Published on November 11, 2008 9:32 PM by cflwatcher.
The 2008 CFL Semi-Finals on Saturday turned out to be nothing special both in terms of the games and the broadcasts. The hype during the week seemed to be down a little this year, perhaps because of a playoff system and divisional alignment quirk that saw four “western” clubs playing. TSN‘s debut as a CFL playoff broadcaster was without major news, either positive or negative. Many, myself included, were expecting much more from TSN who are in their first year of a five year deal with exclusive broadcast rights to the CFL.
I gathered some notes during the games and after some reflection, TSN barely raised the bar over CBC’s coverage last year. In fact, except for length, TSN made little noticeable changes from its regular season broadcasts.
The two games were preceded by a one hour pre-game show and had a half hour buffer between the games. The kickoff of the East semi-final took place at about 10 minutes past the hour and the game completed almost exactly three hours later at 10 minutes past the hour. Their was then a 32 minute break before the start of the West semi-final at 42 minutes past the hours. The West semi-final finished under three hours, ending at 30 minutes past the hour. Immediately upon the conclusion of the game, TSN broke to SportsCentre, and included its usual throw to the broadcast team to wrap the final game as part of the highlight coverage. All told, a total of 7.5 hours were dedicated to the broadcast of both games. Yikes! That’s a lot of time on the couch.
The hour long pre-game show consisted of the regular analysis on team match-ups and the weather. Brian Williams had two features, one on Edmonton’s Dan Comiskey’s daughter’s health battles and the other on Winnipeg’s Obby Khan’s battle with colitis and intestinal removal surgery. While the stories were well done and informative to many Canadians, I find Williams’ human-interest stories a little to schlocky for me, kinda like “Bart’s People” for the CFL crowd. Williams has not changed since his CBC days; his specialties are the player overcomes obstacle, personal player interviews and “is the CFL on its deathbed” stories.
Just prior to the start of the games, the CFL on TSN panel gave their predictions for the day. Only Jock Climie correctly predicted both games. For the record, their predictions were: Chris Schultz - Saskatchewan and Edmonton, Matt Dunigan - Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Jock Climie - BC and Edmonton, and Dave Randorf - BC and Winnipeg.
The team of Rod Black and Duane Forde called the East semi-final in Winnipeg. They started by making jokes about the weather, noting something about penguins. It is no wonder CFL fans are so fair weather when it comes to the playoffs. Still Winnipeg came close to a sellout, so kudos to them.
The call from the booth was no different from what we have heard from this pair through the season. While they have a certain acceptability to them, Black’s style does little to portray any excitement or sense of urgency in a game that isn’t going back and forth, so the second half was a bit of a snoozer despite the close score. Sideline reporter Sara Orlesky managed OK, but had little to report on during the game.
The game started with a fly past by two Canadian Forces jets, causing the kickoff to be missed and cut to as Winnipeg was making the reception. The coin toss was not mentioned until the start of the second quarter and considering the weather, this was important information fans want to know. With a 70 minute pre-game show before kickoff you would think broadcasters could spare 30 seconds to cover the coin toss and selections, even if it has to be on tape, so fans know from the beginning.
The West final featured the broadcast team of Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor. Suitor differentiates himself from not only using a telestrator, but also using x’s and o’s graphics to diagram plays that each team will use. While they mostly worked, the little time available between plays creates few opportunities for this to be used. Otherwise this team put in an acceptable performance, with Suitor not as apt to talk about player anecdotes as he was in the regular season. Sideline reporter Farhan Lalji reported little key or interesting stories from the field and at one point was relating a non-game story over top of a play and was very hard to hear because of the crowd noise. The fault for this would lie with the director, though, not with Lalji.
I was able to tell, but there may have been a couple more cameras in use compared to regular season games. Other than that, I noticed no other technical differences in the broadcast, such as in graphics or other technologies, compared to a regular season broadcasts. Now these were the semi-finals in Regina and Winnipeg and TSN may have bigger things planned for the finals in Calgary and Montreal.
The maiden voyage of TSN as CFL playoff broadcaster and the move of playoff dates to Saturdays for the first time (excluding 1995’s North and South divisions with American expansion) in a loooong time did not have the results many were expecting. Fate dealt a cruel blow when the West division dominated the league this year and four geographical western teams ended up in the first round of the playoffs. After a 6% ratings increase on TSN this year during regular season broadcasts the early numbers show a 38% drop for the East semi-final and a 15% drop for the West semi-final versus last year’s CBC numbers.
More than just television numbers, the CFL got lost in the media this year, with a substantial reduction in stories on the games the week prior. Already this week I have seen an increase back to normal levels for stories on the upcoming Finals, so that is good news.
As for media reviews of the media, there is a split decision. William Houston of globesports.com would like the TSN broadcasters to shut up while Chris Zelkovich of thestar.com thinks the strength of TSN’s broadcasts are its analysts Forde and Suitor. Zelkovich also knocks the CFL for its cluttered playing fields, something I noted when watching the games. The league may want to reconsider its policies towards these on-field logos. Winnipeg’s field looked awful, with the logos looking like they had been scrubbed off, likely due to their application in cold weather and snow. In Regina, the field was cluttered with faint outlines of scrubbed logos to make way for the CFL‘s sponsors. A clean look does provide a more respectable view for watchers.
After a promising season in which scoring was up slightly, all these events added to a couple of games which did not bring the excitement of the glorious past semi-finals equals a sub-par semi-final experience. Hopefully the finals this Saturday will see some high-scoring, lead-changing, exciting football that goes down to the wire. That would be something special.