Frequently Asked Questions about Broadcasts

Refer to the CFL's 2018 Broadcast Schedule page.

In Canada, all regular season and playoff games are televised on TSN through the 2021 season. Check the schedules page for complete and team schedules with the knowledge that all games are televised on the TSN network in Canada subject to local blackouts. The 2018 schedule shows all regular season games on the full TSN network, but is subject to change. In 2017, the reality was two games were carried on TSN3 only. In 2016, all games but three were carried on TSN1 (plus additional TSN channels), the exceptions being two games broadcast on TSN3/4/5 and one game on TSN2 only.

For the exact channels games will be available on as the broadcast date approaches, check CFLdb Statistics for a list of broadcasts from broadcast partners in Canada (TSN/RDS/ESPNC) and the US (ESPN) for the next two days. Starting in 2016, select games are available on TSN4K, available on select carriers in Canada.

TSN is slated to broadcast five pre-season games in 2018 and RDS carry two pre-season games. The June 9th Hamilton @ Montreal game was added to TSN in an announcement June 4th. In 2017, TSN carried four and RDS one pre-season games, while 2016 saw four by TSN and two by RDS broadcast.

For French language coverage, RDS carries all Montreal Alouette games and RDS/RDS2 carries select Ottawa RedBlack games as well as other CFL games each season. TSN/RDS have signed a 5-year agreement in 2013 (plus 3 year extension signed in 2015) to be the exclusive broadcaster of the CFL through the 2021 season.

For 2018, ESPN announced an initial schedule of 22 games on ESPN2/ESPNNews, while the remaining regular season and four pre-season games will be available on the $5/month ESPN+ subscription streaming service.

In 2017, ESPN broadcast 23 games on ESPN2/ESPNNews, including all playoff games and the Grey Cup Championship. The remaining games in the regular season were available on ESPN3. ESPN announced it would carry 20 games on ESPN broadcast networks in 2016, starting with the first game of the season June 23rd and ending with the 104th Grey Cup Championship in November. ESPN signed a 5-year broadcast deal to carry CFL games for 5 years starting in 2014. All CFL games are carried by ESPN, with select games (minimum 17 games/season) on ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNNews and the remainder on ESPN+. For the CFL broadcast schedule in the US and other International locations, please see the CFL's website with the scheduled broadcasts usually announced in a weeks before the first broadcast or check the ESPN TV listings.

Determining whether a game will be available either by broadcast or streaming is fairly simple. If TSN is broadcasting the game, it is available on TSN broadcast channels in Canada and streamed on TSN Direct and ESPN+. For French language broadcasts, all Montreal Alouette and select Ottawa RedBlack and other CFL contests are available on RDS/RDS2 and streamed on RDS Direct. Select regular season, playoff and the Grey Cup game are broadcast on ESPN networks. For other non-TSN broadcast pre-season games, other parties may decide to stream the game. If this does not occur, the game is not available to view or stream anywhere.

This handy chart summarizes the availability of CFL game broadcasts each year. For information on streaming around the world, see the streaming question.

Season TSN 1 TSN Direct2 ESPN Networks3 ESPN+4 International5 Other streaming6
Pre-Season Select games Select games None TSN Selected games None Individual games
Regular Season All games All games Select games Non-ESPN carried games Select games N/A
Playoffs All games All games All games None All games N/A
Grey Cup Yes Yes Yes No Yes N/A

1 — TSN is the Canadian broadcast rights holder for the CFL. They broadcast all regular season, playoff and the Grey Cup championship game, along with select pre-season games.

2 — TSN is the Canadian Internet streaming rights holder for the CFL. All games broadcast on TSN networks are available for streaming on TSN Direct to TSN Direct subscribers.

3 — ESPN Networks is the US broadcast rights holder for the CFL. They broadcast select regular season, playoff and the Grey Cup championship game.

4 — ESPN+ is the US Internet Streaming rights holder for the CFL. They broadcast all regular season not carried by ESPN broadcast networks, along with select pre-season games. As they carry the TSN feed, the same games available on TSN/TSN.ca are normally available on ESPN+.

5 — International broadcast rights holders for the CFL broadcast the TSN feed for select regular season games. Games are broadcast in a mixture of live and tape delay availability.

6 — Pre-season games which are not broadcast by TSN may be acquired for streaming by others, such as the home team, for streaming via their exclusive access web sites. Broadcasts of such games, while they occurred in the past, are not likely to occur as streaming is more economical.

Streaming a game that is not broadcast is expensive and requires a substantial amount of skilled persons. Camera operators, producers, directors, and other technical personnel are required along with the on-air broadcast team. Absence of any of these will be noticeable. Streaming pre-season contests currently does not draw large enough audiences to make this a break-even proposition, and draws away from in-stadium attendance which is lacking in the pre-season (10 year average pre-season -17% over regular season and -10% difference in percentage of capacity).

History

TSN/TSN2 broadcast three of nine pre-season games in 2015. TSN/TSN2 broadcast six of nine pre-season games in 2014. In 2013, TSN/TSN2 broadcast two pre-season games after initially indicating they would broadcast six games. In 2012, TSN/TSN2 broadcast four pre-season games. In 2011, TSN televised 7 of 8 pre-season games on TSN or TSN2. Prior to 2011 CFL pre-season games have not been televised nationally since the early 1980's with two exceptions: a game in Portland, Oregon in 1992 and a game in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2005, both by TSN. There was the opportunity for televised coverage of a team's home games in local and regional markets, as in Hamilton and Saskatchewan in 2010. Regional broadcasts were common until the mid-1980's.

