPN3 is the common name for their website. WatchESPN is name that refers to the app. In either case, they would need to log in with their credentials from the pay tv provider in order to access the content.

  10. Ultimately only way to drive up ratings is add a couple us based teams one in New York and one in Los Angeles smaller stadiums like mosaic rabid fans international cities might work?

    • Tailgate YYC // February 17, 2018 at 9:59 pm //

      Really John??? That is not and will never be the answer.
      I have friends in Iowa who watch our game and fly the Stampeder flag at their tailgate as I fly the Hawkeyes at mine and we have talked about that. Our league is enjoyed but are still a filler until college and the NFL starts. LA barely likes the NFL.

      • If the cfl expands to the US the American teams will have use all American players as they did during the failed US expansion era. Won’t be sustainable for the Canadian based teams. Best stay in Canada unless they are willing to drop the Canadian content requirements. Won’t happen.

        • Exactly. The expansion to the US didn’t work because of the ratio, and it can never work because of the ratio, but that doesn’t stop people from both sides of the boarder from enjoying it. It’s a different kind of football with a history just as long as American football – and perhaps just a bit longer 😉 – so it’s another interesting option for American football fans to enjoy.

          • Hi Jimmy. I agree completely that we need to get American fans to follow and watch the game. How to do this is the challenge. Ambrosie mentioned promoting US college stars to their ardent Alma Matre college fans and that could work. TSN will need to change how they broadcast and get the color commentators to research and target those audiences by talking more detail about those players more often. I personally don’t see much of that targeting that often on current tv broadcasts. Maybe players should be profiled on each broadcast. Or maybe they should have a American broadcast crew for American audience. It would cost more but ESPN should do its own broadcast rather than just picking up TSN’s. Might be the way to go!

    • definition of insanity john

  11. If the last Sunday in November is too cold on the prairies for the Grey Cup, it is because they play the game at night. Play it in the afternoon there.

  12. Edward Leslie // February 18, 2018 at 3:23 am //

    Big games shouldn’t be decided by who can find the best footware, and be played in half empty stadiums because it’s too cold out. Start the season one month sooner and end in late October. It’s one less month competing with the NFL too.
    Good idea!
    A bad idea: expanding into the U.S. ever again. Never. Never. Never.

    • Bleeding Green // February 20, 2018 at 1:15 pm //

      If you’re gonna play a championship football game in November in Canada, at least always play in a dome.

  13. This is why it is annoying that people want to shut out highly popular but flawed Americans. Would it be ideal to get an angel that plays football? Of course. But some guy who has 180,000,000 twitter followers and a misdemeanor charge dropped should not be turned into the next Charles Manson by the media. Plus as as Popp says the negative list just keeps people out. It has to go. The cap prevents bid warz already.

  14. Edward Lesley.. Things gave changed. You do not need a physical presence any more. EPL makes a Billion EUROS in TV and merchandise from Asia with all 18 clubs in England and Wales.

    • Just to add to it the EPL has all teams in England but only 30% English players. Viewers from around the world tune into see their national play. Following that model. 1. Lower ratio from 44% dressed Cana to 30% dressed. 2. Hire good American Football players who are also celebrities ala Fifa Footballer s David Beckham and Lionel Messi. 3. Keep all teams in Canada but expand to border cities within easy drive and ferry access such as Windsor (Detroit), Victoria (ferry to Seattle), Halifax (ferry/drive from Maine)…others. Also expand to new money areas such as Kitchener -waterloo (tech), London (pharmacy), and Quebec City (tourism) 4. Bring in players from Japan X-league corporate/club league. 5. Digital tv deal with Japan on social platform.

  15. Does the CFL want to compete with the NHL playoffs in early June? The season should not start until the hockey is over.

    • Canadians are going to miss their fav CFL team to watch 2 US based NHL teams play for “our” cup? Well I won’t!

      The CFL season *could* start after the 3rd round of the NHL playoffs so there is no conflict with Canadian teams! ;-O Canadian teams have not won the cup since 1993 and I doubt it will happen in the next 10 years – hash tag sad sad reality.

      Anyhow, I am not in favor of moving the CFL season way up on the calendar, but I’d be OK with a 2 week shift. What I really want is games on Canada Day! See a game that ends with just time to walk to the fireworks. Logistically, I know that would work in the 4 east div cities.

    • Most Canadians stop watching hockey in mid-May anyway, once the weather warms up, unless “their” team is in contention.

