The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Curling sweeps aside the Maple Leafs

Chris Zelkovich
Chris Zelkovich
Team Canada has made a switch, at the Brier. Vice Pat Simmons and skip John Morris (right) have flipped positions for their game against Northwest Territories. (Michael Burns/Curling Canada)

In this country, there are few things about curling television ratings that should surprise anybody who hasn't been living in a cave the past 20 years.

All curling events draw big audiences and the sport’s biggest events draw huge audiences.

But every once in a while, something happens that illustrates just how big curling is in Canada. One of those came Saturday night, when the Tim Hortons Brier semifinal drew (curling reference intended) an average of 896,000 viewers to TSN. That wasn't a record, but what made it stand out was the fact that more people watched curling that night than watched the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada -- a lot more.

The Leafs game against the St. Louis Blues averaged only 743,000 viewers -- the lowest since the ratings system changed in 2009. While this may be more a testament to how truly awful the Leafs have become, it also hammers (oy, another curling reference) home the power of the men – and women - with brooms.

It was a pretty successful Brier for TSN. Sunday's final averaged 1.25 million viewers, a 40 per cent increase over last year and the biggest audience in four years. The audience for Sunday's final between Team Canada and Northern Ontario peaked at two million while the tournament average of 587,000 viewers represented a 29 per cent increase over 2014.

The big reason behind those numbers may have been TSN's new five-channel universe. The curling network broadcast simultaneous matches for the first time, which no doubt increased viewer numbers.

The more you give them, it appears, the more they'll watch.

The weekend was a successful one overall for TSN, which also benefitted from a record soccer audience. Saturday's Toronto FC-Vancouver season opener set a Canadian MLS ratings record with an average of 353,000 viewers -- up 1,000 from last year's record opener for TFC. While that's encouraging, let's remember what happened after the 2014 opener. Audiences dropped as the season progressed and in the case of TFC were soon into double figures. In some cases, low double figures.

MLS is, in many ways, a lot like the NBA in Canada. When the Toronto Raptors were winning big, audiences grew. But as the team has cooled off, so has interest even though the Raptors are still in first place in their division.

When teams like that stumble, the ratings tend to tumble.

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

1. NHL, Blues-Leafs/Habs-Coyotes/Jets-Preds, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 1,700,000

2. Curling, Brier final, Sunday, TSN: 1,250,000

3. Curling, Brier semifinal, Saturday, TSN: 896,000

4. NHL, Canucks-Sharks/Pens-Kings, Saturday, CBC: 827,000

5. Curling, Page playoff 1-2, Friday, TSN: 738,000

6. Curling, Page playoff 3-4, Saturday, TSN: 710,000

7. NHL, Flames at Senators, Sunday, City: 623,000

8. Curling, Brier bronze game, Sunday, TSN: 621,000

9. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 497,000

10. Curling, Brier Draw 17, Friday, TSN: 410,000

11. Soccer, TFC at Vancouver, Saturday, TSN: 353,000

12. Auto racing, NASCAR Sprint 400, Sunday, TSN: 326,000

13. MLB, Pirates at Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 234,000

14. NHL, Hometown Hockey pre-game, Sunday, City: 207,000

15. Figure skating, world junior men's and dance free, Sunday, CBC: 174,000

16. Soccer, Tottenham at QPR, Saturday, Sportsnet: 168,000

17. NBA, Raptors at Thunder, Sunday, TSN: 177,000

18. Speed skating, world all-round championships, Sunday, CBC: 165,000

19. Auto racing, NASCAR Xfinity 300, Saturday, TSN: 152,000

20. NBA, Raptors at Hornets, Friday, TSN: 142,000

21. Figure skating, world junior women's and pairs, Saturday, CBC: 138,000

22. NHL, Flyers at Bruins, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 136,000

23. PGA, Cadillac Championship final round, Sunday, TSN: 108,000 (NBC audience not measured)

24. Speed skating, world all-round championships, Saturday, CBC: 110,000

THREE TO WATCH

1. The lead-up to March Madness: The most-hyped basketball tournament in the world starts next week, but the partners for the NCAA's big dance have not been decided yet. The playdowns start Thursday with the ACC quarterfinals (Noon ET, TSN.)

2. March Madness North: It's a big weekend for the CIS, with four championships to be decided. The hockey titles for men and women as well as both basketball championships will go Sunday with semifinals starting Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. The finals are Sunday, starting with women's hockey at 1 p.m. ET. All games are on either Sportsnet One or Sportsnet 360.

3. NHL playoff preview? It's still hard to use the words New York Islanders and playoffs in the same sentence, but the Islanders are serious contenders this year. So are the Montreal Canadiens and the two could give a glimpse of playoffs to come when they meet on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, City.)