Based on past history, ESPN will release its initial schedule of CFL broadcasts a few weeks prior to the start of the CFL season for games up to the end of August. Further games to be broadcast later in the season may be announced closer to their broadcast date. This is due to uncertain schedules for other commitments the broadcaster has.

All CFL games not available on ESPN traditional networks are available on ESPN+ on U.S. domestic Internet and wireless services. ESPN+ is a Internet video streaming subscription service, allowing you to watch broadcasts on a computer or mobile device. ESPN+ is the replacement for the previous cable subscriber limited ESPN3 streaming service and is available to persons with the ESPNPlayer app for $5/month. Region restrictions do apply.

CFL blackouts are largely a thing of the past with the current television contract. There are reports of some executives in the league who wish to bring back blackouts in future TV deals (current expires after 2021 season). I haven't been made aware of a blackout of a game since 2015 in any market, and fans in larger centres have taken advantage of following their team at home rather than in person.

The simple solution to avoiding blackouts is for tickets to be sold. If every team was playing to 90%+ capacity crowds, the league members would all be stable and blackouts certainly would be a tool not as necessary to use. Until those tickets are sold to ensure a healthy franchise, there is no right for someone sitting at home to watch the game, good weather or bad. The active ticket paying fans power the team, not the passive watch-at-home fans. The alternative is the team does not exist.

Blackouts are not determined prior to the season and are not published with team schedules since they are unknown on a game by game basis until the required number of ticket sales occur or the deadline to lift the blackout is passed. Teams use blackouts as a tool to maintain ticket sales. The CFL is a gate-driven league and their television contract would need to increase by over four times for each team to generate the same amount of revenue from broadcasts as they do from ticket sales. If such an increase was to happen, the league would not be willing to forgo revenues from game attendance and play in front of empty stadiums. Rather, revenue growth would go to salary increases, new initiatives and capital improvements as in any business.

Background and History

Blackout areas are defined in Section 6 of the CFL Constitution as 120 kilometres from the city limits of the city the game is being played in or the province of Saskatchewan for games played in that province for broadcast (over-the-air) signals and 56 kilometres from the city limits of the host city for cable signals. It is possible the blackout policy on the constitution has been rewritten in recent years. Blackouts are instituted by cable/satellite providers (or, in the past, over-the-air broadcasters) at the direction of the CFL and the broadcast rights holder. The CRTC is not involved in the decision to black out CFL games in the local market, it is purely an option negotiated by the league with the rights holder.

A report from 2006 (when the 2008-2013 contract was signed) indicates that blackouts were controlled at the league level and required the league to lift the blackout on a minimum number of games each year. Article VI of the CFL Constitution outlines the television and blackout policy (may be outdated). By its wording, it appears that a base price for lifting blackouts in each market was determined each year by the board along with the total number of home game blackouts to be permitted in a season. A portion of rights fees is then used to compensate teams for lifting blackouts (thus theoretically creating higher television ratings). Reinterpreting this article, the pool allowed teams to blackout two games in 2009, meaning the pool size was 56 games. Blackout decisions reverted to the league if 90% of tickets were sold 48 hours prior to the game start. It was the opinion of Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur that the 2008-2013 broadcast rights agreement would be the last to have blackout stipulations for the CFL, however it was reported the same blackout policy is in place for the new 5-year agreement beginning in 2014 (since extended an additional 3 years). Since TSN began broadcasting games in High Definition in 2007, HD broadcasts have not been affected by blackouts to my knowledge.

The Constitution does not hold the whole story it appears, as this mailbag question (see last question) to Drew Edwards from April 2010 (another article that also references these restrictions) indicates that each team could black out 5 games per season except for Toronto and Hamilton which could black out a maximum of 2 games. Yet Terry Jones says in Aug. 2010 the Eskimos could choose to black out one game per season. In 2011, the BC Lions instituted blackouts for their return to a renovated BC Place stadium, continued the practice in 2012 when games were not a sellout and still had the option at their disposal in 2015 as attendance plummeted.

The policy for the past 20 years at least has been that playoff games are not blacked out. I believe the Grey Cup has not been blacked out since it was first televised.

The previous agreement (2002 through 2007), if I remember correctly, required teams to lift at least two blackouts per season.

Blackouts are not a Canadian phenomenon; blackouts occur south of the border as well.

In 2018, TSN announced TSN Direct, a $25/month subscription service to stream TSN broadcasts with only an Internet connection (without a cable/satellite package).

ESPN+ streams most televised CFL games, available as a monthly subscription to eligible parties (regional restrictions apply).

Persons outside the TSN, ESPN and BT Sports service areas (130 countries including most of Europe, Asia and Africa) can stream 2018 CFL games online via Yare Media by purchasing a league, team or game package.

History

TSN Go was announced in 2014 as the new streaming mobile service, including CFL games, available to all TSN subscribers on participating carriers for no additional charge.

Previously, TSN Mobile was available to Bell and Virgin Mobile subscribers. Subscribers of those services could watch live CFL games over mobile and Wi-Fi networks.