Great Canadian Ratings Report: Brier the latest big ticket sports property coming up short

Team Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue shouts instructions to teammates during their draw against Team New Brunswick at the Brier curling championships in Ottawa, Canada, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield (look it up if you're under 55), something's happening here and what it is ain't exactly clear.

But evidence continues to mount that television sports ratings are taking a hit with some regularity. The latest victim is the Brier, one of the top television properties in this country.

A week after the Tournament of Hearts curling tournament saw a year-to-year 20 per cent drop in TV ratings for TSN, the Brier's opening weekend suffered a 19 per cent decline from 2015.

Ratings for both events are still among the best in the country, but they used to be immune to those kinds of audience fluctuations. They're not alone.

They're the latest in a series of sports broadcasts (the NHL, CFL, NBA, auto racing) experiencing declines in TV ratings.

The first possible explanation is that the public is losing interest. But that doesn't really wash with the Brier, what with the 2016 tournament featuring arguably the best field in the event's history. Add in some fascinating storylines (the Howard family dreams, Brad Gushue's quest) and ratings should have risen.

In addition, there wasn't a whole lot of competition last weekend, what with this country's NHL teams playing out the string and setting the stage for a Canada-free Stanley Cup playoffs.

Add in TSN's expanded multi-sheet coverage and things should have been quite rosy.

Since lack of interest isn't evident, it is possible that viewers are choosing other ways to watch: online or on mobile devices. (Unfortunately, TSN is still compiling its streaming information, so proof of that isn't available yet.)

But the prospect of mobile bleed doesn't quite wash with curling's aging core audience: people who don't need to look up Buffalo Springfield. They tend to prefer watching the old-fashioned way on the big-screen TVs. (There is also the possibility that a portion of the curling audience has moved on to the great beyond in the past year.)

It's more believable, though, that televised, youth-oriented sports are suffering more from the mobile phenomenon. That way the owners of Toronto FC might be able to explain why the team's MLS season opener attracted a paltry 96,000 viewers to TSN.

Regardless, all we know for sure is that viewers are missing. The why is still up for debate.
Here are the most-watched sports events on English-language television for the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Habs-Jets/Sens-Leafs, Saturday, CBC-City-Sportsnet: 1,630,000
2. NHL, Canucks at Sharks, Saturday, CBC-Sportsnet: 628,000
3. Curling, Brier Draw 4, Sunday, TSN: 579,000
4. Curling, Brier Draw 2, Saturday, TSN: 572,000
5. Curling, Brier Draw 5, Sunday, TSN: 535,000
6. Curling, Brier Draw 1, Saturday, TSN: 461,000
7. NHL, Oilers at Jets, Sunday, Sportsnet: 439,000
8. Curling, Brier Draw 3, Sunday, TSN: 381,000
9. NBA, Trail Blazers at Raptors, Friday, TSN: 379,000
10. Martial arts, UFC 196 preliminaries, Saturday, TSN: 254,000
11. NHL, Flames at Penguins, Saturday, Sportsnet: 251,000
12. NBA, Rockets at Raptors, Sunday, Sportsnet One: 250,000
13. MLB, Phillies vs. Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet One: 222,000
14. MLS, Montreal at Vancouver, Sunday, TSN: 205,000
15. Auto racing, NASCAR Kobalt 400, Sunday, TSN: 186,000 (Fox audience not measured)
16. NHL, Rangers at Capitals, Friday, Sportsnet East-Ontario-Pacific: 181,000
17. NHL, Stars at Senators, Saturday, TSN regional: 177,000
18. Auto racing, NASCAR Xfinity Boyd 300, Saturday, TSN: 140,000
19. NHL, Oilers at Blue Jackets, Friday, Sportsnet West: 138,000
20. Soccer, Arsenal at Tottenham, Saturday, TSN: 137,000
21. MLB, Orioles vs. Blue Jays, Friday, Sportsnet: 136,000
22. Soccer, Leicester at Watford, Saturday, Sportsnet: 112,000
23. Cross-country skiing, Ski Tour Canada, Sunday, CBC: 107,000
24. Skiing, Alpine World Cup, Saturday, CBC: 103,000
25. Speed skating, World all-round championships, Sunday, CBC: 96,000
25. Soccer, Toronto FC at New York, Sunday, TSN: 96,000


Dinos' might: Considering that they come from a country that's starved for a winner this winter, the Toronto Raptors have to be Canada's team right now. They've got the second-best record in the NBA's Eastern Conference and are looking like serious contenders. They have a chance to pull some Canadian eyeballs away from their losing hockey teams on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One) when they take on Eastern rival Miami.

Women power: While the NHL teams in Calgary and Montreal are stumbling along this season, their female counterparts are preparing for a championship showdown.  The best in the Canadian Women's Hockey League get a moment in the spotlight with the Clarkson Cup final (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet) between Les Canadiennes de Montreal and the Calgary Inferno (a much better choice than the Flamettes).

On the button: The best men's curling team in the country will be decided in the much-anticipated Brier final (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN.) Whoever is there will have overcome arguably the toughest Brier field in history.