The Great Canadian Ratings Report: CFL duds don’t scare off viewers

Chris Zelkovich
Chris Zelkovich
Members of the Ottawa Redblacks take to the field before the start of their CFL football game against the Toronto Argonauts in Ottawa July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

If there are any questions as to why TSN forked over $40 million a year for CFL television rights, they were answered over the weekend.

If the past week is any indication, the CFL is approaching bulletproof status as a TV property in Canada. After all, if ratings can hold in the middle of summer with a product that has been -- and I'm being kind here -- terrible, then this is one solid property.

The first month of the 2014 season has given viewers every reason to go searching for Saved By The Bell reruns or the daily Duck Dynasty marathon. With few notable exceptions, the games have been painfully long, filled with penalties and either one-sided or just plain boring.

Imagine how confused ESPN viewers might be, wondering why the exciting football they'd been promised hasn't arrived yet.

Take a look at the most recent week. The showdown between two of the league's undefeated teams ended with Edmonton beating Winnipeg 26-3, a score that flattered the losers. The only competitive contest of the week saw the Ottawa RedBlacks end more than three hours of tedium by kicking their sixth field goal of the game to beat Toronto 18-17. It was a game that featured a lot more penalty flags than great plays and all of one touchdown.

One might argue that Friday's Hamilton-Calgary game was competitive, except for the fact that neither team appeared willing to compete. The Stampeders won this snooze-fest 10-7 as Hamilton failed to execute a last-minute field goal. Speaking of execution, it might have been a good idea.

There was one other CFL game, but it's best forgotten. The B.C. Lions won 41-5 over a Montreal team that apparently didn't get the memo about a players' strike being called off.

Yet despite this string of awful football, the viewers haven't turned off. The Edmonton-Winnipeg game on Thursday drew an average audience of 759,000 -- 56,000 more than last year's regular-season average of 703,000.

Considering that numbers tend to rise in the second half of the season, that's impressive.

The Montreal-B.C. game Saturday evening topped the weekend sports ratings with an average of 717,000 viewers, beating out the Toronto Blue Jays and the British Open. Assuming that most viewers had turned off their TVs by the fourth quarter -- unless they had either sadistic or masochistic tendencies -- it wouldn't be a stretch to guess that close to a million people had originally tuned in.

So, assuming that the football will get better, things bode well for the rest of the season. If football fans can endure this early season abuse, a string of typically thrilling CFL games should see TSN top last year's audience numbers.

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

1. CFL, Alouettes at Lions, Saturday, TSN: 717,000

2. CFL, Ticats at Stampeders, Friday, TSN: 692,000

3. CFL, Argos at RedBlacks, Friday, TSN: 673,000

4. MLB, Blue Jays at Rangers, Sunday, Sportsnet One/360: 520,000

5. MLB, Blue Jays at Rangers, Friday, Sportsnet: 518,000

6. Golf, British Open final round, Sunday, TSN: 511,000

7. MLB, Blue Jays at Rangers, Saturday, Sportsnet One/360: 375,000

8. Golf, British Open third round, Saturday, TSN: 251,000

9. Auto racing, Toronto Indy, Sunday, Sportsnet: 227,000

10. Golf, British Open second round, Friday, TSN: 220,000

11. MLS, Whitecaps at Real Salt Lake, Saturday, TSN: 176,000

12. MLB, Dodgers at Cardinals, Sunday, TSN: 161,000

13. MLB, Royals at Red Sox, Saturday, Sportsnet: 121,000

14. Auto racing, F1 German Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN2: 119,000

15. Auto racing, Toronto Indy, Saturday, Sportsnet: 110,000

THREE TO WATCH

Ghost story at the Open: It's late July, which means it's time to conjure up the ghost of Pat Fletcher and remind Canadians that no native son has won our national golf championship since Fletcher did it 60 years ago. And once again, Canadian golfers such as Graham DeLaet and David Hearn will be under pressure to end that streak of futility. But more likely, visitors such as Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson or Luke Donald will end up hoisting the trophy. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. ET, TSN; Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m., Global.

A scout's tale: In the latest instalment on Sportsnet's baseball documentary series, fans get a look at one of the unsung heroes in the game, super scout Mel Didier. At 87, Didier is still scouring the world for players as part of the Toronto Blue Jays operation and has a life's worth of stories to tell. The documentary airs Saturday after the Blue Jays game against the New York Yankees -- one of the few teams that hasn't employed Didier.

Tour de force: After a month of pumping up mountains -- and fighting off allegations of pumping up their bodies with illegal substances -- the Tour de France will declare a winner this weekend. The winner will pedal his sore behind around the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on Sportsnet.