December 21, 2006

New TV deal could mean fewer blackouts

By Darrell Davis,
Regina Leader-Post

A new television contract between TSN and the CFL is going to result in more money and perhaps fewer, province-wide blackouts for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“This is a landmark deal for the league and it gives us some stability,” Jim Hopson, president and CEO of the community-owned Roughriders, said Wednesday. “We will see an increase (in revenue), but it won’t be up to $2 million.”

The five-year contract, plus an option year that could carry the deal through 2013, gives TSN exclusive television, broadband and digital rights to CFL games beginning in 2008. In the current contract, TSN has sold some of its games to CBC.

TSN is part of ctvglobemedia, which also owns CTV and French-language RDS. The current, five-year deal was worth $45 million, which gave each CFL franchise about $1 million annually. The new deal is reportedly worth $75 million, which could generate $1.75 million annually for each of the eight CFL franchises.

The new deal also contains a new blackout policy.

“It’s a different set of circumstances, which calls for a total number of league games to (have the blackouts) lifted,” said Hopson. “It’s not for the teams to decide, it’s up to the league. And it won’t be unlimited. Certainly the Roughriders can’t black out all their home games.

“It’s not my opinion that it’s in our best interest to black out all our games. There can be value in lifting the blackouts because people watch the games and decide to come to Mosaic Stadium, because there’s nothing like being at the game. But there is a sense of obligation to Rider Nation to have some of our games available, because we can’t expect all our fans to drive to Regina for every home game.”

The Roughriders usually black out most of their home games throughout Saskatchewan. In 2006 they lifted four TV blackouts, but the team didn’t make the announcements beforehand. The league will likely follow that procedure in 2008, Hopson said.

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Defensive end Fred Perry and receiver/returner Jason Armstead have signed new contracts with the Roughriders, who admitted the latter’s deal has been “restructured.” That means Armstead’s salary has been reduced as the Roughriders work towards meeting the CFL-imposed salary cap of $4.05 million.

Financial details weren’t released, but the pacts were for one year (plus an option year), according to general manager Eric Tillman. Both players were entering the option years of their old contracts.

“For our fans, Fred Perry and Jason Armstead are pretty good Christmas presents,” said Tillman. “Fred had a great year and Jason, restructuring or not, we feel very good about his ability.”

Armstead and Perry were among the 20-plus players who signed deals before the Grey Cup game, so their bonuses counted toward last year’s salary cap of $3.8 million. Next year’s salaries are included in the 2007 cap. Teams will be punished for not following the spending guidelines in 2007, but there are no penalties being imposed for 2006.

Tillman admitted Wednesday the Roughriders exceeded last year’s cap by $1 million, “but those numbers are skewed because of our (recent) signings.”

Armstead was selected third overall in the 2006 dispersal draft of the Ottawa Renegades. In 15 regular-season games he caught 47 passes for 651 yards and a team high six touchdowns, rushed 19 times for 80 yards and one touchdown, returned 20 kickoffs for 267 yards and 42 punts for 412 yards. He finished the season with 1,410 all purpose yards.

Perry led the team with 14 quarterback sacks in 18 regular-season games. He also had 47 defensive tackles, one interception, 10 pass knockdowns, eight tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He was named to the CFL all-star team and was the Riders’ nominee for most outstanding defensive player.

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Veteran linebacker Jackie Mitchell was granted an early release by the Roughriders. One of seven players whose contracts expire Feb. 15, he apparently asked to be waived.

“We couldn’t give Jackie assurances he would be back next year, so he asked for an early release,” Tillman said.

Mitchell could still be re-signed, Tillman said. Defensive backs Davin Bush, Omarr Morgan and Donnie Ruiz, receivers Jamel Richardson and Ibrahim Tounkara and fullback Cory Hathaway are the other players who are nearing free agency.

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Roughriders assistant coaches Richie Hall and Tim Kearse are among the coaches helping former Roughriders general manager Roy Shivers in the Magnolia Gridiron Classic, slated for Saturday in Jackson, Miss.

Shivers has been recruited to coach the Division 1-A team, which will play all-stars from Division 1-AA schools. Former Roughriders offensive co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille, who recently assumed that job with the Montreal Alouettes, is also on a staff that includes former CFL coaches Joe Paopao and Kani Kauahi. New Roughriders head coach Kent Austin is awaiting word from Hall, who has been invited to retain his position as Saskatchewan’s defensive co-ordinator.