Win it and they will come.
That's one of the basic tenets of professional sports. Build a winner and the fans will flock to it, either clutching cash in hand to purchase tickets or holding bags of potato chips while watching TV from their couches.
But that article of faith is being challenged by the Toronto Raptors, who despite a tremendous season and strong attendance figures are not even making a dent on television.
In a season in which the team has been one of the dominant forces in the eastern half of the NBA, ratings are down when logically they should be way up. At last count, they were off 12 per cent from last season.
And with the playoffs approaching, things aren't looking up. On Saturday night, as the Raptors neared their goal of winning 50 games, the team's match against the New Orleans Pelicans averaged a grand total of 130,000 viewers on Sportsnet One. Outside of the MLS, that's pretty much the bottom of the barrel.
Yes, it went up against Hockey Night In Canada, but you'd think a winning team would provide pretty stiff competition for a trio of hockey games involving three losing Canadian teams that are basically playing out the string or aiming for the bottom.
Instead, the Raptors drew the kind of numbers usually reserved for speed skating or luge. In fact, the world junior figure skating championships (junior!) averaged 50 per cent more on CBC that afternoon. Friday's Raptors game against Houston did better (225,000), but that's still not the kind of interest you'd expect from a winner.
Overall, the Raptors have made great strides in recent years. Ratings have doubled in the past five years and last spring's playoffs hovered around 500,000. But they seem to have hit a wall.
It is possible that many Raptors fans, who tend to be on the young side, are watching on mobile devices and therefore aren't being counted in the ratings. But surely there can't be that many who favour their basketball on tiny screens.
Maybe fans were so turned off by last year's playoff flop that they're waiting for the team to show it's for real. That doesn't seem likely, especially considering that 22 years of losing didn't turn off Blue Jays fans.
Those fans, though, appear to be a little different. A Jays pre-season game on Saturday afternoon, pretty much the most meaningless broadcast on the weekend, averaged 346,000 viewers on Sportsnet -- almost triple what the Raptors did and well above the 280,000 the Jays drew in a comparable game last spring.
Then there's women's curling, which still drew strong ratings despite the fact that Canada didn't win a medal. Despite the absence of the home team, more than 600,000 viewers watched Sunday's final.
The Raptors can only dream of that kind of loyalty.
Here are the most-watched sports events on English-language television over the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Rangers-Habs/Bruins-Leafs/Ducks-Sens, Saturday, CBC-Sportsnet, 1,400,000
2. NHL, Hawks-Flames/Oilers-Kings, Saturday, CBC: 670,000
3. Curling, Women's Worlds Page playoff, Saturday, TSN: 669,000
4. Curling, Women's Worlds, bronze final, Sunday, TSN: 650,000
5. Curling, Women's Worlds final, Sunday, TSN: 612,000
6. Curling, Women's Worlds Page playoff, Friday, TSN: 551,000
7. Curling, Women's Worlds semifinal, Saturday, TSN: 476,000
8. NHL. Blackhawks at Canucks, Sunday, Sportsnet: 431,000
9. MLB, Yankees vs. Blue Jays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 346,000
10. PGA, World Golf Championship final round, Sunday, Global: 343,000
11. NHL, Canucks at Blues, Friday, Sportsnet East-West-Pacific: 284,000
12. NBA, Raptors at Rockets, Friday, Sportsnet-Sportsnet One: 225,000
13. Figure skating, world junior championships, Saturday, CBC: 198,000
14. PGA, World Golf Championships, Saturday, Global: 189,000
15. Basketball, NCAA Sweet Sixteen, Sunday, TSN: 188,000 (CBS audience not measured)
16. Curling, Women's Worlds tiebreaker, Friday, TSN: 184,000
17. Soccer, Canada vs. Mexico, Friday, TSN: 142,000
18. NBA, Raptors at Pelicans, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 130,000
19. Basketball, NCAA Sweet Sixteen, Friday, TSN: 112,000 (CBS audience not measured)
THREE TO WATCH
World domination, Part I: Canada's best figure skaters will be in the spotlight, which always brings out the best in sequins, at the world championships starting Wednesday in Boston. Reigning pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are considered medal favourites and Patrick Chan's recent win at the Four Continents makes him one of the top candidates in the men's category. It all starts Wednesday (2 p.m. ET, CBC).
The boys of spring: The Toronto Blue Jays, who raised a nation's spirits and then broke its heart last fall, start their quest for a second straight American League East title (and their second in 23 years) Sunday in Tampa against the Rays (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet). Marcus Stroman, who has replaced $30 million man David Price as the team's ace, will start behind baseball's most dynamic lineup.
World domination, Part II: Barring a miracle, you can use an indelible pen to write in the names of the finalists at this year's world women's hockey championship seeing that Canada and the U.S. have pretty much owned this show. Canada's next game is Thursday against Finland (10:30 p.m. ET, TSN) with the final set for Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET.