The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Women's soccer scores big audience in World Cup opener

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game
Christine Sinclair celebrates the winning goal in a game that set a viewing record for women's soccer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Christine Sinclair celebrates the winning goal in a game that set a viewing record for women's soccer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Wasn't there a time when women's soccer ranked with lawnmower racing and darts for television ratings?  Indeed there was, and it wasn't all that long ago.

But things have changed -- witness the last Olympics and an audience of 3.7 million for Canada's biggest game -- and they only seem to be getting better for women's soccer in this country.

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Saturday's opening game of the 2015 Women's World Cup, which saw Canada beat China 1-0 in a thrilling finish (after 90 minutes of tedium), set a viewing record by drawing an average of 1.8 million viewers to CTV, TSN and French-language RDS. No doubt aided by the hype that surrounds having the event in your own country, the game attracted more than double the audience it did the last time around.

In all, more than 5.6 million viewers watched some or all of the game, with the audience peaking at 2.6 million in extra time.

Those are impressive numbers -- even if you don't factor in the RDS contribution. But they become even more impressive when you look at the whole picture.

The match went up against the second game of the Stanley Cup final and drew almost as many viewers. Even though the soccer game had an hour's head start, that's amazing. Women's soccer rivalling Canada's top sport? Whodathunkit?

Especially when you consider that the hockey game was pretty thrilling while the soccer match, for the most part, was a dud. If Canada can move on to the next round, those audiences will only grow -- especially if the games get more interesting.

But it's not just the home-team factor. The New Zealand-Netherlands match on Saturday average an impressive 380,000 on TSN.  Even more incredible was the 328,000 who tuned in to watch Germany obliterate the Ivory Coast on Sunday.

There may have been other reasons, but it's possible that Saturday's Canada-China match even drained viewers from Hockey Night In Canada. The Tampa Bay-Chicago game averaged 1.9 million, not a great number for a Stanley Cup final.

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

1. NHL, Blackhawks at Lightning, Saturday, CBC: 1,900,000

2. Women's World Cup soccer, Canada vs. China, Saturday, CTV-TSN: 1,670,000

3. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Friday, Sportsnet: 657,000

4. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 604,000

5. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 522,000

6. NBA, Cavaliers at Warriors, Sunday, TSN: 459,000 (ABC viewers not measured)

7. Women's World Cup, New Zealand vs. Netherlands, Saturday, TSN: 380,000

8. Women's World Cup, Germany vs. Ivory Coast, Sunday, TSN: 328,000

9. Auto racing, F1 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 272,000

10. PGA, Memorial final round, Sunday, Global: 269,000

11. Tennis, French Open men's final, Sunday, TSN: 235,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

12. Soccer, Champions League final, Saturday, Sportsnet: 230,000

13. Auto racing, NASCAR Axalta 400, Sunday, TSN: 228,000

14. Tennis, French Open women's final, Saturday, TSN: 198,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

15. Horse racing, Belmont Stakes, Saturday, TSN: 197,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

16. MLB, Cubs at Nationals, Sunday, Sportsnet: 175,000

17. Auto racing, F! Canadian Grand Prix qualifying, Saturday, TSN: 168,000

18. Tennis, French Open men's semifinal, Friday, TSN: 140,000

19. UFC, Boetsch vs. Henderson, Saturday, TSN: 129,000

20. PGA, Memorial third round, Saturday, Global: 126,000

THREE TO WATCH

Hoop dreams: When Michael Jordan retired, many believed it would be a long time before the NBA saw a player who could dominate the way he did. But Lebron James is on the verge of doing just that as he seems to be steering the Cleveland Cavaliers toward a championship on will alone. Surrounded by an ever-diminishing supporting cast, James has the Cavs tied with the Golden State Warriors heading into Tuesday's third game (9 p.m. ET, ABC/TSN.)

Hockey heaven: The Stanley Cup final certainly hasn't been lacking for entertainment value and, after Tampa Bay's win on Monday, it has hit at least nine on the drama scale. Things promise to escalate from here as the Chicago Blackhawks attempt to tie the series at 2-2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, CBC.)

Reboot time: After a scare in their opener against unheralded China, Team Canada will have to be better in the next game if it hopes to advance in the Women's World Cup. The Canadians, who were the beneficiaries of a controversial penalty call in extra time on Saturday, meet a desperated New Zealand squad that lost its opener. (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, TSN.)

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