The Great Canadian Ratings Report: CFL fares well in Sunday showdown with NFL

The Blue Bombers and Roughriders had a big audience despite going head-to-head with the NFL. (The Canadian Press)
The Blue Bombers and Roughriders had a big audience despite going head-to-head with the NFL. (The Canadian Press)

I was being interviewed about the wide world of sports media on a radio show last week when I was asked a question I've heard dozens of times: Why does the CFL insist on going head-to-head with the NFL?

My answer, which is basically the same answer I've been giving for years, is that Sunday is a good day to draw people to a stadium and despite the relatively big TV contract the CFL is still a gate-driven league. Secondly, the CFL has nothing to fear from the NFL when it comes to drawing TV viewers.

That certainly was borne out by the ratings from last Sunday. The 4 p.m. CFL game between Saskatchewan and WInnipeg averaged 1.1 million viewers on TSN. The 4 p.m. NFL game between San Francisco and Dallas averaged 683,000 viewers.

On the other hand, the Hamilton-Montreal game at 1 p.m. didn't do so well up against the three NFL games that CTV showed regionally. Despite a rare high-scoring game, all the Ticats and Als could draw was an average of 413,000 viewers. The NFL games averaged 601,000.

So what does this all tell us? Basically, the CFL has the drawing power to stand on its own. The Als are among the poorer television draws in the league for TSN, partly because much of the Montreal audience watches the games on French-language RDS.

Yes, that probably could have done a little better had it avoided confronting the NFL. After all, there are only so many football fans to go around and had the Hamilton-Montreal game been played on a Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, it would have done much better.

Proof of that possibility was the 668,000 viewers who sat (suffered) through Friday's 7-5 game between B.C. and Ottawa.  (While this is a bit apples and oranges, that number for what was arguably one of the worst football games of the decade was almost as large as Sunday's NFL audience.)

But when a CFL game can outdraw the NFL by more than 400,000 viewers, neither the league nor TSN should fear taking on the big guys. And for those who wonder why TSN wouldn't discourage Sunday CFL games, remember that TSN is part of the Bell Media empire along with CTV. WIth one airing the CFL and the other the NFL, the Bell Media channels dominated the day.

In fact, the Toronto Blue Jays had their smallest audience of the week going up against football on Sunday.

While the CFL's strength will surprise many, the biggest shock of the weekend was the fact that the Blue Jays averaged 821,000 viewers on Friday night. Obviously, the team's hard-core fans have not yet abandoned what is surely a sinking ship.

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

1. CFL, Roughriders at Blue Bombers, Sunday, TSN: 1,107,000

2. MLB, Blue Jays at Red Sox, Friday, Sportsnet: 821,000

3. CFL, Stampeders at Eskimos, Saturday, TSN: 753,000

4. NFL, 49ers at Cowboys, Sunday, CTV: 683,000

5. CFL, Lions at RedBlacks, Friday, TSN: 668,000

6. NFL, Early games, Sunday, CTV: 601,000

7. NFL, Colts at Broncos, Sunday, CTV: 595,000 (NBC viewers not measured)

8. MLB, Blue Jays at Red Sox, Saturday, Sportsnet: 528,000

9. NFL, Giants at Lions, Monday, TSN: 495,000

10. NFL, Chargers at Cardinals, Monday, TSN: 430,000

11. CFL, Ticats at Alouettes, Sunday, TSN: 413,000

12. MLB, Blue Jays at Red Sox, Sunday, Sportsnet: 346,000

13. PGA, BMW Championship final round, Sunday, Global: 305,000

14. PGA, BMW Championship third round, Saturday, Global: 273,000

15. Tennis, U.S. Open men's semifinal, Sunday, TSN2: 208,000 (CBS viewers not measured)

16. Auto racing, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Saturday, TSN2: 192,000 (Fox viewers not measured)

16. NFL, Patriots at Dolphins, Sunday, TSN2: 192,000 (CBS viewers not measured)

18. Auto racing, F1 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 170,000

19. MLS, D.C. United at Whitecaps, Saturday, TSN: 168,000

20. Tennis, U.S. Open women's final, Sunday, TSN2: 138,000* (CBS audience not measured)

21. Equestrian, Spruce Meadows Grand Slam, Saturday, CBC: 126,000


Nothing but net: Canada's rising tennis stars will be in the Davis Cup spotlight this weekend in what should be a relatively easy time against Colombia. After all, Milos Raonic and company are ranked eighth in the world while the Colombians are ranked 26th. But, as they say, that's why they play the games. Coverage starts Friday (2 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One.)

Double dealing: Baseball fans can prepare themselves for next month's viewing marathon with an interesting double-header on Sunday. First, the Blue Jays try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive in Tampa Bay. That's followed by what should be a pitched battle for a playoff spot between Seattle and Oakland. 1 and 4 p.m. ET (Sportsnet.)

Bear necessity: Former CFL head coach Marc Trestman, who would be welcomed back in Montreal in a heartbeat, will have his work cut out for him in the NFL Sunday nighter. His Chicago Bears will have to look a lot better than they did in the opener if they hope to upset the San Francisco 49ers. Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC and TSN.