  16. dangnabbit // February 18, 2018 at 8:45 am //

    Some obstacles to moving up the season exist. First, the Canadian draft has to come after the NFL draft, because no player worth drafting will sign with a CFL team without even giving the NFL a shot. And the Canadian draft can’t come the day before the season kicks off, either – you need time to negotiate contracts, hold training camp, make cuts, etc. Right now, the NFL draft is at the end of April or beginning of May, so you’re already down to six weeks from draft day to kickoff – you probably can’t get this number to less than four weeks without serious detriments.

    Second, if you don’t want the first few weeks’ domestic ratings to get absolutely trashed, you need to wait for the hockey postseason to conclude. The CFL mustn’t sacrifice the Canadian market to try and inflate American viewership. And we’re already going to be up against that limit this year.

    • dangnabbit..that is a mathematical problem. Is the loss of Cana viewers due to hockey higher or lower then the new money from American viewers? Crunch the numbers. Funny how people are fine with Canadian born footballers prioritizing the NFL first but pillorying Americans who actually want to exhaust all NFL avenues first. Then discounting NFL pro experience as irrelevant and the guy must start at the bottom. You even make Canadian born with NFL experience start back at the bottom. Many just retire rather than bother.

      • I don’t think that the draft challenge can’t be overcome. Teams can definitely know which players will be exploring NFL opportunities simply by doing their homework and interviews at the combines. Prospects and their agents will indicate their intentions and it’s up to the teams whether to risk drafting a potential US-bound prospect. Competing with hockey playoffs should not present a problem because most fans attending are season ticket holders so tickets already sold. If you schedule games in June during weekends in the afternoons you avoid some hockey conflicts. The rest of games on Thursday or Friday only affects a few games in June. I think they should try it and see how it works.

  17. The big draw for ESPN to get college attention and mellenials is Johnny Manziel. He is a cash cow for CFL.

  18. Starting the Season a month earlier could give the Labour Day Weekend games more playoff implications and importance. I don’t go to games after Halloween anymore because of the weather, so I would love a May to October Season.

    • Hey Giasone,
      You’re right about the added importance to Labour Day weekend games. The I hadn’t thought of that as an added benefit. It will be great.

  19. I don’t understand why we’d want to move the season up 4 weeks. Right now in Canada November belongs to football. You move the season up you compete against the NHL playoffs at the beginning and the World Series st the end. I thought the Ottawa Grey Cup experience was AWESOME. You dressed for the weather. Those are the games that are remembered.

    • Tailgate YYC // February 18, 2018 at 1:29 pm //

      Just check the stands in November.
      Not enough fans come to the games.
      We should be selling out, not half full stadiums.
      Hopefully an earlier start can help that.

      • I did a check of the attendance the last 2 years. The average in the summer months was around 24K. The average in the fall was around 24K. The average for playoff games was around 27K. TV numbers tell the difference though. They steadily go up and spike in November.

  20. Forget about the cable channels. I want the CFL to be available on the Internet without being a cable subscriber. I don’t want to fork out 1500 bucks a year for 58 channels I don’t watch so I can watch CFL. I’m happy to pay a fixed fee for all the annual CFL games online. Would I pay 200 or 300 bucks for that ? No problem.

    • THAT is why I have a subscription to Spectrum Cable TV and internet… Cos you MUST have ESPN and ESPN2 in your package to stream ESPN3. GRRRR!

      I don’t like it, but I understand that the league needs ESPN money NOW and hopes ONE DAY it will attract some attention in the US.

  21. Opinion :
    – Grey Cup played on the first Sunday of November
    – Kickoff moved earlier to … 3pm
    – Aggressively promote the US college presence in the CFL to the big US college markets.
    Measure the results , hell if it fails can always revert back.

  22. Here’s where ratings can’t be that accurate. In Sask we get together to watch games. Like 15 people or more watching on same tv. I don’t know about other provinces but there a lot more eyes watching then the ratings say.

  23. William On your take that the CFL is hidden on TSN on a cable network and is the only one I think you are forgetting the Blue Jay’s and Raptors on Sportsnet plus MLS. I agree some of these sports could be seen on CTV. In the winter tthe NHL can be seen on Saturday night’s because of the wishes of Sportsnet and the NHL because the hockey contract in this country is owned by SportsNet.

  24. Consider what long time cfl fans want. That should be the most important thing not what Espn wants. I for one don’t like what is being presented as a done deal with no consideration of how the fans buying the tickets feel.

