Chris Zelkovich

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: MLS could be on verge of a new era on TV

    The atmosphere was raucous for TFC's 2-0 victory over the weekend, with parts of the stadium literally swaying as a result.The atmosphere was raucous for TFC's 2-0 victory over the weekend, with parts of the stadium literally swaying as a result.

    After a lifetime of languishing among the bottom feeders of the television world, this is a golden opportunity for the MLS to finally take centre stage.
    Whether it will or not depends on how Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact fare in the rest of the playoffs and how many Canadians actually care.
    So far, few have cared enough to turn their television sets to whichever channel has been showing the games. Ratings are dismal, with a capital D.
    They are so minute that Canada's MLS teams seldom crack the 100,000 mark and are often so low that the networks and teams don't even release comprehensive ratings information.

    But there is hope, at least based on what happened Sunday.

    Toronto FC's victory over New York City FC in the first game of the MLS conference semifinal averaged 238,000 viewers on TSN. While that pales in comparison with every other major sports regular season numbers, it's certainly a good start.

    Add in the fact that the game was up against some pretty stiff competition that

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  • Raptors' success with young fans a big factor in struggling TV numbers

    The Toronto Raptors successful playoff run may not pay off in bigger TV ratings. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)The Toronto Raptors successful playoff run may not pay off in bigger TV ratings. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
    When the Toronto Blue Jays ended a 22-year playoff drought last year, television ratings soared.

    When the team opened the 2016 season, ratings continued to go up, as expected.

    Contrast that experience with the Toronto Raptors, who enjoyed a big bump in ratings during their playoff drive two seasons ago. When the next year started, they expected ratings to keep going up.

    Instead, they not only didn't rise, they actually dropped by double digits.

    Now, as the team opens its new season Wednesday night after a successful playoff run last spring that produced record ratings, there are hopes the Raptors can buck their odd trend and experience some of the love that surrounds the Blue Jays.

    Don't expect it to happen.

    ``I wouldn't expect any huge jump in regular-season ratings for the Raptors," says Kaan Yigit, president of Solutions Research Group Consultants. ``If the numbers are flat or five per cent up or down, the Raptors would likely be content with that."

    How can this be? How can a team

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: NFL audiences bucking the trend in Canada

     

    Despite significant ratings declines in the U.S., the NFL is drawing big numbers in Canada. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY SportsDespite significant ratings declines in the U.S., the NFL is drawing big numbers in Canada. Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
    There is panic south of the border. And not all of it is due to Donald Trump still having a statistical chance at gaining control of the nuclear weapons buttons.

    With the polls making it look like America may come to its senses, Trumpian panic is easing. But panic is tightening its grip on the NFL and its television co-dependents as, for the first time in memory, ratings are on the decline. 

    Ratings are down across the board, ranging from single to double digits as networks and the league scratch their collective heads in trying to figure out why. One explanation, outside some of the awful games that have disgraced our television sets in recent weeks (yeah, Sunday Night Football that's you), is that Americans are so caught up in the Trump madness they've forgotten about football.

    While that seems like some major straw-grasping, there may be some validity to it. Case in point, NFL ratings in Canada are on the rise.

    Sunday afternoon's games, for example, drew 16 per cent more viewers

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Hockey Night In Canada off to promising start

     

    The Toronto Maple Leafs centennial celebrations were watched by more than 2 million viewers Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)The Toronto Maple Leafs centennial celebrations were watched by more than 2 million viewers Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
    It would be folly to base an assessment on one day, or even one week.

    For example, had you looked at the Toronto Blue Jays last week you might have gambled the grocery money on their chances of being in the World Series. This week, not so much.

    With that proviso in mind, there's no cause to get all hyped up about the prospects of the NHL recovering from last season's television woes. But, there might be cause for some cautious optimism that hockey couch potatoes are starting to get excited about the game again.

    Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada season opener averaged 2.3 million viewers -- the highest for a season debut since 2013, and 10 per cent higher than last year's opening which featured a comparable lineup of games.

    There are several possible explanations for this seeming increase in interest.

    One was that Saturday's Boston-Toronto game featured the Maple Leafs' centennial celebrations and came on the heels of Toronto rookie Auston Matthews' record-setting opening night

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Blue Jays run sparks huge increase in baseball interest

    The Toronto Blue Jays are drawing big audiences but also driving interest in baseball in general.The Toronto Blue Jays are drawing big audiences but also driving interest in baseball in general.
    The fact that Rogers and its wholly-owned subsidiary the Toronto Blue Jays are enjoying the fruits of the team's labours and drawing huge television audiences is an interesting story in itself.

    But while the team's series-clinching win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday averaged a whopping 4.73 million viewers on Sportsnet is impressive, it's kind of what you'd expect for such a big event. That game's audience, for example, peaked at 7 million in the decisive 10th inning -- about the same number that watched Andre DeGrasse and Usain Bolt duel it out in the 200 metres at the Rio Olympics.

    Big events draw big audiences.

    What's really unusual is the way interest in the Jays has driven up interest in baseball. The third most-watched sports event over the holiday weekend, topped only by the Jays' two games, was Monday's series clincher between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. 

