The Great Canadian Ratings Report: A great Grey Cup could save TV season for the CFL

Sunday's Grey Cup between Ottawa and Edmonton might just be what the CFL needs.
Sunday's Grey Cup between Ottawa and Edmonton might just be what the CFL needs.

Considering the numerous storylines surrounding the 103th Grey Cup game, Sunday's annual festival of three-down football could provide the CFL with something it badly needs: a little pick-me-up in the TV ratings department.

While last Sunday's division finals drew big audiences, averaging about 1.2 million viewers each, they were still lower than the 2014 version. The 1.3 million average for the West final between Calgary and Edmonton was 13 per cent lower than last year's game featuring the same two teams. The 1.09 million average for the Ottawa-Hamilton final was eight per cent off last year's game, which featured Hamilton and Montreal.

While those aren't precipitous drops, they follow a semifinal weekend that saw audiences drop one and 34 per cent from 2014 and a 2015 season that suffered a 15 per cent decrease.

Oh yes, and 2014 was six per cent lower than 2013. You get the picture.

But that can all be reversed with a cracker of a game on Sunday. And there are good reasons to believe that's possible.

Ottawa and Hamilton produced a thriller last weekend and there's no reason why Henry Burris and the Redblacks can't make this one exciting. Add in some history -- the teams last met in the 1981 Grey Cup when the Redblacks were the Rough Riders -- and you've got the ingredients for a game that could attract a lot of interest.

The timing is right, too. Last year's audience of 4 million was the lowest since the ratings system changed in 2009, so topping that shouldn't be a monumental task.

Unfortunately, there also are a few reasons to believe a big TV audience might be a stretch. For one, Edmonton is favoured by more than a touchdown and dominated the Redblacks during the season using a backup quarterback. If the Eskimos grab a big lead early the audience might move elsewhere before Fall Out Boy's amps have warmed up for the halftime show. For another, Ottawa doesn't have a huge television following and won't bring the kind of guaranteed audience that, say, Saskatchewan or Winnipeg might.

But, as the Redblacks and Tiger-Cats proved last week, anything is possible in the CFL. The league is counting on that.

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

1. NHL, Leafs-Bruins/Flyers-Sens/Coyotes-Jets, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 1,810,000

2. CFL, West final, Stampeders at Eskimos, Sunday, TSN: 1,300,000

3. CFL, East final, Tiger-Cats at Redblacks, Sunday, TSN: 1,095,000

4. NHL, Blackhawks at Canucks, Saturday, CBC: 884,000

5. NFL, Packers-Vikes/Chiefs-Chargers, Niners-Seahawks, Sunday, CTV: 765,000

6. NHL, Maple Leafs at Hurricanes, Friday, Sportsnet Ontario: 513,000

7. NFL, Skins-Panthers/Broncos-Bears/Jets-Texans, Sunday, CTV: 505,000

8. NHL, Islanders at Canadiens, Sunday, Sportsnet: 463,000

9. NFL, Bengals at Cardinals, Sunday, TSN: 343,000 (NBC audience not measured)

10. Auto racing, NASCAR Ford 400, Sunday, TSN: 271,000 (NBC audience not measured)

11. Figure skating, Rostelecom Cup, Sunday, CBC: 255,000

12. NBA, Raptors at Lakers, Friday, Sportsnet: 230,000

13. Figure skating, Rostelecom Cup, Saturday, CBC: 213,000

14. NHL, Blackhawks at Flames, Friday, Sportsnet West: 187,000

15. Soccer, Leicester at Manchester City, Saturday, Sportsnet: 147,000

16. UFC, Magny vs. Gastelum, Saturday, TSN: 142,000

16. NBA, Raptors at Clippers, Sunday, Sportsnet: 142,000

18. Soccer, Norwich at Chelsea, Saturday, Sportsnet: 107,000

19. Speed skating, World Cup, Saturday, CBC: 96,000


A royal visit to Canada: The Toronto Raptors get one of those big tests this week when the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers and King LeBron James come to town. The Raptors host the Cavaliers on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN.)

Giving thanks for football: One of the great things about living in Canada, outside of the constitutionally guaranteed right to watch hockey, is that we get two Thanksgiving Days. The first is our own and the second comes this Thursday when we can watch Americans celebrate it with three tenets of democracy: food, shopping and football. The NFL is serving up a tripleheader with games starting at 12:30 p.m. ET (Fox, Sportsnet). All three threaten to be turkeys, but at least fans can get a good look at an undefeated team when the 10-0 Carolina Panthers take on the desperate 3-7 Dallas Cowboys (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS and Sportsnet.)

Three-down football fiesta: If you prefer your football with a lot more motion and one less down, the weekend should be your cup of lager. First, UBC and Montreal square off in the Vanier Cup on Saturday (1 p.m., ET, Sportsnet.) Then comes the Grey Cup, which features the Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa Redblacks, the cities meeting for the first time since 1981 when the Esks and Rough Riders played a classic (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, TSN.)

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