Monday, February 28, 2005

Three months and counting til Football's back!

The CFL has released its 2005 Schedule and once again TSN will devote a good portion of its telecast time to following our Great old game. Bringing Canadians 54 CFL contests this year including 20 in HIGH DEFINITION!

The Sports Network will also for the first time bring us some pre season football, as they follow the Argonauts to Halifax on June 11th for the exhibition match against the Alouettes. That game quickly is becoming a litmus test for football interest in the Maritimes, an audition if you will for the folks down east to make their best presentation for the much discussed and often threatened 10th franchise. Other candidates for that fifth Eastern division franchise are Quebec City, Moncton and London. Halifax is generally considered the most likely to receive the eventual nod, though Quebec City has been making a case for expansion the last few years, based on the amazing success of college ball in the historic city.

While expansion is probably still a few years away, this years schedule promises many of the usual gems that make CFL football so popular. The traditional Labour Day classics, The Thanksgiving Day Weekend matchups and a newcomer to the rivalry game the Banjo classic, where the prairie kin get to battle for bragging rights.

CBC once again will gladly accept some CFL broadcasts (though sadly without their number one play by play guy Chris Cuthbert, unceremoniously dumped by the pork barrel network) filling in the spot formerly held by HockeyNight in Canada (and most recently Movie Night in Canada) with a Saturday night game of the week. The French cable outlet RDS will follow the Alouettes all season long, with all 18 games televised back into once again football mad Quebec.

Our TV coverage begins June 11th with that Argos and Alouette pre season matchup in Nova Scotia, TV then kicks off the regular season on June 22nd with the Ti Cats and Alouettes, followed three days later by a Grey Cup rematch between BC and Toronto, from there it's through the summer and into the fall, leading to the always exciting finale on November 27th and the 2005 Grey Cup Game from Vancouver.

All in all, only five games will not be broadcast this year on television in Canada, providing Canadians with a wide selection of football to follow. Having spent a cold winter and a miserable spring without any NHL Hockey, the CFL should benefit from a Canadian public starving for a sport to send some emotional attachment towards. While training camps are still a few months away, we're already reserving our space on the couch, right beside the beer cooler for the hot summer of action just ahead!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

CBC paints a giant bulls eye on its back

(The CBC has let go veteran play by play pro Chris Cuthbert, who of course has helped to make CFL broadcasts into a popular Saturday night viewing habit on the Mother Corp!)

You would think that in a week that the Federal Government increased its budget and smiled kindly on the Mother Corporation of Canadian Broadcasting, that they would be feeling pretty good. But nope at the CBC it's circle the wagons time as they find incoming shots from all directions.

First there is this curling fiasco, now in normal times the status of the roaring game would hardly generate the kind of negative press that the CBC is suffering these days, but with no NHL hockey to broadcast the glare of sport beats down on the corporations Curling Coverage and the judgment is that the CBC is messing up a pretty good game. I'll direct you to the seanincognito site for the wonderful expose of CBC incompetence in covering a rather easy to follow sport, sean has been having a field day over the last week or so tracking the backlash, the backlash, the backlash and the backlash over the unusual broadcast strategy employed by CBC Sports regarding curling. Did I mention there was a bit of a backlash!

But should one think this is a one time only faux pas, think again. Perhaps it's the disappointment over losing the rights to the Olympics to those evil specialty folk at TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and Bell Globe media (including arch rival CTV) but the CBC are on a serious losing streak. If this were Vegas even the pit boss would suggest they move on to the lounge for a break and rethink their plans.

In the last month the CBC has cancelled the most popular Hockey Day in Canada feature, which was one of those feel good tell a story about Canada that is supposed to be the network's mandate. Citing a lack of hockey and lack of revenue the suits in the Barbara Frum broadcast centre said small town Canada could do without a tribute to the grassroots this year.

Of course, one idiots decision is another guys brainstorm and the folks at TSN were quick to jump on the idea and put together their own version of Hockey Day, called Canada's Game: Hockey Lives Here. And it was just as good if not better than the previous versions on the CBC and that's without benefit of the triple header of professional hockey. In fact, the absence of the pros was hardly noticed as we traveled from coast to coast to coast to celebrate the great game. Why the CBC didn't think this would be a worthwhile idea is beyond me and beyond their own employees, or in the latest development their ex employee.

