Chris Zelkovich

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Grey Cup audience down, but there are hopeful signs

    Quarterback Henry Burris of the Ottawa Redblacks hoists the Grey Cup Sunday in Toronto, which drew almost 4 million viewers. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
    Quarterback Henry Burris of the Ottawa Redblacks hoists the Grey Cup Sunday in Toronto, which drew almost 4 million viewers. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

    How can it be?

    How could one of the most exciting Grey Cup games in 104 years, a game that featured overtime and an upset of historic proportions, be watched by fewer people than the previous year? How could it draw the lowest Grey Cup ratings in 11 years?

    But before you get all The-CFL-is-on-its-deathbed on us, let’s take a look at the possible reasons for a 10 per cent drop in audience from last year — as well as some hopeful signs for the future.

    Even without getting philosophical, the raw numbers aren’t bad. According to Numeris overnight ratings, the game was watched by an average of 3.6 million viewers on TSN and another 254,000 on French-language RDS.

    In the grand scheme of things, that’s more than any Stanley Cup playoff game has attracted since 2015 and is among the most-watched sports events of the year, around the

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  • CFL boss: 'no conclusive evidence' on link between football, CTE

    CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge in Toronto on Nov. 25, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz photo)
    CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge in Toronto on Nov. 25, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz photo)

     

    The CFL and NFL differ in the number of downs and size of the field, but they’re also apparently far apart on the matter of concussions in football.

    While an NFL executive admitted to Congress this year that there is a link between football and degenerative brain injuries, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said Friday in his state of the league press conference that the jury is still out on the matter.

    Orridge told reporters that there’s no proof football plays a big role in the high rates of CTE among former players.

    “The league’s position is that there is no conclusive evidence at this point,” he said, noting that concussions in the CFL had dropped from 50 to 40 this year.

    “We continue to work with (the medical world) and monitor the progress that they’re making in terms of getting a greater understanding of whether or not there is a linkage.”

    Orridge also said he couldn’t comment on

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  • On Grey Cup eve, rise of MLS casts shadow over CFL's place in Toronto

    104th Grey Cup logo BMO Field

    It’s been said that a rising tide lifts all boats.

    But there’s reason to wonder if the sudden rise of Major League Soccer’s fortunes in Canada might be punching a few holes in the boats of the Canadian Football League.

    While soccer has many light years to go before it can come close to challenging the CFL on television, there are signs that at least in Canada’s biggest city it’s threatening to do some damage.

    No doubt a few heads turned at CFL headquarters when the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC averaged 595,000 viewers on TSN and 429,000 on French-language RDS.

    In addition, after Montreal’s 60,000-plus Olympic Stadium sold out in no time for that game, there were fewer than 1,000 tickets remaining for Wednesday’s rematch at BMO Field next Wednesday.

    That’s the same BMO Field where the CFL is expecting a sellout for Sunday’s Grey Cup game, but was still almost 2,000 seats short as of Friday despite having months to flog the

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  • Calgary Stampeders' Grey Cup hopes inspired by teammate lost to senseless tragedy

    Calgary Stampeders' Osagie Odiase wears the No. 31 jersey of his fallen teammate and roommate Mylan Hicks in a team practice. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal photo)
    Calgary Stampeders’ Osagie Odiase wears the No. 31 jersey of his fallen teammate and roommate Mylan Hicks in a team practice. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal photo)

    It’s a morning ritual that helps Osagie Odiase get through the day.

    But the Calgary Stampeders defensive back would give anything to make the need for that ritual totally unnecessary. If only he could somehow magically erase the tragic effects of the senseless gun play that ended the life of his teammate and housemate.

    A 23-year-old man, a product of the mean streets of Detroit, playing football in Calgary where guns are rare, cut down for no understandable reason.

    Every morning before he leaves for practice, Odiase stops by the achingly empty room of Mylan Hicks. A room where a closet light burns day and night as an memorial to a fallen teammate. A room that contains an empty bed covered in football jerseys and a playbook.

    “It’s like a little memorial in his room,” says Odiase, a 25-year-old Californian who will play in

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  • Bad penalty box paint job mars glorious night for MLS in Montreal

    Everything appeared to be in order for possibly the greatest night in Canadian pro soccer history.

    Montreal Impact and Toronto FC ready for playoff game. Check.

    More than 61,000 soccer-mad fans in their seats at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Check.

    Penalty box lines in place. Uh, wait a minute.

    Well, actually wait 40 minutes as Major League Soccer’s big night in Montreal turned into a rather big embarrassment. And the Moe-Larry-Curly attempts to rectify the situation only made things worse.

    The problem, somehow overlooked until just before kickoff time, was that the grounds crew preparing the Big O for the MLS Eastern Conference final had left both penalty boxes somewhat short of regulation. Actually, a lot short of regulation.