  25. One think that will be very important in any big TV deal with ESPN is that we have an exit strategy as a backup plan. I’m very much looking forward to a big TV deal and a new infusion of money, but there is no way we can allow ourselves to fall under the control of a US corporation. If they get too handsy and want us to change things to suit them we need an exit clause, and maybe something built into our players’ contracts that would allow us to lose that American TV money without it being financial suicide for the league.

  26. Let’s do the math…..
    Raise the salary cap + reduce roster sizes = more pay per player
    More pay per player = attracting higher caliber players
    Higher caliber players = better tv contracts
    Better tv contracts = Bigger better league

  27. If all ESPN is offering is to put most of the games on, can do that (put it on the internet). Who needs ESPN for internet access? Tell ESPN (Disney) we want real money or forget it.

  28. Salaries were as high in the early 80’s as they are now. League has gone backwards last 35 years. Rogers bought in to the Argos for What? The name so they have the rights to it for an NFL franchise , it won’t be long maybe 10 years before the Argos are finished. Minimal effort will be put in to promote .

    • Tailgate YYC // February 18, 2018 at 11:49 pm //

      Always the optimist eh Jim.
      You don’t have a clue.
      In 10 years I’ll remember to laugh at you…..again.

    • The rights to the name? That is why they bought into the franchise? Where do you come up with this stuff. So millions of dollars lost season after season so maybe 10 years from now they could use the same name (which they wouldn’t do). Wow, the theories some people come up with. Another question, what exactly is that darn NFL waiting for? Decades to come to Canada, but soon, real soon.

  29. A lot of talk about nothing. The regular season attendance has been declining for five years, it is now a a well established trend. Fix that Mr. Commish and the rest will fall into place.

  30. What would a 3 year contract with ESPN look like? Let’s say we have $40million + from TSN, would it be fair to say $15 – 20 million? On all accounts this would be a great scenario for the league.

  31. The best players follow the money to the NFL. Who can blame them? The CFL salary cap won’t increase until revenues increase. Revenues won’t increase until the number of viewers increases. Canada is a small market and cfl market share declining in major cities. Unless the league can identify differentiators from other sports and more importantly compelling differentiators from the NFL then the fan base will continue to decline. The rules and the Canadian player requirement are not compelling for Canadian fans – for some reason. So a non-competing schedule must be considered. Any other ideas out there to differentiate the cfl from the NFL that would compel fans to follow the sport?

    • I don’t think the CFL’s market *share* is decreasing. The viewership for the regular season has been decreasing slightly in recent years, although the GC was up. But other sports are decreasing more, so the CFL’s share is probably up. In particular MLB and NBA saw a steep decline this past year.

      The CFL has always been undersold in the US and I think moving the season up a month will help give it it’s own space in the football world down there that should help quite a bit.

  32. Edward Smith // February 19, 2018 at 3:00 pm //

    I know foirst hand living in the country that the CFL lost many fans when it went from free tv to TSN. TSN has done a remarkable job, nobody does it better, but rural people did not go out and buy satellite dishes when the CFL dropped free tv, some did, but you have to realize that sat tv was still quite new on the small dishes at that time, though its very expensive it has come down in price. I can remember at that time they wanted a lot of money for a sat dish installation etc, I think it was like 800 dollar range. Country farmers and rural folks in Ontario that I know lost track of the CFL because it was no longer available on their rabbit ears or tower, this is true. I was one of them though I enjoyed all games on radio but not everybody does that. It`s unfortunate it had to leave free tv though I understand TSN paid quite large for it.There are still many that dont buy sat dishes that would watch again, but many were lost, some a generation

  33. Fits also for an aging population, less likely to go and take grandkids to cold fall games!! Move season earlier! Don’t conflict with hockey night games.
    Give tickets free for kids with adult purchase for early season games. Distribute them with report cards- will get future fans and new fans from parents!!
    Give and you will receive!

  34. What kind of crumbs are they going to give us this time…??

  35. Go Randy.
    Gotta get the salary cap to C$10m to improve credibility. The extra $5m is about a 25-33% revenue increase for most clubs, and the easiest way to achieve that is with a viable U.S. contract. Our game is good, and Americans will watch it if shown regularly. I prefer the current schedule, but would be okay with a one-month advance if we could get the $10m cap.

  36. Gobluebruin // February 23, 2018 at 12:33 pm //

    This is good news! I have been a regular CFL fan since ESPN started broadcasting the games on ESPN 3 their cable network every Thursday through Sunday late May through mid November. Awesome news…I prefer the CFL game to the way o ur NFL is today and like how the games are spread out over a four day period.

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