The Great Canadian Ratings Report: NHL playoff audiences on the rise thanks to Canadian content

Chris Zelkovich
·Chris Zelkovich
The all-Canadians series between Montreal and Ottawa is drawing huge audiences on CBC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
The all-Canadians series between Montreal and Ottawa is drawing huge audiences on CBC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

There's nothing like a big increase in hometown interest to make the television picture a lot brighter.

After a season of disappointing to disheartening ratings for its high-priced and much-hyped NHL package, Rogers is reaping the rewards of a huge increase in Canadian content in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.

So far, with five Canadian teams in the fray, the numbers have been impressive. According to Rogers, the game average so far is 1.36 million viewers -- a 40 per cent increase over first-round games last season. The big contributor has been the series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, which has averaged 3.22 million viewers a game through the first three contests. That's 58 per cent higher than the ratings the same two teams produced when they met two years ago.

The only bad news on this front for Rogers (and CBC) is that it doesn't look like it will last much longer. A seven-game series could produce monster ratings.

The Vancouver-Calgary series is averaging 1.9 million per game, hurt by late games that start when much of eastern Canada is heading to bed. Still, that's 57 per cent more viewers than the Canucks produced two years ago against San Jose.

That's not entirely surprising considering that there are now two Canadian markets contributing viewers, but still there's no such thing as a bad ratings increase in the TV business.

Another positive sign was the NHL draft lottery, a 10-minute show that featured balls popping out of a machine. Fuelled by the drama over who would get Connor McDavid -- and strengthened by interest from Leafland -- the "show" averaged 1.6 million viewers. That's four times last year's average.

There are also big gains for Rogers online offerings. On Sunday, more than 110,000 people watched game streaming and video on demand on GameCentre Live. That feature has shown a 60 per cent increase since the playoffs began.

In fact, the NHL pretty much dominated the weekend ratings, producing the seven most-watched shows. The first non-NHL offering came from an unlikely source: the Toronto Raptors. Their Saturday afternoon playoff opener against Washington drew an average of 520,000 viewers on TSN.

That's identical to last year's playoff opener, but is part of continuing good news for the Raptors. They averaged 259,000 viewers this season, an 82 per cent increase over last year. It was the Raptors' highest season average in history on TSN.

Amazing what making the playoffs can do for interest.

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

1. NHL, Canadiens at Senators, Sunday, CBC: 3,480,000

2. NHL, Senators at Canadiens, Friday, CBC: 3,130,000

3. NHL, Flames at Canucks, Friday, CBC: 2,240,000

4. NHL, Canucks at Flames, Sunday, CBC: 2,190,000

5. NHL, Penguins at Rangers, Saturday, CBC: 1,610,000

6. NHL, Jets at Ducks, Saturday, Sportsnet: 1,210,000

7. NHL, Predators at Blackhawks, Sunday, Sportsnet: 597,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

8. NBA, Wizards at Raptors, Saturday, TSN: 520,000

9. MLB, Braves at Blue Jays, Friday, Sportsnet One: 490,000

10. NHL, Red Wings at Lightning, Saturday, CBC: 458,000

11. MLB, Braves at Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet One: 407,000

12. NHL, Blackhawks at Predators, Friday, Sportsnet: 407,000

13. MLB, Braves at Blue Jays, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 375,000

14. NHL, Capitals at Islanders, Sunday, Sportsnet: 354,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

15. NHL, Wild at Blues, Saturday, Sportsnet: 281,000

16. PGA, RBC Heritage final round, Sunday, Global: 268,000

17. NHL, Islanders at Capitals, Friday, Sportsnet: 232,000

18. Auto racing, F1 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 214,000

19. PGA, RBC Heritage third round, Saturday, Global: 173,000

20. NBA, Raptors pre-game show, Saturday, TSN: 165,000

21. Soccer, English Premier League games, Saturday, TSN: 136,000

22. Soccer, West Ham at Manchester City, Sunday, TSN: 104,000

THREE TO WATCH

Hoop dee doo: The big question in the NBA series between the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors isn't so much about which team will win but more about what obscenity Raptors GM Masai Ujuri will utter and how much he'll be fined. So far, the odds are #@$% and $100,000. As for what takes place on the court, all will be revealed in the next three games. (Tuesday,  Friday and Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, TSN.)

Wild west: As expected, the NHL playoff series between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks has been filled with face-washes, forearm shivers and punches to the nose. In between bouts of nastiness, there has been some hockey played. The Flames aim to expand their 2-1 series lead starting Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, CBC.)

The reign in Spain: The Champions League is into the second leg of the quarterfinals and what could be better than a showdown between Madrid and Madrid? Wonder if the fans ever get confused as to which Madrid is which? That's Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid (Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet.)