    That game averaged 1.27 million viewers up against Monday Night Football, which managed to draw only 264,000

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  • TBS taking heat for its playoff baseball broadcasts as Blue Jays start ALCS

    The American League Championship Series starts Friday and that can mean only one thing: television viewers are going to be unhappy.

    Now it's not as if baseball fans need anything more to anger them and add fuel to the many conspiracy theories to which they adhere. After all, most believe that the league, the umpires, the broadcasts and possibly even the hot dog vendors are biased against their team or, in the case of the Toronto Blue Jays, their country as well.

    They also believe that the Jays get inferior start times because of anti-Canadian bias, overlooking the fact that it's simply a matter of an American network seeking the highest ratings in the U.S.

    But logic doesn't always prevail in these matters.

    Witness the flap over Harold Reynolds' ham-handed comment about Canadians' ham hands last year. Diplomats were at the ready before he apologized.

    Add in the fact that TBS will be broadcasting the series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland and you have the potential for a

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  • Hockey Night In Canada goes back to the tried and true as Rogers tries to reverse ratings drop

    With Ron MacLean back in the host's chair, Hockey Night In Canada will have an old-school look.With Ron MacLean back in the host's chair, Hockey Night In Canada will have an old-school look.
    When those legions of Canadian hockey fanatics sit down in front of their flat-screen TV sets to watch the NHL starting next week, many will be checking their calendars to make sure they haven't been transported back to 2014.

    After two frustrating years of trying to update the way the game is broadcast, Rogers is basically going back to the tried and true -- or at least the way it was before they took over.

    Gone is big-city-hip-earring-sporting-skinny-pants-wearing George Stroumboulopoulos, replaced by small-town-homey-pun-spouting Ron MacLean, back in the Hockey Night In Canada host's chair after being shuffled aside two years ago.

    But while that will be the most obvious change to the way Rogers presents hockey this season -- not coincidentally after a disastrous drop in ratings -- there will be plenty more.

    Also not coincidentally, many of them go against the plans Rogers proudly announced after it signed a record 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with the NHL in 2013.

    When it comes to

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  • The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Blue Jays come to the rescue for record-setting Rogers

    Three years ago when Rogers shocked the hockey and Canadian broadcasting worlds by securing NHL rights for the next 12 years, many saw dark days ahead for the communications giant's rivals.

    The reason, of course, was hockey. Its massive ratings power would soon push Rogers to the top of the sports heap in Canada, almost everyone who didn't work for Bell Media believed. (Actually, Bell believed it too, but didn't want to admit it.)

    Well, ratings have been a tad underwhelming, but Rogers still finds itself No. 1 in the Canadian sports business. The reason for that is a baseball team that few gave much thought to way back in 2013.

    The resurrection of a seemingly moribund franchise has created a virtual bulletproof vest for Rogers, protecting it from those disappointing NHL numbers.

    Led by the Jays, and with a little help from the also resurrected World Cup of Hockey, Rogers enjoyed the best September in its 19-year history. Rogers says its September audience share of 8.5 was more than

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  • Next Ryder Cup could look a lot different thanks to European Tour's planned changes

    Pro golfers like American Ryan Moore, shown during practice  for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club, may see a lot of innovations soon. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY SportsPro golfers like American Ryan Moore, shown during practice for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club, may see a lot of innovations soon. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
    When the first driver strikes ball at the 2016 Ryder Cup on Friday, there's a possibility it might herald the end of an era in golf.

    On the other hand, if some of the changes planned by the European Tour are part of the next Ryder Cup, dyed-in-the-plus-fours golf traditionalists may see it as the end of civilization.

    There's no indication that the 2018 Ryder Cup in France will incorporate any of those changes. But if they work the way the European Tour hopes they might, you never know.

    And there's some significant Canadian content to all of this, too. Most of the revolutionary ideas on changing the game have come from Keith Pelley, former head of Rogers Communications, TSN and the Toronto Argonauts, who is now the European Tour's CEO.

    “I say to the players constantly, I do believe that it’s part of our mission to grow the game, to showcase the game and to change the game and to adapt it to the modern world which is completely different,” Pelley told the Globe and Mail recently. “I

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  • Beer league hockey tradition under threat as more arenas ban dressing-room booze

    If mom and apple pie define America, as the old expression goes, then surely hockey and beer are as Canadian as it gets.

    But that tradition is increasingly under threat, at least in its current form. More and more arenas across the country are saying no to that post-game beer in the dressing room that has been as much a part of the game as bodychecks and slap shots.

    The Mile One Centre in St. John's, N.L., became the latest to crack down on the traditional post-game brew when it banned beer in dressing rooms after recreational league hockey games.

    Mile One Centre in St. John's, Nfld.Mile One Centre in St. John's, Nfld.

    Considering that the players consuming post-game brews play in what's commonly known as ``beer leagues," this is a major change in direction for Canada's national sport.

    One rec league player, who requested anonymity, called the move "an assault on the game.

    "Not having a beer in the dressing room just isn't right," said the Toronto-area resident, who admits players routinely smuggle in beer in their equipment bags for that post-game cold

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