The Great Canadian Ratings Report: The NHL gets ready to dominate again

·Chris Zelkovich
The Leafs and Sabres played a meaningless game, but don't tell that to the 472,000 who watched it on TV. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
The Leafs and Sabres played a meaningless game, but don't tell that to the 472,000 who watched it on TV. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

And so it begins.

The pumpkins are free of frost and the trees are still hanging on to their leaves, but hockey is back on television and showing that once again it's ready to dominate the ratings. The CFL and NFL, which have led the ratings for the past few months, can now prepare themselves to take a back seat to Canada's national obsession.

The NHL is ready to resume its rightful place as the king of Canadian sports.

A good indication of that came over the weekend when a meaningless pre-season exhibition between a replica of the Buffalo Sabres and a reasonable facsimile of the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to crack the top 10 on the ratings list. That Sunday night game drew an average of 472,000 viewers to Sportsnet, more than any of the Toronto Blue Jays final outings of the year and  more than one CFL game (though the 455,000 who watched the Montreal-Ottawa football game didn't include those multitudes tuning into French-language RDS.)

Think about that for a second. A half-million Canadians had nothing better to do on a Sunday night but watch a hockey game that featured a lot of minor leaguers and meant absolutely nothing -- except to determine which fourth-liners might make the team. 

This, of course, is great news for Rogers, which has sunk its entire sports future into hockey. Whether the ratings translate into enough revenue to justify the $5.2 billion price tag is yet to be determined, but there's no doubt that the audiences will be there.

Although hockey will dominate until next June, things are still looking pretty good for football. The CFL took three of the top five spots while the NFL had the other two.

On the other hand, things continue to look dismal for Toronto FC, a soccer team that plays in television anonymity. Two weeks ago, the team drew 29,000 viewers to Sportsnet.  Last Saturday, their game against the Portland Timbers attracted an average of 87,000 to TSN.

That's a vast improvement, but was still among the least-watched sports events of the weekend. 

Many of the soccer team's low ratings could be explained by the fact they've been relegated to lesser channels like Sportsnet 360 and TSN2. But to draw numbers like that on the big sports channels at a key point in the MLS season should be sending shivers down the spines of the owners at MLSE.

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

1. NFL, Eagles-Niners/Falcons-Vikings, Sunday, CTV: 785,000

2. CFL, Lions at Stampeders, Saturday, TSN: 784,000

3. CFL, Roughriders at Eskimos, Friday, TSN: 716,000

4. CFL, Tiger-Cats at Blue Bombers, Saturday, TSN: 676,000

5. NFL, Bills-Texans/Lions-Jets, Sunday, CTV: 570,000

6. NHL, Sabres at Maple Leafs, Sunday, Sportsnet: 472,000

7. CFL, Alouettes at RedBlacks, Friday, TSN: 455,000

8. NFL, Saints at Cowboys, Sunday, TSN: 444,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

9. MLB, Orioles at Blue Jays, Friday, Sportsnet: 402,000

10. MLB, Orioles at Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 379,000

11. MLB, Orioles at Blue Jays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 375,000

12. Auto racing, NASCAR AAA 400, Sunday, TSN: 284,000

13. Golf, Ryder Cup final round, Sunday, TSN: 220,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

14. NHL, Flames at Canucks, Friday, Sportsnet One: 208,000

15. NHL, Maple Leafs at Sabres, Friday, Sportsnet One: 191,000

16. Martial arts, UFC preliminaries, Saturday, Sportsnet 360: 159,000

17. Soccer, West Ham at Manchester United, Saturday, Sportsnet: 150,000

18. Golf, Ryder Cup third round, Saturday, TSN: 130,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

19. Soccer, Arsenal at Tottenham, Saturday, TSN: 107,000

THREE TO WATCH

Wild, wild nights: Realizing that a 162-game season isn't really enough to determine who gets into the playoffs and who doesn't, the deep thinkers at Major League Baseball headquarters decided three years ago to add a second wild-card team. They've assured us that this has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with driving up interest and increasing TV ratings. Regardless, the action will probably drive up interest and ratings. It all starts Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet) with the Royals and Athletics. On Wednesday (8 p.m., ET, Sportsnet) the Giants and Pirates meet.

Moon over Edmonton: CFL and NFL fans tend to be like fire and water, or maybe Harper and Mulcair. But there's one thing they will agree on: Warren Moon was one heck of a quarterback regardless of where he played. The former Edmonton Eskimo and Houston Oiler and current Pro Football Hall of Famer is featured in the latest A Football Life series, Friday, 9 p.m ET (NFL Network.)

 Rough ride? The defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders might find out on Friday exactly where they're going this year. With star quarterback Darian Durant on the shelf, the Riders hopes have been tied to backup Tino Sunseri, who has looked great at times and awful at times since taking over. The 11-2 Stampeders will be as good a test as any, especially if Calgary starter Bo Levi Mitchell returns from injury. Friday, 10 p.m. ET, TSN.