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A new television agreement between the Canadian Football League and Bell Globemedia could put the boot to the CBC and end the tradition of Canadians watching the Grey Cup on the public network.
Sources confirmed Wednesday that the CFL is close to reaching a TV deal with TSN and perhaps also CTV, both of which are owned by Globemedia.
Phil King, the president of TSN, refused to comment on a new rights deal, believed to be worth about $15-million annually.
A source close to the league said Globemedia has "bid aggressively for the entire CFL package," but insisted the agreement falls short of being made final.
"Anything can happen in a rights deal," he said. "All I can tell you is that the league's board of governors has not approved anything yet."
Others said Wednesday the Globemedia deal is almost certain to get a thumbs up from the CFL owners. An announcement could be made in the next two weeks.
CFL games and the Grey Cup started airing on the CBC in 1952, but Johnny Esaw, the former head of sports for CTV, says there was a break in the string of Grey Cup telecasts on the CBC.
In 1962, Esaw grabbed football rights for CTV.
A CBC.ca web page states then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker intervened, insisting CTV, which had limited distribution, share coverage with the CBC. However, according to the website, Diefenbaker's intervention "went for naught."
That's Esaw's recollection as well. For a while, both CTV and CBC televised the championship game.
The new TV contract, which would start in 2008, would keep CFL games on TSN, with Friday continuing to be the main football night.
The participation of CTV isn't clear.
Globemedia, which also owns The Globe and Mail, would have the option of selling CFL games and perhaps even the Grey Cup to the CBC.
A spokesperson for the CBC refused to comment.
In 2003, TSN became the CFL's master licensee by acquiring cable and broadcast rights in a five-year deal worth about $10-million annually.
The CBC's regular-season package is made up of Saturday night games during the summer, followed by weekend afternoon games in the fall.
Getting shut out of the new CFL rights deal would be a blow to the CBC, which is also competing against Globemedia for National Hockey League rights.
In addition to television, Globemedia's CFL deal would involve Internet and mobile phone rights