Can NLL fill unexpected void for TSN?

The talk in every Canadian work place break room last week was either on the four federal by-elections or, seemingly more important, the TSN/NHL TV fallout. The $5.2 billion 12-year deal sees TSN, arguably Canada’s largest sports network, without the rights to broadcast NHL games starting in 2014. This will leave a huge hole in TSN’s broadcasting schedule that now needs to be filled. TSN still retains the rights to NBA, IIHF World Juniors and a variety of curling events, but it will have some difficulty maintaining a full-time sports card without broadcasting the World Series of Backgammon (look it up, it is a real thing). For the National Lacrosse League, this is what opportunity smells like.

Remember the hope last season that a cancelled NHL season could help sell the NLL? Well, this is a close second. It is no secret that the NLL would benefit immensely from a national TV deal as the exposure alone would be worth every effort to secure such a deal. Then there is the economic windfall from a potential rise in popularity.

With four Canadian teams in the league, it would not be a hard sell regarding Canadian content. Imagine a Saturday night TSN double-header with Toronto at home to Vancouver followed by Calgary at Edmonton. It’s enough to warm the heart of every frozen Canuck who spends their summer on the floor or field. It may be an unlikely dream at this point, however it is not outside the realm of possibility when we examine the situation a little further.

Over the last two seasons, the Toronto Rock have had 20 regular season games broadcast on TSN/TSN2 and all were in a league with only 3 Canadian teams and while competing with NHL and NBA for air time. With the loss of NHL, the NLL could take its place in some capacity when it comes to air time.

A stumbling block with the all Canadian Saturday night double-header comes with Rogers Sports Net (which outbid TSN for NHL rights) and which is the broadcast affiliates of both Alberta teams. The next question to ask is: Will it retain the affiliation since it will be busy with NHL and Jr. A games? Possibly not. If Rogers decides to drop the Roughnecks and Rush, then the NLL could offer All-Canadian exclusivity to TSN. If they continue to be the broadcasting affiliates, then TSN could still offer Toronto and Vancouver games against American teams and the dream of more lacrosse with national exposure lives on.

This all obviously ignores the impact that the NBA will have. The unconfirmed reality is that TSN will likely pursue more basketball than lacrosse. The NBA is a more lucrative brand than the NLL.

However, if the Toronto Raptors continue to struggle and basketball remains less popular than NHL, NFL and CFL in Canada, then the potential remains for the NLL to make a big push into building its popularity in the Great White North. Big things for lacrosse could be around the corner and on your remote.

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