The CFL is returning to the United States. Well, sort of.
The league announced Friday that for the first time since 1997, its games will be broadcast in the United States.
America One, a U.S-based television network consisting of over 200 affiliate stations, will broadcast all CFL playoff games as well as the Grey Cup, making them available to more than 32 million households south of the border.
That's worth noting because, while the Grey Cup is the most-watched sporting event in Canada, its highest viewership ever north of the border was 4.2 million on CBC in 1983.
Last year's telecast on CBC and RDS drew a total of 3.74 million Canadian viewers.
By comparison, CBC averaged 1.42 million viewers during the 2000 Stanley Cup final series.
The playoff games and Grey Cup will also be carried on Fox Sports World and the Sunshine Network.
Both are American-based channels available in Canada on satellite dishes that were recently added to America One's distribution list.
Jim Barker, the former Toronto Argonauts head coach, will serve as an in-studio analyst on the America One's CFL telecasts.
America One is featuring its Canadian programming prominently on its Website (americaone.com).
News of the CFL broadcasts appears at the top of the network's home page, and upon clicking on it, Internet users are immediately presented icons of the four semifinal teams -- Hamilton, Montreal, Calgary and B.C. -- which provide access to news and background information regarding the Canadian-based franchises.
It will mark the first time CFL games will be broadcast in the U.S. since ESPN2 carried contests in 1997.
The CFL also announced Friday that its three Canadian-based television partners -- TSN, CBC and RDS -- all reported ratings increases over their 2000 numbers.
According to the CFL, RDS, the French-speaking division of TSN, reported the biggest increase, a whopping 116 per cent boost among viewers aged 18 to 34 years of age.
It added that the 18 to 49 demographic went up by 52 per cent.
Overall, RDS's 2001 ratings increased 22 per cent over last year (an average of 159,000 viewers per telecast compared to 131,000 in 2000).
Since 1999, RDS has experienced a 325 per cent growth in the 18 to 34 demographic, which makes up 30 per cent its total viewership.
TSN reported a 55 per cent improvement in its 18-to-34 demographic this year.
It also registered a 29 per cent boost with viewers between 25 and 54 years of age and a 28 per cent improvement with those aged between 18 and 49.
The league also said younger football fans are tuning into TSN, with the network reporting a 25 per cent increase with viewers between the ages of two and 11.
Since 1997, TSN's ratings on its CFL telecasts have gone up 72 per cent (average of 266,000 viewers per telecast from 155,000 in '97).
CBC registered an overall five per cent increase over its 2000 numbers.
But since 1997, the network's CFL ratings have gone up 21 per cent (379,000 from 314,000).
The league did not make the specific demographic breakdowns available.
By Dan Ralph