Sportsnet has been on one heck of a ratings ride the past couple of months thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays (you thought maybe it was the World Poker Tour?)
But that baseball-infused ride may be slowed by a couple of speed bumps.
The network's push for record ratings may be stalled this week thanks to a playoff schedule that is anything but Sportsnet-friendly. With two afternoon games to start the Jays' first playoff series in 22 years, ratings will almost surely suffer.
Oh, they're still going to be good. Witness last weekend's disappointing series in Tampa Bay, which still averaged 1.5 million viewers per game.
But unless every baseball fan in Canada decides to call in sick or take vacation days Thursday and Friday, the numbers won't be where they would be had the games been scheduled in prime time.
The opener of the best-of-five ALDS against Texas will be played at 3:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, a time when soap opera addicts and shut-ins are the only ones watching TV. Game 2 is slated for 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday, an even worse slot.
Conspiracy theories will abound as to why the Jays got stuck with this Ugly Stepsister of a schedule, but \there's no point in organizing a torch-and-pitchfork march. The fact is that we are once again collateral damage in the American networks' drive for ratings -- and there's nothing we can do about it.
Playoff rights are held by Fox, ESPN and TBS, so they get to call the shots in conjunction with Major League Baseball.
Their preference, understandably, is to go with the big U.S. markets, and that means New York, Los Angeles -- and, frankly, anybody but Toronto. If there were a team from Skokie, Illinois in the playoffs, the American networks would prefer them over any squad from the Great White North.
That's because even if 4 million Canadians are watching the playoffs, the American advertisers don't care. It's an American audience they want to reach. Such are the facts of TV life.
But while playoff ratings may not hit the heights they could have had Sportsnet been able to schedule all Jays games in prime time, they're still going to be pretty impressive.
Sportsnet reports that Jays games averaged 978,000 viewers this season -- a 68 per cent increase over last year. In TV terms, that's a tsunami. Most of that increase happened in the last two months, which certainly bodes well for huge playoff audiences.
They Jays made Sportsnet the second most-watched network in Canada last month, behind only CTV, a network that has a much larger potential audience.
Here are the most-watched English-language sports events from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 1,800,000
2. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Friday, Sportsnet: 1,700,000
3. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 1,030,000
4. NFL, Packers-Niners/Vikings-Broncos, Sunday, CTV: 639,000
5. NFL, Giants-Bills/Chiefs-Bengals, Sunday, CTV: 635,000
6. CFL, Eskimos at Blue Bombers, Saturday, TSN: 589,000
7. CFL, Roughriders at Lions, Saturday, TSN: 562,000
8. CFL, Stampeders at Ticats, Friday, TSN: 474,000
9. NFL, Cowboys at Saints, Sunday, TSN: 454,000 (NBC viewers not measured)
10. NHL, Oilers at Canucks, Saturday, Sportsnet: 446,000
11. Auto racing, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Sunday, TSN: 298,000
12. NFL, Jets vs. Dolphins, Sunday, TSN: 248,000 (CBS viewers not measured)
13. Soccer, Southampton at Chelsea, Saturday, Sportsnet: 228,000
14. MLB, Royals at Twins, Saturday, Sportsnet: 194,000
15. Soccer, Manchester United at Arsenal, Sunday, TSN: 191,000
16. Rugby World Cup, England vs. Australia, Saturday, TSN: 175,000
17. Rugby World Cup, South Africa vs. Scotland, Saturday, TSN: 167,000
18. NHL, Red Wings at Maple Leafs, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 147,000
19. Soccer, Newcastle at Manchester City, Saturday, Sportsnet: 134,000
20. Rugby World Cup, Ireland vs. Italy, Sunday, TSN: 130,000
21. NHL, Maple Leafs at Red Wings, Friday, TSN: 128,000
22. Soccer, Liverpool at Everton, Sunday, TSN: 123,000
23. Soccer, Whitecaps at San Jose, Saturday, TSN: 121,000
24. Rugby World Cup, Samoa vs. Japan, Saturday, TSN: 111,000
25. Rugby World Cup, New Zealand vs. Georgia, Friday, TSN: 103,000
25. Rugby World Cup, Argentina vs. Tonga, Sunday, TSN: 103,000
THREE TO WATCH
Classic on ice: If there's one thing better than an Original Six, all-Canadian hockey matchup, it's an Original Six, all-Canadian matchup on opening night. That's what's on tap Wednesday (7 p.m., ET, Sportsnet) when the NHL opens the 2015-16 season with a game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Classic on turf: The day that Toronto Blue Jays fans have been longing for since the early `90s is finally upon us with the opening of the American League Division Series (Thursday on Sportsnet.) The Jays will play their first post-season game since 1993 when they host the Texas Rangers in a best-of-five series, with the game starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Classic on greens: With all of the big-money events out of the way, the golf world turns its eye to Korea (the South one, not the Kim Jong-un one) for the Presidents Cup, featuring the U.S. taking on everybody else. Coverage starts Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, TSN3.)