For anyone who's been paying any attention at all to the Canadian sports broadcasting scene, the popularity of curling should come as absolutely no surprise.
Put a big rock in somebody's hand and a broom in the other, turn on the cameras and you have an instant audience.
So it's not really big news that last week's Scotties Tournament of Hearts set a ratings record for TSN and dominated the top 10 listings for the weekend. TSN's coverage averaged 566,000 viewers for more than a week and Sunday's final attracted an average audience of 1,050,000 -- second only to Hockey Night In Canada's early game.
The final drew 15 per cent more viewers than it did last year even while going up against the Oscars, and TSN reports drawing 7 million unique viewers throughout the tournament.
While that's not startling, what is interesting is that curling is thriving at a time when some are saying that the Internet is stealing sports fans from the networks. There might be some evidence of that -- Hockey Night In Canada numbers are down even though interest seems strong -- but TV ratings records continue to fall for events like the Super Bowl and world junior hockey championship.
Even if the web is siphoning viewers, curling is pretty much immune. It's no secret that curling's audience has a lot of grey hair -- or no hair -- and, not to generalize, but the over-55 crowd tends to prefer the big screen to an iPad. Failing eyesight may be a factor there.
All that means that the Brier is likely to set viewing records, too.
Curling topped some pretty big competition on the weekend. Its playoffs easily beat out the late Hockey Night In Canada offering, which lends credence to those who say the NHL's Stadium Series is on the wane. The fact that the L.A.-San Jose game under the California sky averaged only half a million viewers -- low for even the faltering late Saturday broadcast -- certainly points to more yawns than cheers. Curling's bronze medal game, as close to irrelevance as things can get, did better than that.
Here are the most-watched sports events from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Jets-Leafs/Panthers-Sens/Ducks-Oilers/Jackets-Habs, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 2,200,000
2. Curling, Tournament of Hearts final, Sunday, TSN: 1,050,000
3. Curling, Tournament of Hearts Page playoff, Saturday, TSN: 887,000
4. Curling, Tournament of Hearts semifinal, Saturday, TSN: 884,000
5. Curling, Tournament of Hearts Page playoff, Friday, TSN: 792,000
6. Auto racing, Daytona 500, Sunday, TSN: 532,000 (Fox viewers not measured)
7. NHL, Canucks at Islanders, Sunday, City: 514,000
8. Curling, Tournament of Hearts Bronze final, Sunday, TSN: 512,000
9. NHL, Kings at Sharks, Saturday, CBC: 505,000
10. NHL, Leafs at Hurricanes, Friday, Sportsnet Ontario: 500,000
11. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, Saturday, CBC-Rogers: 498,000
12. Curling, Tournament of Hearts, Draw 17, Friday, TSN: 445,000
13. Auto racing, Daytona 500 pre-race, Sunday, TSN: 272,000 (Fox viewers not measured)
14. NHL, Canucks at Devils, Friday, Sportsnet Pacific: 225,000
15. NBA, Raptors at Rockets, Saturday, Sportsnet 360: 223,000
16. NBA, Raptors at Hawks, Friday, Sportsnet One: 198,000
17. NHL, Islanders at Capitals, Saturday, Sportsnet: 192,000
18. Figure Skating, Four Continents, Saturday, CBC: 181,000
19. NHL, Ducks at Flames, Friday, Sportsnet West: 162,000
20. Soccer, Liverpool at Southampton, Sunday, TSN: 157,000
THREE TO WATCH
Hurrying, hard or otherwise: This is the biggest event on the curling calendar and will produce the highest ratings outside the Olympics. The Brier, the annual tournament that determines the best among men with brooms, starts Saturday and ends on March 8. Draw One goes Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, on TSN.
Age-old rivalry, with an asterisk: The Leafs-Canadiens rivalry ranks along with the Yankees-Red Sox, Liberals-Tories and Roadrunner-Coyote for sheer intensity. And even the fact that the Leafs are headed nowhere but down and the Canadiens are among the NHL's elite won't take too much of a shine off this one for entertainment value. Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC.
Trades, trades and rumours of trades: It's usually the biggest much-ado-about-nothing day in sports, but hockey fans seem to love spending hours watching talking heads talk about all things hockey on NHL Trade Deadline Day -- soon to be a national holiday, no doubt. It all starts Monday at 8 a.m. ET on TSN and Sportsnet 360.
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