It seems one of the CBC broadcasters who spoke out loudly against the cancellation of the day of hockey was Chris Cuthbert, who spoke his mind in a planning meeting, no doubt suggesting that perhaps in a year without hockey this would be the perfect vehicle to show the game was more than just a bunch of professionals making obscene amounts of money.

For his intervention, Cuthbert was cut adrift earlier this week. The head of Sports Nancy Lee sending him packing, supposedly due to the lack of NHL hockey on the network this year. An interesting decision, as Cuthbert not only was on Hockey Night in Canada, he also was the voice of CFL football on the CBC. The CFL of course now can claim to be the only professional sport left on the CBC, with ratings rising over the last number of years, Cuthbert and Chris Walby brought the Saturday broadcast into prime time and made it every much as popular as the Hockey boys did on Saturday nights for the NHL.

The CBC fired Cuthbert without even bothering to inform it's partner in CFL broadcasts, the league. Something that no doubt will be addressed when the CFL contract comes up for renewal. The CFL has made great strides in its presentation due in no small part to Cuthbert's contribution, they won't be happy with his departure. For the CBC to eliminate such a versatile and talented broadcaster as Cuthbert under such a feeble excuse, smells of something that reaches far deeper into the politics of the CBC.

The Cuthbert firing has once again brought the CBC to the newspapers and like the Curling mess, the CBC comes up on the losing side of any PR agenda. With the various mis-steps of the last few months, one has to wonder if the people that run the CBC are really paying attention to who is getting fired around there, seems to an outside observer that the folks at the top of the food chain should be walking the plank before the network suffers any further embarrassment.

And unlike Cuthbert who shouldn't be out of work for any length of time (unless he wants to be) ,the bureaucratic morons making these questionable calls won't fare quite as well. Having taken a much respected department into this state of farce will not look particularly good on a CV.

Many times the criticism of the CBC is unwarranted, bordering on a blood lust from it's private industry competitors. But in this case everyone so far has been spot on, CBC sports is a mess, there's no vision, no competence and if things keep up like this there will be no viewers.

The above item first appeared in my A Town Called Podunk blog, for more general interest items check it out!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Crazy Foolish Lunatics?

Stability it's the goal of any organization, something that's even more important to an organization that has suffered some rather shaky years in the last decade. So can only wonder as to what madness has gripped some of the owners of franchises of the Canadian Football League.

Reports this week have been leaked out that some of the CFL franchisees are not particularly fond of current CFL commissioner Tom Wright. Wright who is in the final year of his three year contract has been a rather steadying influence over the normally Neanderthal nine. Over the years keeping the nine separate interests that call themselves owners on the same page has been about as easy as herding cats. Each ownernship group tends to go off on their own thing, occasionally considering the good of the whole but for the most part exhibiting some serious me me me attitudes.

The ringleaders in this particular possible coup are BC Lions owner David Braley, Hamilton Tiger Cats owner Bob Young and Montreal Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall. While Braley has for the most part been a busy guy making his opinion known since buying the Leos, he has also ponied up the cash to keep the Lions alive on the coast for a number of years now. But if memory serves correct he was the lead headhunter when they went looking for a new commissioner, so if he's unhappy with Wright one wonder just what it may take to please him. Perhaps he wants the job himself, that way at least he'll quit finding fault with the guy at the helm.

Young who has been described as nice guy if a tad eccentric at times, has a vision as to where he wants to take the Tiger Cats, so maybe he just wants to broaden the horizon. Regardless with only a year on the job, is it time for him to start to flex a muscle? Wetenhall on the other hand has been a pretty faithful owner of the Als over the years, silently taking some hits financially as he tries to expand Molson stadium to bring in some cash relief.

There has been no word on what exactly Wright has done to annoy the trio, (perhaps salary cap controversies are the lightning rod who knows) but the timing of it all seems rather strange. After so many years in the wilderness struggling for its very survival, the CFL has finally become a high visibility product in Canada. With excellent TV numbers, increasingly fuller stadiums and a buzz that has people actually talking football over bank accounts the league hasn't been this strong in years. Why they would want to mess up a good thing is anyone's guess.

We would hate to the think that the CFL is returning to the bad old days where every step forward was followed by six or seven steps backwards. The league has come so far in the fast few years, it would be a shame if they threw it all away on pointless ego games.