In Search Of The CFL

Howard BurnsCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2008

July has arrived and your football withdrawals are making you climb walls. Watching repeats of old games on NFL Network just doesn't cut it. Arena league games are unsatisfying if you demand some defense with your offense. Preseason NFL is around the corner but is virtually unwatchable, except maybe for the third game when most of the critical roster cuts are decided.

The only summertime football that comes close to scratching the itch is played in the Canadian Football League. Traditionalists may scoff at the notion that the pigskin from north of the border is worth the time, but the CFL in recent years has been increasingly active in procuring quality players and coaches from the U.S. collegiate and professional ranks, producing a faster-paced and more exciting brand of football. Additionally, the league has settled on eight teams, thus deepening its overall talent pool.

In recent years, U.S. audiences were able to watch CFL telecasts from the CBC and TSN on regional sports networks such as the Comcast SportsNet affiliates carried on local cable systems and national satellite platforms. Not so anymore.

With no major cable/satellite deals this year in the U.S., transplanted Canucks and die-hard American fans are left with a less-than-satisfying menu of viewing alternatives comprised of obscure digital television outlets and online streaming.

The most viable option for accessing live CFL games is, which is importing two or three telecasts a week from TSN, now the exclusive network of league games in Canada. On the TV side, unless you're one of the relative few with access to an affiliate of digital network America One—currently unavailable on DirecTV and Dish Network—or market laggard Voom HD Networks, you're out of luck.

It seems somewhat unbelievable in this multichannel universe that the CFL is unable to secure a U.S. TV deal with some distribution heft, but that's the case.  The U.S. cablers that were showing CFL games used to claim the games were popular with viewers. Even ESPN made a decent business out of the CFL back in the days when its programming resources were thinner.

The CFL is certainly worth watching but for now it's basically broadband or bust.