    “There was a mistake of about close to two metres on each side,”  a somewhat embarrassed Impact executive vice-president Richard Legendre told

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: November shaping up as a good one for sports networks

    Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs scores on James Reimer of the Florida Panthers as Michael Matheson tries to break up the play during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 17, 2016 in Toronto. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
    A resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs team has boosted ratings this fall.  (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

    The fall of 2016 may be grabbing headlines for a lot of negative stuff, but it’s shaping up as a pretty good one for Canadian sports networks.

    Basically, everybody who broadcasts hockey to football to basketball to soccer is having a strong autumn.

    Since hockey rules, we’ll start with Hockey Night In Canada, which saw ratings take a huge dive last season as every Canadian team hit the skids — some of them right out of the gate. Unofficial ratings for the prime-time games this season are averaging just over 2 million, up about eight per cent over the first six weeks of the 2015-16 season. The late game (758,000 average) is off three per cent, but overall that’s a gain for Rogers.

    As long as teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers continue to look like contenders those numbers should hold, if not grow.

    Last weekend’s CFL division finals each

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  • Canadian upstart Mackenzie Hughes showing that he belongs on the PGA Tour

    Mackenzie Hughes, of Canada, reacts to his putt on the first green during the final round at the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
    Mackenzie Hughes, of Canada, reacts to his putt on the first green during the final round at the RSM Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in St. Simons Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

    When headlines and sports highlights shows trumpeted the name Mackenzie Hughes this week, most Canadian golf fans headed to the internet to find out exactly who he was.

    It’s a task they’re familiar with after wearing out search engines when unheralded amateur and native son Jared du Toit took the lead at last summer’s Canadian Open.

    Compared with du Toit, though, Hughes is a grizzled veteran of professional golf, with five years under his belt. Granted, almost all of that has been on golf’s minor league circuit, from the Web.com tour to the PGA Tour Canada to the Latin American circuit.

    But his dominance at the RSM Classic through three rounds and his surviving the Sunday’s five-man playoff shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to those who’ve been paying attention. They wouldn’t be

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Good times continue to roll for CFL

    Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is a finalist for the CFL's outstanding player award. (Canadian Press/Frank Gunn photo)
    Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award. (Canadian Press/Frank Gunn photo)

    If there was a year in which the CFL shouldn’t have been able to stop its television ratings slide, it was 2016.
    The Toronto Argonauts were a disaster on the field and at the ticket booth. The Montreal Alouettes continued their slow decline, something that traditionally doesn’t go over well in La Belle Province.
    Worse, the Saskatchewan Roughriders hit the skids and even briefly lost their title as the top television draw in the league.
    Despite all that, the league’s broadcast ratings increased at a time when most sports are experiencing declines. That’s quite an accomplishment.
    Ratings were up five per cent during the regular season, stopping back-to-back decreases, and jumped 14 per cent for Sunday’s division semifinals.
    They also thrilled their devoted fan base by beating the NFL head-to-head in both games. The West final averaged 1.06 million viewers

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  • White wash: Edmonton Eskimos ride running back John White's legs to CFL East final

    John White
    Edmonton running back John White’s bursts keyed the Eskimos past Hamilton and into the eastern final. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power photo)

    A year ago, John White was standing on the sidelines watching his Edmonton Eskimos teammates head out on the road to the Grey Cup, frustrated and maybe just a little worried about his future in football.

    Today, he is being hailed as the main reason the Eskimos still have a shot at defending the Grey Cup.

    The Edmonton running back rushed for 160 yards, scored two touchdowns and basically helped drive the nail into the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ coffin as the Eskimos squeaked out a 24-21 victory at Tim Hortons Field in the CFL East semifinal.

    While it could easily be argued that the Ticats were holding the hammer themselves when that nail was being driven, there’s no denying that White was the key to Edmonton’s victory.

    “He was phenomenal,” said Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly. “He did exactly what we needed him to do.

    “When it comes to November if you’ve

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Hockey trending up

    Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid square off during the third period at the Air Canada Centre on November 1, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid square off during the third period at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 1, 2016 in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Statistics gathered over long periods of time really tell the whole story, whether it’s political leanings, climate change,  sports ratings or the volume of Donald Trump’s lies.

    But sometimes a snapshot can bring things more into focus.

    Case in point is the first weekend of November, which shows some interesting trends in the past year.

    What’s up? What’s down? What’s going sideways?

    In the former category, you have the NHL. Based on early returns, things are looking up — though it would be hard for them to keep going down much further.

    Last November at this time, the early Hockey Night In Canada game averaged 1.88 million viewers. This year, it’s 2.2 million.

    While Hockey Night In Canada has been showing improved ratings this season, thanks in part to better performances by Canadian teams, there may be a simple explanation for

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