They're not quite ready to challenge Hockey Night In Canada in the ratings, or even junior curling, but the television picture is definitely starting to brighten for the Toronto Raptors.
Since the Raptors turned things around by making that big trade on Dec. 8, audiences on TSN are averaging 228,000 -- a 56 per cent increase. They're also averaging 255,000 viewers a game in January and are up 19 per cent over last season.
If things continue this way, they should record the highest regular season average in four years -- the last time they came close to making the playoffs.
On Saturday, going head-to-head against the aforementioned Hockey Night In Canada,the Raptors attracted an average audience of 219,000 viewers. That was only one-tenth the number pulled in by hockey and slightly below the recent average but the fact that NHL game included the Toronto Maple Leafs shows that the Raptors are starting to build an audience regardless of who they're up against.
Going up against the Leafs, which the Raptors have done many times this season, is usually a guarantee of bad ratings.
But it's not all good news. A Friday night game against Philadelphia managed to lure only 97,000 viewers to basketball -- slightly more than the audience for speed skating on CBC earlier in the day.
But it must be noted that the Raptors game was on TSN2.
And that's part of the Raptors' problem. Its games are on multiple channels and when one of them is TSN2, which struggles to get viewers, building a consistent audience isn't easy. It's more of a long-term project.
Things are also looking up for women's tennis, at least when Canadians are in the running. Eugenie Bouchard's magical run at the Australian Open produced some unheard-of Canadian numbers for that tournament.
The Montreal product's semifinal against eventual winner Li Na last Wednesday was seen by an average of audience of 988,000 on TSN and another 365,000 on French-language RDS. TSN reported that a total of 4.4 million viewers watched some or all of the match.
Those are the kinds of numbers normally recorded for the late Saturday night hockey game -- not a late, midweek event that doesn't involve slap shots or cross-checks.
Even more interesting is the fact that the tournament's final drew only 142,000 viewers on Saturday. Canadian content has that kind of power.
Here are the most-watched sports broadcasts of the past weekend, according to BBM Canada overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Leafs-Jets/Caps-Habs, Saturday, CBC: 2,121,000
2. NHL, Ducks at Kings, Saturday, CBC: 1,037,000
3. NHL, Rangers at Devils, Sunday, CBC: 762,000 (NBC audience not measured)
4. NHL, Canadiens at Red Wings, Friday, TSN: 590,000
5. NHL, Coyotes at Canucks, Sunday, Sportsnet Pacific: 332,000
6. Curling, Canadian junior men's final, Sunday, TSN: 285,000
7. Curling, Canadian junior women's final, Saturday, TSN: 273,000
8. NBA, Raptors at Clippers, Saturday, TSN: 219,000
9. Tennis, Australian Open men's final, Sunday, TSN: 219,000
10. NFL, Pro Bowl, Sunday, TSN: 210,000 (NBC audience not measured)
11. NHL, Predators at Oilers, Sunday, Sportsnet West: 209,000
12. Skiing, World Cup men's downhill, Saturday, CBC: 190,000
13. Skiing, World Cup freestyle, Saturday, CBC: 179,000
14. NHL, Coyotes at Oilers, Friday, Sportsnet West: 177,000
15. Martial arts, UFC preliminaries, Saturday, Sportsnet360: 170,00
16. Martial arts, UFC Fight Night, Saturday, Sportsnet360: 158,000
17. Skeleton, World Cup men, Saturday, Sportsnet: 142,000
17. Tennis, Australian Open women's final, Saturday, TSN: 142,000
19. Bobsleigh, World Cup 2-man, Saturday, Sportsnet: 124,000
20. NHL, Senators at Hurricanes, Saturday, Sportsnet East: 121,000
THREE TO WATCH
Making a racket with racquets: After a historic breakthrough in making the Davis Cup semifinals last year, Canada will try to go one step further in 2014. Led by Milos Raonic, the Canadians meet Japan to start the 2014 competition and hopefully build on the momentum created by Eugenie Bouchard's startling run at the Australian Open. It starts Thursday, 11 p.m. EST on Sportsnet.
Men and women with brooms: It's going to be quite a weekend for the curling crowd. First and foremost, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts opens in Montreal on Saturday (2 p.m. EST on TSN) as Canada's best women's teams battle for the national title. Saturday on TSN. Meanwhile, the top men's teams in Manitoba and Ontario compete for the right to go to the Brier. Manitoba playoff coverage starts Saturday at 7 p.m. EST while Ontario's goes Sunday starting at 9 a.m. Both are on Sportsnet.
Super (Frosty) Bowl: Excuse us Canadians if we're all a little amused by all the worries coming out of the U.S. regarding the possibilities of freezing weather at Sunday's Super Bowl XLVIII. Why it could be as cold as -III degrees C in the New York area. For a country that's staged outdoor Grey Cups in Regina, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal this all seems quite laughable. Regardless of the weather, there are plenty of other story lines involving the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, most of them named Peyton Manning. The game goes at 6:30 p.m. (CBS, CTV), assuming no one freezes to death prior to kickoff.