NBC Sports Network picked up some new sports inventory Friday, signing a deal to broadcast 14 CFL games (including the playoffs and the Grey Cup championship game) this season. The Grey Cup game will be carried live, and it looks like most of the other broadcasts will be as well, except for some of the playoff games. The deal's beneficial to the CFL on a number of fronts, and it could help out NBCSN as well, but a lot will depend on their expectations and their marketing of it.
The CFL can provide a compelling football product, as seen by some of the highlights that frequently gain traction south of the border. It also has at least a partially built-in American fan base, as there are some who still follow the northern league avidly. However, that didn't translate into great ratings for the NFL Network over the last couple of years, and although the CFL was interesting enough for NFLN to expand its coverage last year in advance of the NFL labour dispute, the CFL programming was quickly bumped and dropped when the labour strife ended. NFLN and the CFL didn't work out a new deal this year, and although some of that might have been the league looking for a partner interested in televising the Grey Cup live, NFLN certainly didn't seem to fight too hard to keep the CFL. That, combined with the less-than-stellar ratings NFLN got, might suggest this won't necessarily be a stunning success for NBCSN.
There are some advantages NBCSN's deal has, though. For one thing, they've grabbed what looks like a pretty good slate of games, but even more importantly, their regular-season games are on Fridays (with one Thursday and two Monday ones on the Canadian holiday of Labour Day). These aren't going head-to-head with the biggest days for college football and the NFL, and that's crucial; while Fridays usually still have a college game or two, the CFL could be an excellent alternative for fans if the college matchup isn't all that exciting. Moreover, NBCSN's showing these at reasonable times; it looks like most of their coverage is going to be live (unlike NFLN, which showed some games live but tape-delayed a lot of them to early-morning hours) and that always helps with sports.
Whether this move will work for NBCSN likely depends on their expectations. They've expanded their inventory of live sports and picked up a reasonable, somewhat well-known league, plus furthered their brand in football, so this certainly seems more positive than other things sports networks do to fill airtime (looking at you, Late Night With Yet-To-Be-Announced ESPNU Hosts And Twitter Feeds). If the ratings expectations are kept modest and some skillful promotion is done (playing up the highlights and ridiculous plays), this might work out very well for them. If they're expecting NFL or major college level numbers of viewers, though, they're likely going to be disappointed.