After a fairly dark season for the CFL's television product, Sunday's Grey Cup game produced a pretty bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The championship game drew a big audience of 4.3 million viewers on TSN (4.1 million) and RDS (230,300), a 6 per cent increase over last year's finale. This is great news for the league for more than one reason.
For one, after regular-season and playoff ratings took a tumble for the second straight year, an increase is something to be celebrated. Secondly, in a day of cord-cutting and audience fragmentation, any rise in ratings is remarkable considering that TV numbers are dropping across the continent.
The average rating for the game was pretty solid. While still the second lowest since the ratings system changed in 2009, the game was the second most-watched sports event on TSN this year. Only the World Junior Hockey Championship final (5.9 million) did better.
But more impressive, and more encouraging for the CFL, is the fact that 9.7 million Canadians watched some or all of the game.
"The fact that nearly one in every three Canadians watched some part of the Grey Cup speaks to the strength and importance of the CFL and the Grey Cup to our country," CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said in a statement.
Assuming they liked what they saw, many of those could be regular viewers next year.
There was another gain away from the big screen that also provides hope that the CFL can reverse a worrying trend and increase its audience among younger fans. Twitter mentions topped 102,000 -- up 15 per cent from 2014.
The ratings bump, in many ways, was a bit of a surprise considering that the Ottawa-Edmonton matchup wasn't the most desirable one. With Ottawa in only its second season of existence -- if you forget the team's previous incarnations -- there isn't a huge fan base to draw on. Secondly, Edmonton was favoured by more than a touchdown and that usually doesn't encourage viewing.
The competition was pretty stiff, too. The NFL Sunday nighter featured the undefeated New England Patriots against the Denver Broncos in a thriller, but that didn't seem to distract viewers from the three-down game. The NFL game drew only 214,000 to TSN2, down almost 50 per cent from the previous week's offering. Considering the game was on NBC and there's no way of finding out how many Canadians watched the game on the American channel, that may or may not mean anything.
But there's no doubt a lot more people were watching Canadian football than American.
As for why the Grey Cup bucked the odds, it did have some good story lines that stirred up some interest. But the main reason was the fact that a competitve game that goes down to last minute usually keeps an audience engaged.
This one certainly did.
Here are the most-watched English-language sports events from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. CFL, Grey Cup: Redblacks vs. Eskimos, Sunday, TSN: 4,079,000
2. CFL, Countdown to Grey Cup, Sunday, TSN: 2,500,000
3. NHL, Caps-Leafs/Devils-Habs/Oilers-Pens, Saturday, CBC-Rogers, 1,870,000
4. NHL, Flames-Sharks/Sens-Coyotes/Jets-Avs, Saturday, CBC-Rogers, 1,000,000
5. NFL, Steelers-Seahawks/Cardinals-Niners, Sunday, CTV: 837,000
6. NFL, Early afternoon games, Sunday, CTV: 694,000
7. CIS, Vanier Cup: UBC vs. Montreal, Saturday, Sportsnet: 311,000
8. Canucks at Stars, Friday, Sportsnet Pacific: 278,000
9. Canadiens at Devils, Friday, Sportsnet East: 219,000
10. Panthers at Red Wings, Sunday, Sportsnet: 216,000
11. NFL, Patriots at Broncos, Sunday, TSN2: 214,000
12. Soccer, Swansea at Liverpool, Sunday, TSN: 212,000
13. Predators at Flyers, Friday, Sportsnet: 186,000
14. NBA, Raptors at Wizards, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 178,000
15. Oilers at Red Wings, Friday, Sportsnet West: 170,000
16. Skiing, Lake Louise World Cup men's downhill, Saturday, CBC: 154,000
17. Soccer, West Brom at West Ham, Sunday, TSN: 153,000
18. Figure skating, NHK Trophy men's and pairs, Saturday, CBC: 144,000
19. Suns at Raptors, Sunday, Sportsnet: 142,000
20. Soccer, Manchester United at Leicester, Saturday, Sportsnet: 137,000
21. Auto racing, F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 134,000
22. Figure skating, NHK Trophy women's free, Sunday, CBC: 132,000
23. Curling, Le Gruyere Men's Gold, Saturday, TSN: 105,000
24. Auto racing, F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying, Saturday, TSN: 103,000
25. Skiing, World Cup Lake Louise men's Super-G, Sunday, CBC: 96,000
THREE TO WATCH
The big sweep: The hurry-hard crew is at it again this week, which always sets curling fans' hearts aflutter. But this Canada Cup should produce palpitations considering what's at stake. Not only is there $140,000 on the line, but the winners get a bye to the next Olympic qualifier final stage as well as berths in January's Continental Cup in that curling hotbed of Las Vegas. All the big names will be there starting Wednesday (10:30 a.m. ET, TSN.)
Hometown hockey: No, we're not referring to that new Sunday night NHL package but a Saturday triple-header involving five Canadian teams. It all starts at 3 p.m. ET on Sportsnet with Washington at Winnipeg and ends with Vancouver hosting Boston (10 p.m. ET, CBC and Sportsnet.)
Cup runneth over: With the Grey Cup now in the books, football fans get another championship: the MLS Cup. Oh wait, wrong football. This one features the Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, TSN.)