The Great Canadian Ratings Report: NHL all-star game takes a dive and Rogers wonders why

The 2014 NHL all-star game didn't fare as well in the ratings as expected. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett)
The 2014 NHL all-star game didn't fare as well in the ratings as expected. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett)

Maybe the hockey public has just tired of the annual all-star break. Maybe all those other attractions -- the stadium series, the Olympics -- have taken the shine off what used to be a big attraction for the NHL.

Or maybe all those absences -- this was the first all-star game since 2012 -- have made the heart grow less fond.

Whatever the reason, there's no escaping the fact that the recent all-star weekend was a ratings disappointment. Audience numbers were down across the board in North America, sharply so in Canada.

So what's going on here? How do you explain double-digit ratings decreases as well as the lowest all-star weekend audiences since the ratings system introduced portable people meters in 2009?

Scott Moore, overseer of Rogers NHL broadcasts, says he's mystified and wonders if it's an indication that there's a problem with Canada's ratings system when it comes to sports.

``We're seeing some bizarre trends in Canada around sports viewing that don't seem to make sense if you compare trends here to what's happening elsewhere in the world," he said.``They're telling us that hockey viewing has been in a downward spiral for four years. That doesn't seem to make sense."

``They" are Numeris, the people who supply television ratings numbers in Canada. Moore says Rogers has been talking with Numeris for months regarding concerns about sports fans not being counted accurately in the ratings. Numeris did not respond to a request for comment.

The all-star numbers only highlight that credibility gap, Moore said.

``It's not like the product has changed significantly and the events were on the same network as last time," Moore said.  ``I worry about the validity of all the numbers when I see something like that."

Moore wonders if sports fans aren't being represented adequately in the ratings. He says that while CFL audiences, which tend to be comprised of hard-core sports fans, were down this year,  big events that tend to attract a broader cross-section of viewers -- like the World Cup and Olympics -- showed increases.

The NHL's lost weekend started with Friday's fantasy draft, one of those events that make you wonder why anyone would watch anyway. But, regardless of the esthetic value, an average of 1.3 million Canadians tuned in to TSN in 2012. This year, a mere 503,000 spent the evening watching it on Sportsnet -- a drop of 61 per cent.

The Saturday skills competition, the most entertaining part of the weekend, averaged 1.8 million viewers on CBC. That's not far off the Hockey Night In Canada average, but still down 27 per cent from 2012. Sunday's game attracted an average audience of 1.5 million -- down 39 per cent from 2012.

In the U.S., NBC Sports Net saw its ratings drop from 2012, but not significantly. The ratings for the game dropped to 1 million, down 10 per cent from 2012, while the skills competition drew 895,000, a drop of 18 per cent.

Overall, these are not terrible ratings. Saturday's audience was pretty close to what Hockey Night In Canada draws for its early games and it should be noted that the all-star stuff dominated the weekend ratings in this country.  The game was NBCSN's highest for a non-playoff hockey broadcast since the last all-star game.

Regardless of what the reason, there's a problem here. The prospect of the ratings system missing sports fans isn't an impossibility.

It happened before -- the people meters started counting out-of-home viewing and sports ratings soared across the board.

Or, if the ratings are indeed accurate, leagues and sports broadcasters may be facing tough times.

While it was a disappointing weekend for the NHL, it was a good one for tennis. Ratings for the Australian Open were strong all weekend and an average of 720,000 viewers tuned in to TSN on Monday to watch Canadian Eugenie Bouchard square off against Maria Sharapova. Another 304,000 watched in French on RDS, meaning more than 1 million caught Bouchard's loss in the quarter-finals. That represented an 80 per cent increase over Bouchard's appearance in last year's quarters.

It's safe to assume TSN is happy with those numbers.

Here are the most-watched English-language sports events from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:

1. NHL, All-star skills competition, Saturday, CBC: 1,800,000

2. NHL, All-star game, Sunday, CBC: 1,500,000

3. Tennis, Australian Open women's quarterfinals, Monday, TSN: 720,000

4. Figure skating, Canadian championships pairs-dance free, Sunday, CTV: 587,000

5. NHL, Hockey Central pre-game, Saturday, CBC: 576,000

6. NHL, All-star fantasy draft, Friday, Sportsnet: 503,000

7. NBA, Pistons at Raptors, Sunday, Sportsnet: 312,000

8. Tennis, Australian Open third round, Friday, TSN: 243,000

9. UFC, Fight Night Stockholm, Saturday, TSN: 241,000

10. Skiing, Ski and snowboard world championships, Sunday, CBC: 225,000

11. NFL, Pro Bowl, Sunday, TSN: 223,000

12. Tennis, Australian Open, round of 16, Sunday, TSN: 221,000

13. Tennis, Australian Open, round of 16, Saturday, TSN: 218,000

13. Figure skating, Canadian championships free skates, Saturday, TSN: 218,000

15. NBA, Raptors at 76ers, Friday, TSN: 192,000

16. Curling, Manitoba women's Page playoff, Saturday, Sportsnet: 167,000

17. UFC, Stockholm preliminaries, Saturday, TSN: 166,000

18. Figure skating, Canadian championships shorts programs, Friday, TSN: 166,000

19. Curling, Ontario women's semifinal, Sunday, Sportsnet: 150,000

20. Curling, Alberta women's final, Sunday, Sportsnet West: 143,000

21. Curling, Ontario women's final, Sunday, Sportsnet East, Ontario: 140,000

22. Curling, Manitoba women's final, Sunday, Sportsnet One: 126,000

23. Skiing, women's World Cup downhill, Saturday, CBC: 118,000

24. NBA, Thunder at Cavaliers, Sunday, TSN: 115,000

24. Curling, Alberta women's semifinal, Sunday, Sportsnet West: 111,000


Hoping to go over the hump Down Under: The latest installment of the Raonic-Djokovic series is on tap at the Australian Open and the Great Canadian Hope will need to do something different if he's going to break into the win column against Novak Djokovic. Milos Raonic is 0-4 in his career against the Serbian star and will face him in the quarterfinals (Wednesday, 3:30 a.m. ET, TSN.)

Stars on ice: After all the fun and games of the all-star weekend, the NHL brings back serious hockey for all those who've been in withdrawal since the last elbow was thrown in anger.  Four Canadian teams -- Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton -- return to action starting Tuesday night on Sportsnet's various channels.

Deflation inflation: With all that's happened in the past two weeks, the broadcast of Sunday's Super Bowl XLIX will provide viewers with a few rare treats. No doubt there will be numerous close-ups of footballs, graphics on air pressure, commentary from people like Stephen Hawking or Bill Nye the Science Guy, a bloated half-time show and much more. Oh yeah, and squeezed into all of that will be a football game. New England and Seattle, if you're wondering. Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET (that's VI:XXX in Superbowlspeak), NBC and CTV.