The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Curling has TSN hurrying hard

·Chris Zelkovich

The big question ricocheting around the TV universe in the days ARBE (After Rogers Bought Everything) is: What in the world is TSN going to show once hockey goes away?

Darts? Poker? A reality show called Dutchyshen Dynasty?

Well, based on Sunday's audiences and the numbers TSN will rack up this week, it can start with curling. The opening draw of the Olympic trials averaged 632,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon, the fourth-most watched sports event in the country last week.

While the size of that audience was boosted by the fact that it included the 900,000 who tuned in (inexplicably) to watch Will Ferrell pick up a broom in his Ron Burgundy disguise, that's a pretty impressive number. It outdrew most NFL games and even one NHL game.

In fact, it was 38 per cent higher than the last Olympic trials opener four years ago.

The beauty of curling as a hockey replacement is that the sport has almost a cult following here. Fans will tune in no matter the event and the possibility of creating more events always exists. Equally important is the fact it helps satisfy Canadian content regulations, something that can't be said for the likes of U.S. college football or NBA basketball.

Don't be surprised if curling is one of the beneficiaries of the Rogers NHL deal.

One of the disadvantages of the deal -- outside of the almost mandatory increase in cable fees -- is that it put the bright spotlight on Don Cherry last week. Retinas are still burning across the land after all that blazer exposure.

On the other hand, that exposure may have also helped chip away at his exaggerated reputation as a drawing card.

Saturday's Leafs-Canadiens game, which featured Cherry's somewhat pitiful plea for his job, attracted an average audience of 2.07 million. That's 100,000 below the season average (2.17) for the prime-time Hockey Night In Canada broadcast -- a little surprising considering the game featured long-time rivals that usually produce a big audience.

Here are the most-watched sports broadcasts of the past week, according to BBM Canada overnight ratings:

1. NHL, Leafs at Habs, Saturday, CBC: 2,070,000

2. NHL, Flames at Kings, Saturday, CBC: 751,000

3. NHL, Wings at Senators, Sunday, TSN: 662,000

4. Curling, Olympic trials opening draw, Sunday, TSN: 632,000

5. NFL, Raiders at Cowboys, Thursday, City: 538,000

6. NFL, Sunday early games, CTV: 478,000

7. NFL, Broncos at Chiefs, Sunday, City: 473,000

8. NFL, Giants at Redskins, Sunday, TSN: 375,000 (NBC audience not calculated)

9. NFL, Steelers at Ravens, Thursday, Sportsnet: 324,000 (CBS audience not calculated)

10. NFL, Falcons vs. Bills, Sunday, Sportsnet: 253,000 (Fox audience not calculated)

11. NHL, Canucks at Hurricanes, Sunday, Sportsnet Pacific: 234,000

12. NFL, Packers at Lions, Thursday, City: 230,000

13. NHL, Rangers at Bruins, Friday, TSN: 202,000

14. Sports Day in Canada, Saturday, CBC: 167,000

15. NBA, Raptors at Heat, Friday, TSN: 157,000

16. Bobsleigh, World Cup, Saturday, CBC: 150,000

17. Martial Arts, UFC prelims, Saturday, Sportsnet: 138,000

18. Alpine skiing, World Cup, Saturday, CBC: 137,000

19. Martial arts, UFC main card, Saturday, Sportsnet: 126,000

20. NBA, Nuggets at Raptors, Sunday, Sportsnet: 102,000

THREE TO WATCH

December sweeps: Now that Ron Burgundy has moved on, curling fans can start getting serious about the Roar of the Rings, another name for the Canadian Olympic curling trials. The best in the country will be hurrying hard all week for the right to go to Sochi. all week, finals on Sunday. TSN has full day coverage all week, culminating in the women's final Saturday (7:30 p.m.) and the men's final Sunday (3 p.m.) P.S. Try telling the difference between Ron and Vic Rauter.

World Cup of plenty: There was a time when things like draft lotteries and tournament draws were held in secret. Now they're considered valuable TV programming. Sportnset, for example, will turn into a pre-draw show, draw show and post-draw show. Soccer fans will eat it up. Friday, 10:30 a.m., Sportsnet

Nothing finer in Carolina: It may read like a typo, but the Carolina Panthers are on an eight-game winning streak and gunning for first place in the NFC South. To achieve that somewhat surprising goal, they must knock off the New Orleans Saints. Sunday, 8:30 p.m., TSN/NBC.

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