It's not exactly historic, but the Canadian Football League did something this weekend that it usually only does for the Grey Cup: One of its division finals outdrew perennial sports ratings champion Hockey Night In Canada.
The West final between Calgary and Saskatchewan averaged 1.9 million viewers Sunday afternoon, 12,000 more than CBC's broadcast of Maple Leafs and Canadiens split games. The East final between Toronto and Hamilton came close to making it a weekend sweep as 1.7 million watched the game -- an all-time record for an East final (at least since automated ratings entered the picture a couple of decades ago.)
It truly was a weekend to remember for the CFL and TSN. The East audience was up 21 per cent over last year while the West was 2 per cent higher than 2012. Audiences peaked at 3.1 million for the East final and 2.7 million for the West. Overall, 7.3 million Canadians watched some or all of the games.
The CFL games pretty much wiped out the football competition. The only NFL game that came close was Sunday night's classic between Denver and Kansas City. It drew 579,000 to TSN, though that number could have doubled had NBC's Canadian audience been measured.
The NFL games played at the same time as the CFL finals didn't crack the 400,000 mark in total audience.
There's a fairly simple explanation for the big audience in the East final. It featured the two teams from the country's largest population area, it was an exciting game and it went down to the final minute. The West game included Saskatchewan, which always insures a pretty good audience since all but about 20 people in that province usually tune in.
That should bode well for Sunday's Grey Cup. With about 10 million great story lines heading into the game, a big audience is all but assured.
While the CFL is celebrating a television success, those running the Toronto Raptors must be wondering if anyone cares about their team. On Friday night, a game against the Chicago Bulls attracted all of 73,000 viewers to TSN. On Sunday, only 90,000 tuned in to Sportsnet Ontario, West and Pacific.
No matter how you look at it, these are tractor pull numbers. While the Raptors went up against the Leafs on Friday and the Argos on Sunday, the fact is that the team has become a television non-entity.
Here are the most-watched sports events of the weekend according to BBM Canada overnight ratings:
1. CFL, West Division final, Sunday, TSN: 1,900,000
2. NHL, Sabres-Leafs/Rangers-Habs, Saturday, CBC: 1,888,000
3. CFL, East Division final, Sunday, TSN: 1,700,000
4. NHL, Oilers at Flames, Saturday, CBC: 947,000
5. NHL, Leafs at Sabres, Friday, Sportsnet Ontario: 695,000
6. NFL, Chiefs at Broncos, Sunday, TSN: 579,000 (NBC audience not calculated)
7. NFL, Patriots at Panthers, Monday, TSN: 579,000
8. NFL, 1 p.m. games, Sunday, CTV: 399,000
9. Figure skating, ISU Grand Prix, Saturday, CBC: 391,000
10. Curling, Grand Slam quarterfinal, Saturday, CBC: 384,000
11. NHL, Sharks at Oilers, Friday, TSN: 373,000
12. NFL, Colts at Titans, Thursday, Sportsnet: 364,000
13. Curling, Grand Slam final, Sunday, CBC: 353,000
14. Curling, Grand Slam semifinal, Saturday, Sportsnet: 288,000
15. Curling, Grand Slam quarterfinal, Saturday, Sportsnet: 277,000
16. NFL, 49ers at Saints, Sunday, Citytv: 271,000
17. UFC, 167 preliminaries, Saturday, Sportsnet 360: 222,000
18. Curling, Grand Slam, Friday, Sportsnet: 204,000
19. NFL, 4 p.m. games, Sunday, Sportsnet: 162,000
THREE TO WATCH
La Coupe Vanier: The 49th edition of Canada's university football championship features two undefeated teams: the Laval Rouge et Or (not to be confused with the RedBlacks) and Calgary Dinos. Laval is making a record fourth straight appearance in the Vanier Cup. Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Sportsnet
Non-contact skating: If you're looking for something a bit more genteel than the head-banging, tooth-dislodging and spleen-bruising of football and hockey, CBC has the Grand Prix of Russia figure skating competition. Saturday, 2 p.m., CBC
Grey Cup runneth over: Had the CFL scripted the 101st Grey Cup, it couldn't have done any better than a game played in Regina and featuring the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders taking on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With Kent Austin, Henry Burris and Andy Fantuz playing there will be plenty of story lines. You can be sure TSN will have them all -- and more -- either in its five-hour pre-game show or its three hours of pre-gameday show on Saturday. Sunday, 6 p.m., TSN.