CFL needs a great Grey Cup to get back on track

If Edmonton had done more of this against Calgary, TV ratings might have been higher. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
If Edmonton had done more of this against Calgary, TV ratings might have been higher. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The Calgary Stampeders are eight-point favourites heading into Sunday's Grey Cup, and a lot of people are thinking that putting their money on the westerners is the safest bet they'll ever make. Many are predicting a blowout, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats praying for a mercy rule before the half-time band starts warming up.

If that happens, it would be more bad news for the CFL and TSN as ratings continue to take a hit.

The first round of playoffs produced 11 and 20 per cent decreases in TV ratings and Sunday's division finals did even worse. The West final, won easily by Calgary over Edmonton, averaged 1.5 million viewers -- a great showing by most Canadian TV standards. In fact, only the main Hockey Night In Canada offering did better and no NFL game came close.

But by CFL playoff standards, it wasn't so good -- down 20 per cent from the 1.9 million who watched Saskatchewan beat Calgary last fall. Things were worse in the East final, with an average audience of 1.2 million tuning in to TSN to watch Hamilton beat the Montreal Alouettes.

Again, not a bad number, but 27 per cent below what last year's Toronto-Hamilton game produced (1.68 million). On the other hand, when you add in those who watched Sunday's game on French-language RDS (412,000), it was basically the same number as the 2013 total: 1.64 this year compared with 1.73 million last season. (Quebecois apparently don't watch the CFL unless the Alouettes are playing.)

And again, the only events that outdrew the East final were the West showdown and Saturday's hockey game, so once again rumours of the CFL's dark days are greatly exaggerated.

The decreased audience for the West final isn't hard to explain. First off, Saskatchewan wasn't there this time so fewer of those watermelon-wearing football nuts were watching. Secondly, the game was pretty much over by half time, so no doubt a lot of viewers found something better to do.

The East is a bit of a mystery. The game was close and wasn't really decided until the final five minutes, so there shouldn't have been a mass exodus of viewers. More than likely, the prospect of two 9-9 teams fighting for the right to compete for the Grey Cup just wasn't enough to stir up excitement.

That's why the last thing the CFL and TSN need this Sunday is a blowout. The Grey Cup will attract a huge audience -- even those who have no idea who the Imagine Dragons are -- so a close, exciting game could keep them around.

But a 20-point lead at halftime could produce the lowest Grey Cup ratings in years.

While the CFL contemplates decreasing ratings, the Toronto Raptors are watching theirs rise. They aren't exactly in the big leagues of Canadian TV ratings yet, but things are definitely looking up for the Raptors. Their Friday game against Milwaukee drew 365,000 to TSN and they attracted a strong audience of 283,000 going head-to-head with Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday. It's amazing what winning can do.

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

1. NHL, Habs-Bruins/Wings-Leafs/Pens-Isles, Saturday, CBC/Rogers: 2,200,000

2. CFL, Eskimos at Stampeders, Sunday, TSN: 1,505,000

3. CFL, Alouettes at Tiger-Cats, Sunday, TSN: 1,234,000

4. NHL, Devils at Canucks, Saturday, CBC: 894,000

5. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, CBC/Rogers: 717,000

6. NFL, Lions-Pats/Packer-Vikes, Sunday, CTV: 635,000

7. NFL, Dolphins-Broncos/Cards-Seahawks, Sunday, CTV2: 530,000

8. NFL, Cowboys at Giants, Sunday, TSN: 481,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

9. NHL, Canadiens at Rangers, Sunday, City: 437,000

10. NHL, Blackhawks at Canucks, Sunday, Sportsnet Pacific: 412,000

11. NBA, Bucks at Raptors, Friday, TSN: 365,000

12. Curling, Grand Slam National semis, Saturday, Sportsnet: 354,000

13. Curling, Grand Slam National final, Sunday, Sportsnet: 349,000

14. NBA, Raptors at Bulls, Saturday, TSN: 283,000

15. Figure skating, Trophee Bompard, Saturday, CBC: 235,000

16. Auto racing, F1 Abu Dhabi GP, Sunday, TSN: 232,000

17. Figure skating, Trophee Bompard, Sunday, CBC: 197,000

17. Soccer, Man U at Arsenal, Saturday, TSN: 197,000

19. NHL, Islanders at Penguins, Friday, Sportsnet One: 169,000

20. NHL, Hometown Hockey pre-game, Sunday, City: 165,000

21. NHL, Devils at Oilers, Friday, Sportsnet West: 152,000

22. CIS football, Mount Allison at McMaster, Saturday, Sportsnet360: 148,000


Giving thanks for pigskin: The American Thanksgiving is rich in tradition, from scarfing down turkey to jamming the shopping malls to spending the day digesting turkey while watching football. Canadians get to share only one of those -- the latter -- though they usually add in the age-old traditions of watching TV at their desks or calling in sick. This year the NFL is offering up a triple-header -- and a pretty good one at that. Following the traditional game in Detroit, there's a key clash between Philadelphia and Dallas (4:30 ET, Sportsnet and Fox) and another important one between San Francisco and Seattle (8:30 ET, Sportsnet and NBC.)

Three-down festival, the prelude: It's hard enough for CIS sports to get noticed at the best of times, but In a week seemingly designed for football fans it's even tougher. But this year's Vanier Cup promises to be a good one with the Montreal Carabins more or less hosting the McMaster Marauders in the 50th edition of the Canadian championship. Outside of some good football, it provides fans a chance at seeing a lot of future CFLers. Saturday, 1 ET (Sportsnet.)

Three-down festival, main act: The game's being played indoors, which means there likely won't be much added to Grey Cup lore filled with mud, sleet, ice and staples. But the controlled conditions could mean a rare high-scoring game in a CFL season dominated by strong defences (or bad offences.) That also could mean a blowout in the Cup's 102nd edition, with heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders anticipating an easy time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But the Stamps do have this reputation for falling down in the big game, so who knows? Sunday, 6 ET (TSN.)