The Great Canadian Ratings Report: CFL playoff audiences take a tumble

The Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions didn't capture viewers' imaginations in the CFL East semifinal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press.)
The Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions didn't capture viewers' imaginations in the CFL East semifinal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press.)

All those empty seats in Montreal and Edmonton for last Sunday's CFL playoff games aren't the only things outgoing commissioner Mark Cohon sees in his nightmares. The television ratings from last Sunday's division semifinals no doubt have him bolting upright in bed and screaming in horror.

The West semi between Saskatchewan and Edmonton averaged 1,267,000 viewers on TSN -- a 20 per cent drop from the ratings for last year's playoff game between Saskatchewan and B.C. The East semifinal between Montreal and B.C. this year averaged 874,000 -- a drop of 11 per cent.

The only good news that came out of the weekend for TSN was the fact that the two CFL games ranked second and third among all sports programming, finishing well ahead of everything but perennial ratings-topper Hockey Night In Canada.

Nothing the NFL offered up came close, so there's that. Maybe football fans were too busy raking leaves (or shovelling snow) to watch TV that day.

But considering that the league saw ratings drop 6 per cent this season, this could be part of a disturbing trend. If fewer people watch during the regular season, it's only natural that fewer people will be interested in what follows.

There were a few mitigating factors that might help Cohon and his cohorts sleep a little easier -- or at least not wake up so often -- and still hold out hope that this year's Grey Cup will be a hit.

The West playoff game was a pretty uninspired affair, with both teams fielding shaky backup quarterbacks and little being generated in the way of offence. On the other hand, the game was competitive and the outcome was in doubt right up until the final two minutes. Regardless, any time you can draw more than a million viewers you shouldn't be too concerned.

The East semi suffered from the fact that only one team appeared to be trying to win as the Alouettes basically ran the Lions off the field. The fact that an average of 874,000 viewers watched the game isn't that discouraging -- especially when you consider that RDS' French broadcast averaged 420,000 viewers (slightly more than the 416,000 who watched last year.) After all, there's little doubt that the only viewers hanging in for the fourth quarter were either relatives of the Alouettes or the kind of people who enjoy visiting abbatoirs on their vacations.

But even with all those factors considered, there are disturbing signs. This marks the second straight ratings decrease for the East semifinal and the audience for last year's Grey Cup experienced a 17 per cent drop from the previous year.

This could all be ancient history by Sunday if the two division finals produce great games and great audiences. The potential certainly is there with plenty of bad blood in both games.

But with so few people interested in the semi-finals, those will have to be superb games to reverse that trend.

While CFL ratings were down, it was a pretty good year for NASCAR on television. Races averaged 373,000 on TSN and 285,000 on TSN2 -- increases of 19 and 21 per cent respectively. Now there's a trend that leads to a good night's sleep.

Here are the most-watched English-language sports events for the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:

1. NHL, Leafs-Sabres/Flyers-Habs/Jets-Preds/Rangers-Pens, Saturday, CBC/Rogers: 2,200,000

2. CFL, Roughriders at Eskimos, Sunday, TSN: 1,267,000

3. CFL, Lions at Alouettes, Sunday, TSN: 874,000

4. NHL, Senators at Flames, Saturday, CBC: 635,000

5. NHL, Canadiens at Red Wings, Sunday, City: 572,000

6. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, Saturday, CBC: 540,000

7. NFL, 49ers-Giants/Seahawks-Chiefs/Vikes-Bears/Bengals-Saints, Sunday, CTV: 507,000

8. NFL, Patriots at Colts, Sunday, TSN: 439,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

9. Auto racing, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Sunday, TSN2: 389,000

10. NFL, Eagles-Packers/Lions-Cardinals, Sunday, CTV2: 358,000

11. NHL, Coyotes at Canucks, Friday, Sportsnet Pacific: 353,000

12. NHL, Hometown Hockey pre-game, Sunday, City: 245,000

13. Speed skating, World Cup short-track, Saturday, CBC: 198,000

14. Figure skating, ISU Rostelecom Cup, Saturday, CBC: 189,000

15. NBA, Jazz at Raptors, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 186,000

16. NHL, Coyotes at Oilers, Sunday, Sportsnet West: 182,000

17. Figure skating, ISU Rostelecom Cup, Sunday, CBC: 180,000

18. Speed skating, World Cup short track, Sunday, CBC: 145,000

19. Soccer, England vs. Slovenia, Saturday, Sportsnet: 131,000

20. Soccer, Italy vs. Croatia, Saturday, Sportsnet: 129,000


An ice time: Winter isn't officially here, but you can tell how close it is by the increasing number of hours devoted to televised curling. Fans of sweeping (or brushing) and in-turns will get their fill this weekend with the second event of the Grand Slam season starting Thursday (9 a.m. ET, Sportsnet) and winding up Sunday. The top men's teams in the world will vie for the $100,000 purse, which is a pretty nice purse even if it won't match their shoes.

Road to the Vanier Cup: Apparently Rogers has decided that when it comes to CIS football, it's best to leave the fans wanting more. That's why last weekend's playoffs weren't on television. But this Saturday's are, with Manitoba and Montreal butting heads in the Uteck Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet 360) and Mount Allison meeting McMaster in the Mitchell Bowl (4 p.m., Sportsnet 360.)

Road to the Grey Cup: While 2014 has been a bit of an off year for the CFL in terms of excitement, Sunday's division finals could produce two great games. Of course, they could both be total duds, but that's not the way they look on paper. The red-hot Montreal Alouettes meet the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East final in a game that features two evenly matched teams with inexperienced quarterbacks and running-backs-of-the-week (1 p.m. ET, TSN.) The West final is the latest installment in the Battle of Alberta with first-place Calgary hosting second-place Edmonton (4:30 p.m. ET, TSN.) The winners get to warm up next week in the Grey Cup game in Vancouver.