The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Hockey Night In Canada off to promising start

·Chris Zelkovich

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs centennial celebrations were watched by more than 2 million viewers Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
The Toronto Maple Leafs centennial celebrations were watched by more than 2 million viewers Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

It would be folly to base an assessment on one day, or even one week.

For example, had you looked at the Toronto Blue Jays last week you might have gambled the grocery money on their chances of being in the World Series. This week, not so much.

With that proviso in mind, there's no cause to get all hyped up about the prospects of the NHL recovering from last season's television woes. But, there might be cause for some cautious optimism that hockey couch potatoes are starting to get excited about the game again.

Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada season opener averaged 2.3 million viewers -- the highest for a season debut since 2013, and 10 per cent higher than last year's opening which featured a comparable lineup of games.

There are several possible explanations for this seeming increase in interest.

One was that Saturday's Boston-Toronto game featured the Maple Leafs' centennial celebrations and came on the heels of Toronto rookie Auston Matthews' record-setting opening night earlier in the week.

Add in the hangover from the World Cup of Hockey and massive promotion and Rogers' hockey venture was primed for a big audience. (Some might point to the change in hosts, though it's hard to imagine an extra 200,000 viewers tuning in to hear Ron MacLean's puns and note the difference in the cut of his suits.)

There's little doubt the big reason was that the Leafs, who despite their decades-long futility still drive ratings, are looking like a team that fans might actually want to follow closely. At least for now.

If the Leafs can avoid the hopelessness of last season, ratings will automatically increase.

Hope may explain the second half of Saturday's doubleheader. The Calgary-Vancouver game averaged 944,000 -- down 1 per cent from last season's western opener between the same two teams.

That's hardly a significant amount, though it may indicate that Calgary and Vancouver fans may not be buying into any major improvement just yet. 

As interesting as the early HNIC ratings were, the most intriguing of the weekend were the ones enjoyed by the NFL in Canada.

With no Blue Jays and no CFL games on Sunday, CTV's 4 p.m. NFL offerings averaged 1.26 million viewers -- a 30 per cent increase over the same weekend last year. The early games came close to the million mark.

While season-to-season numbers aren't available, that sole number flies in the face of what's happening south of the border. NFL ratings have dropped by double digits across the board in the U.S., but there's no sign of that trend being repeated in Canada.

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

1. MLB, Blue Jays at Indians, Friday, Sportsnet: 4,010,000

2. MLB, Blue Jays at Indians, Saturday, Sportsnet: 3,330,000

3. NHL, Bruins-Leafs/Habs-Sens/Jets-Wild, CBC-Sportsnet*-City: 2,310,000

4. NFL, Cowboys-Pack/Falcons-Seahawks/Chiefs-Raiders, Sunday, CTV: 1,256,000

5. NHL, Flames at Canucks, Saturday, CBC-Sportsnet*: 944,000

6. NFL, 49ers-Bills/Rams-Lions/Bengals-Pats/Eagles-Skins, CTV: 943,000

7. MLB, Dodgers at Cubs, Sunday, Sportsnet: 651,000

8. CFL, Blue Bombers at Lions, Friday, TSN: 565,000

9. NHL, Sabres at Oilers, Sunday, Sportsnet One/360: 547,000

10. MLB, Dodgers at Cubs, Saturday, Sportsnet: 461,000

11. CFL, Alouettes at Stampeders, Saturday, TSN: 426,000

12. NHL, Oilers at Flames, Friday, Sportsnet One-360: 419,000

13. CFL, Roughriders at Argonauts, Saturday, TSN: 393,000

14. NHL, Hurricanes at Canucks, Sunday, Sportsnet One-360: 319,000

15. CFL, Redblacks at Tiger-Cats, Friday, TSN: 307,000

16. NFL, Colts at Texans, Sunday, TSN: 266,000 (NBC audience not measured)

17. Auto racing, NASCAR Hollywood 400, Sunday, TSN: 163,000 (NBC audience not measured)

18. Football, NCAA games, Saturday, TSN: 104,000

* Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360

THREE TO WATCH

Striking out for history: Regardless of what happens in the rest of the American League and National League championship series, you have to admit that this year's baseball playoffs are providing incredible storylines. If the Toronto Blue Jays make a comeback against Cleveland, they would become only the second team in history to overcome a 3-0 deficit. If not, Cleveland has a shot at erasing a 68-year World Series championship drought. If the Chicago Cubs win the World Series it would end 108 years of futility. On Tuesday, the Jays host Cleveland (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet) while the L.A. Dodgers host the Cubs (8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet.)

Fall classic, Winnipeg-style: As Winnipeg's Investors Group Field gets set to possibly host its first football playoff game next month, it will get a warmup this weekend with the NHL Heritage Classic. The alumni game goes Saturday (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet) with the Jets hosting Edmonton on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).

Final kicks: The MLS season comes to an end Sunday with all three Canadian teams in action and two -- Toronto and Montreal -- preparing for the playoffs. TFC is home to Chicago (4 p.m. ET, TSN4) while Vancouver meets Portland (4 p.m. ET, TSN.)