The Great Canadian ratings report: Drop in Grey Cup audience follows CFL's downward trend

Television audience for Sunday's Grey Cup was 14 per cent lower than last year's.
Television audience for Sunday's Grey Cup was 14 per cent lower than last year's.

Sunday's Grey Cup was one of those good news/bad news things for the CFL and TSN.

Actually, it was more like a bad news/not-so-bad-news things.

The bad was that the viewing audience for the Hamilton-Calgary showdown was down 14 per cent from last year's Hamilton-Saskatchewan game. Equally bad was the fact that the average of 3,849,000 who watched on TSN was the smallest Grey Cup audience since the Canadian ratings system changed in 2009.

Also bad was the fact that the 2013 audience was already 17 per cent lower than the 2012 Grey Cup between Toronto and Calgary.

You may be noticing a trend here.

And when that trend is down, there is cause for concern. But if you look behind the numbers, nobody at CFL or TSN headquarters should be edging toward that fifth-floor window. At least, not yet.

First off, the Grey Cup is still among the most-watched events in this country. Add in the RDS audience and the game drew more than 4 million. According to TSN, one-third of the country watched at least some part of the game and the audience peaked at 5.1 million in the fourth quarter.

There are  only a handful of sports events that have outdrawn the Grey Cup this year in English Canada, such as the Sochi Olympics men's hockey final (8.5 million), the  Super Bowl (7.3 million), the World Cup final (4.9 million) and Game 7 of the Rangers-Canadiens series (4 million.) As for non-sports shows, the Grey Cup holds its own with the likes of the the Big Bang Theory (4 million -- go figure) and grand champion Oscars (6 million.)

In addition, all of the aforementioned events were on conventional channels, except for the Grey Cup. The difference between specialty and conventional isn't what it used to be, but specialty channels like TSN still have less reach -- almost 20 per cent.

Secondly, the 2014 Grey Cup had two tough acts to follow: the much-hyped 100th Grey Cup in 2012 (5.4 million) and a 2013 final that included Saskatchewan's rabid fandom (4.5 million.)

Thirdly, the game came at the tail end of one of the least interesting CFL seasons in memory. Scoring was down, penalties were up and excitement was noticeably lacking. Regular-season audiences were down 6 per cent and that set the stage for lower playoff ratings.

The fact that game started out looking like the predicted blowout would become reality no doubt scared off a few viewers who were sitting on the fence.

The good news is that this is all fixable. A return to wide-open games with wild finishes is probably all the CFL needs to get those numbers heading in the other direction.

But it will have to happen quickly. There's nothing harder to stop than a train heading downhill.

On the non-CFL front, there were two notable numbers from the weekend. One was Friday's Toronto Raptors game, which drew 440,000 viewers to TSN. That's the kind of audiences the team was drawing last spring during the playoffs. Funny how a first-place team can attract fans.

The other was the Vanier Cup, which averaged 269,000 viewers to Sportsnet -- a strong showing for a sport that gets little media attention during the season. Interestingly, TSN's airing of NCAA games at the same time averaged only 91,000 viewers.

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

1. CFL Grey Cup, Calgary vs. Hamilton, Sunday, TSN: 3,849,000

2. NHL, Sens-Bolts/Caps-Leafs/Sabres-Habs, Saturday, CBC-Rogers, 2,300,000

3. CFL Grey Cup post-game, Sunday, TSN: 1,800,000

4. NFL, Patriots at Packers, Sunday, CTV: 953,000

5. NFL, Browns-Bills/Saints-Steelers/Chargers-Ravens, Sunday, CTV: 682,000

6. NHL, Hawks-Kings/Flames-Coyotes, Sunday, CBC: 568,000

7. NBA, Raptors at Mavericks, Friday, TSN: 440,000

8. NHL, Canucks at Red Wings, Sunday, City: 438,000

9. NFL, Dolphins at Jets, Monday, TSN: 415,000

10. NHL, Canucks at Avalanche, Friday, Sportsnet Pacific: 281,000

11. CIS Vanier Cup, McMaster vs. Montreal, Saturday, Sportsnet: 269,000

12. Broncos at Chiefs, Sunday, TSN2: 235,000 (NBC viewers not measured).

13. NBA, Raptors at Lakers, Sunday, Sportsnet: 227,000

14, Figure skating, NHK Trophy, Saturday, CBC: 211,000

15, Figure skating, NHK Trophy, Sunday, CBC: 206,000

16. NHL, Blackhawks at Ducks, Friday, Sportsnet: 151,000

17. Soccer, Hull City at Manchester United, Saturday, Sportsnet: 140,000

18. Canadiens at Sabres, Friday, Sportsnet East: 129,000

19. Soccer, Man City at Southampton, Sunday, TSN: 114,000

19. Soccer, Everton at Tottenham, Sunday, TSN: 114,000


Broom for improvement: The Grey Cup is history, which means that the next big attraction on the only-in-Canada stage is the Canada Cup of curling. This is billed as the race to Pyeoncheang, which if you're wondering, is the site of the next winter Olympics. All of the country's top teams will be pushing brooms and hurrying hard starting Wednesday (10:30 a.m. ET, TSN) and finishing on Sunday (noon and 3 p.m, ET, TSN.)

Oh Canada night: There's nothing like an all-Canadian NHL match-up to get the heart beating, the palms sweating and the bile rising. And that's just the announcers! This one promises to be a good one as the Vancouver Canucks have been hot all season and the Toronto Maple Leafs have suddenly started to win. Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC.

A break with tradition?: Sunday night has pretty much been a wasteland for the NFL and NBC this season, what with one dog of a game after another forcing viewers to switch to The Walking Dead before halftime. But this one between the 9-3 New England Patriots and 8-4 San Diego Chargers should be preferable to zombie reruns. Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC and TSN.