If there has been one unshakeable tenet behind the success of Hockey Night In Canada over the past couple of decades, it has been this: Thou shalt feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, no matter how bad they are or who they are playing, lest your ratings plummet and your advertisers demand rebates.
On Saturday, Rogers broke faith with that long-standing article of faith, shuffling the dismal Leafs off to Sportsnet and featuring the Montreal Canadiens on CBC. Amazingly, the skies did not part and lightning bolts did not destroy CBC or Rogers headquarters -- even though banishing the Leafs to The Shopping Channel might have been a more appropriate move considering their entertainment value of late.
That's not to say it was an overwhelming success, but at least it gives Rogers hope that the next few weeks won't be a ratings disaster as the Leafs continue their mind-numbing descent to the nether regions of the NHL standings. (It should be noted that the Leafs are scheduled to be back in the CBC spotlight against Ottawa next Saturday, though that is subject to change.)
Overall, Rogers drew a solid 2.2 million viewers for its Saturday prime-time lineup, with the Montreal Canadiens' game against San Jose drawing 922,000 of that. The Leafs-Senators game drew 875,000 to Sportsnet while 414,000 tuned in to the Washington-Winnipeg contest on City.
The Leafs usually draw more than 1 million for their games in the CBC prime-time slot -- though they did hit bottom with 743,000 a few weeks back -- so Rogers can't really be counting on the first-place Habs to pick up all of the slack just yet. But with the possibility of five Canadian teams making the playoffs, Rogers can hope for a long run and some impressive playoff numbers.
But moving the Leafs to Sportsnet wasn't just an experiment to see how the Habs would do. It also gave Sportsnet a boost in its continuing battle with TSN for sports channel supremacy.
That 875,000 will boost Sportsnet's average ratings and continue to fuel the channel's increasing audience totals. According to ratings compiler Numeris, Sportsnet's average ratings have increased by 15 per cent since the NHL season began in October. At the same time, leader TSN has seen its audience averages drop by 4 per cent.
TSN still has a big lead, but that could change if that trend continues.
TSN can take some solace in a successful March Madness, though. Airing more than three times as many hours as it did last year, TSN saw ratings jump 45 per cent last week.
But probably the most impressive ratings of the week were compiled by the women's world curling championship final, which drew an average of 279,000. That wasn't the largest curling audience of the week -- Friday's playoff game drew almost 100,000 more -- but you have to take into account the fact that Sunday's gold medal game aired at 2 a.m. EDT.
Now that's a dedicated audience.
Not many events can draw that many viewers at that time of the night.
Here are the most-watched sports events from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Sharks-Habs/Leafs-Sens/Caps-Jets, Saturday, CBC: 2,200,000
2. NHL, Canucks at Coyotes, Sunday, City: 627,000
3. NHL, Flyers at Oilers, Saturday, CBC: 512,000
4. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 426,000
5. Curling, Women's worlds page playoff 1-2, Friday, TSN: 368,000
6. NHL, Canucks at Kings, Saturday, Sportsnet Pacific: 355,000
7. Soccer, Manchester United at Liverpool, Sunday, TSN: 345,000
8. PGA, Arnold Palmer Invitational final round, Sunday, Global: 334,000
9. NHL, Hometown Hockey pre-game, Sunday, City: 310,000
10. Curling, Grand Slam final, Sunday, CBC: 303,000
11. MLB, Blue Jays vs. Rays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 283,000
12. Auto racing, NASCAR Auto Club 400, Sunday, TSN: 282,000 (Fox audience not measured)
13. Curling, women's worlds final, Sunday, TSN: 279,000
14. Curling, Grand Slam round robin, Saturday, Sportsnet: 274,000
15. PGA, Arnold Palmer Invitational third round, Saturday, Global: 223,000
16. NBA, Knicks at Raptors, Sunday, Sportsnet: 196,000
16. Soccer, Arsenal at Newcastle, Saturday, Sportsnet: 196,000
18. NBA, Raptors at Bulls, Friday, Sportsnet: 195,000
19. Curling, Grand Slam quarterfinal, Saturday, CBC: 188,000
19. UFC, Maia vs. LaFlare, Saturday, TSN: 188,000
21. Curling, women's worlds page playoff 3-4, Friday, TSN: 169,000
22. NHL, Blue Jackets at Flames, Saturday, Sportsnet West: 163,000
23. Basketball, NCAA tournament (evening), Sunday, TSN: 154,000 (CBS audience not measured)
24. Curling, women's worlds semifinal, Saturday, TSN: 144,000
25. Tennis, Indian Wells final, Sunday, Sportsnet One: 141,000
26. Soccer, West Brom at Manchester City, Saturday, TSN: 140,000
27. Curling, Grand Slam round robin, Friday, Sportsnet: 125,000
28. Basketball, NCAA tournament (evening), Friday, TSN: 121,000 (CBS audience not measured)
28. NHL, Blues at Wild, Saturday, Sportsnet East-Ontario: 121,000
30. Tennis, Indian Wells semifinal, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 120,000
THREE TO WATCH
Great skates: There's a lot of pressure on Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford as they sharpen their toe-picks for the world figure skating championships in Shanghai this week. Going undefeated all season can do that for you. But the favourites have handled pressure before, so this might just work out for them in the pairs competition. Teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are also considered medal favourites in the dance. The sequins come off starting Wednesday (7 p.m. local, CBC.)
The world of women: International women's hockey tournaments almost always end with Canada playing the U.S., so fans will get a preview of that when the world championship tournament starts Saturday in Sweden (11 a.m. ET, TSN.)
Rock stars: The world championship theme continues with the men's curling competition in Halifax. The Canadian men are hoping to one-up the women, who took silver last week in China. It all starts with Canada's Pat Simmons taking on the U.S. (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, TSN.)