The Great Canadian Ratings Report: NHL schedule does CBC no favours

Chris Zelkovich
The Eh Game

The National Hockey League, as usual, isn't doing Canadian television any big favours.

Once again, when faced with satisfying either NBC or CBC, the league sided with the American broadcaster -- a move that cost CBC at least a million viewers on Saturday. This would be scandalous if it doesn't happen with such regularity.

I recall CBC complaining seven years ago when it was saddled with a Saturday afternoon playoff game because NBC didn't want a Saturday night broadcast that would interfere with its usual dramas and sitcoms. And that was a time when CBC was paying millions for NHL rights and NBC had a nothing-upfront-revenue-sharing deal with the league.

It happened again on Saturday when the first game of the Rangers-Canadiens Eastern Conference final was played at 12:30 p.m. ET -- on a holiday weekend in Canada.

The CBC won't comment this time around, but there's little doubt that it wanted its traditional Saturday night slot for the opener of this series. Even Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wondered why a game in Montreal was being played at such an unusual time.

The answer: NBC makes the call and the NHL accommodates the U.S. network whenever possible.

If you think a million viewers is an exaggeration, consider this: Game 7 of the Boston-Montreal series attracted an average of 4,561,000 viewers on Wednesday evening. The Saturday afternoon game averaged 2,147,000. Monday evening's Game 2 averaged 3,374,000.

A million viewers didn't just disappear. Some probably watched on NBC, preferring their broadcasts to CBC's. But a lot more were either awaiting a Saturday night game -- I received several e-mails from fans who actually missed the game assuming it was on later -- or they were doing the kinds of things people do on a holiday weekend Saturday afternoon.

In order to get big audiences, say more than 2 million, Canadian networks need more than hard-core hockey fans to tune in. They need the casual fan who only watches the playoffs or gets caught up in the excitement of a local -- or in this case lone Canadian -- team creating headlines.

Most of those people were likely at the cottage, shopping or working in the garden. Hockey in this country is reserved for Saturday nights and I have no doubt many of them turned on their TVs Saturday night to find reruns of Mr. D.

Saturday afternoons are also reserved for the likes of Toronto FC, which continues to be one of least-watched teams in the country. The high-priced soccer team's game on Saturday afternoon was viewed by only 91,000 -- a recent trend that has to have those who control the money faucets at MLSE more than a little worried.

The team's games are exciting and there's a good rivalry growing with Vancouver and Montreal. The stadium is full. But the viewers just aren't showing up.

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

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NHL

Rangers at Canadiens

Monday

CBC

3,374,000

NHL

Rangers at Canadiens

Saturday

CBC

2,147,000

NHL

Kings at Ducks

Friday

TSN

1,175,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Saturday

Sportsnet

740,000

NHL

Kings at Blackhawks

Sunday

TSN

664,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Sunday

Sportsnet

436,000

Golf

Byron Nelson Championship, final round

Sunday

Global

390,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Friday

Sportsnet One

358,000

Hockey-Worlds

Canada vs. Sweden

Sunday

TSN

355,000

Memorial Cup

London vs. Edmonton

Sunday

Sportsnet

344,000

Auto racing

NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race

Sunday

TSN2

284,000

Golf

Byron Nelson Championship, third round

Saturday

Global

260,000

Memorial Cup

Val D'Or vs. London

Friday

Sportsnet

249,000

Memorial Cup

Guelph vs. Edmonton

Saturday

Sportsnet

207,000

Hockey-Worlds

Canada vs. Italy

Friday

TSN

126,000

Soccer

New York at Toronto FC

Saturday

TSN

91,000

THREE TO WATCH

To Hab and to hold: This could be the season for the surprising Montreal Canadiens, who fooled everybody by getting to the NHL Eastern Conference final. But it may be turning midnight for the Cinderella Habs, with star goaltender Carey Price out with a knee injury and Rangers net minder Henrik Lundqvist looking like a Hall of Famer. Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, CBC.

Hitting the bricks: It must be spring because it's time for the Indianapolis 500. This year, Canadians will have some serious rooting interest with Oakville, Ont., native James Hinchcliffe starting in the front row after finishing second in qualifying. The fact he suffered a concussion two weeks ago apparently wasn't a factor. Apparently, you don't need all your faculties to drive at 300 km/h. Sunday, Noon ET, ABC.

Thanks for the Memorial: The two best junior hockey teams in Canada -- and this year all the teams in the Memorial Cup are actually from this country -- will square off to decide which team gets to wear jackets with the word "champion" on them. Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet.

NHL

Rangers at Canadiens

Monday

CBC

3,374,000

NHL

Rangers at Canadiens

Saturday

CBC

2,147,000

NHL

Kings at Ducks

Friday

TSN

1,175,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Saturday

Sportsnet

740,000

NHL

Kings at Blackhawks

Sunday

TSN

664,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Sunday

Sportsnet

436,000

Golf

Byron Nelson Championship, final round

Sunday

Global

390,000

MLB

Blue Jays at Rangers

Friday

Sportsnet One

358,000

Hockey-Worlds

Canada vs. Sweden

Sunday

TSN

355,000

Memorial Cup

London vs. Edmonton

Sunday

Sportsnet

344,000

Auto racing

NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race

Sunday

TSN2

284,000

Golf

Byron Nelson Championship, third round

Saturday

Global

260,000

Memorial Cup

Val D'Or vs. London

Friday

Sportsnet

249,000

Memorial Cup

Guelph vs. Edmonton

Saturday

Sportsnet

207,000

Hockey-Worlds

Canada vs. Italy

Friday

TSN

126,000

Soccer

New York at Toronto FC

Saturday

TSN

91,000

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