on NBC




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U.S. Expansion








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Grey Cup


























Nobody likes sad endings

The CFL got its chance on U.S. TV last season but lopsided games spoiled it all-- Pat Hickey--CFL illustrated 1983


In show business, timing is everything. The Canadian Football League learned that lesson last fall (1982) when it came close to realizing one of Jake Gaudaur's fondest dreams - a network television contract in the United States. The CFL was given an opportunity to shine in prime timewhen National Football League players decided to take their ball and go home. The U.S. networks were thrown into a frenzy by the player's strike, trying to figure out how they could fill the airwaves with something to replace the NFL. One network came up with replays of past Super Bowls: one offered blockbuster movies. And NBC decided to go north.


The decision to carry CFL games on U.S. networks was greeted enthusiastically by both the CFL and by the network. Gaudaur has always felt that U.S. exposure is essential in helping the CFL recruit players. While the all-sports ESPN network has been carrying the game for two seasons and had built a respectable following, the NBC coverage promised to bring the Canadian game into more U.S. homes than ever before.  As for the networks they were only happy to pick up the only real professional football being played in North America at the time. The fact they were picking it up for a bargain $50,000 a game made it even more attractive.


NBC went all out for its first weekend of TV coverage on September 26. It dispatched some of its top broadcasters to Canada, sending Don Criqui and John Brodie to Toronto for the Argo-B.C. Lions' game and Merlin Olsen and Dick Enberg to Edmonton for the Eskimo-Calgary Stampeders' game. There was a lot of pre-game hype about how Canadian football was such an exciting game but the reality proved to be less than exciting as B.C. crushed Toronto 46-14 and Edmonton built up a big early lead before dumping Calgary 36-17.


A week later, the NBC camera were in Regina where the Roughriders manhandled Calgary 53-8. The slaughter was so painful that NBC pulled the plug on the game midway through the fourth quarter so that it could resume its normal programming. Years earlier, a similar move during an NFL game triggered an angry protest by viewers. There were no screams this time, only sighs of relief.


The U.S. network gave the CFL one more chance, scheduling the Edmonton-B.C. game the following weekend. Again, it was no contest as the Eskimos ran up a 30-1 victory. It was to be the CFL's last shot. The network had tentatively scheduled the Toronto-Winnipeg game for October 17. Winnipeg had beaten Toronto 39-35 a week earlier and there was the prospect of an exciting rematch, just what the CFL needed to regain its credibility as an entertaining product. But NBC wasn't taking any chances; it cancelled the CFL telecast, saying it was afraid the game might run over into the network's coverage of the World Series.


NBC said it would look into the possibility of doing future CFL games but that possibility was shelved along with an option that would have allowed NBC to pick up some CFL playoff games.


"It was disappointing," said CFL director of administration Ken Derrett. "The problems was the timing, If the players had gone on strike two or three weeks earlier we would have had some great TV games, like B.C.'s 33-32 win over Saskatchewan or that 36-35 game between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. The timing was just off."

And in show business, that's the difference between a hit and a miss.



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