The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Labour Day produces classic TV audiences for CFL

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game
Toronto Argonauts quaterback Ricky Ray looks on as his team plays the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of their CFL game in Hamilton, September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Toronto Argonauts quaterback Ricky Ray looks on as his team plays the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of their CFL game in Hamilton, September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

It's long been said that the CFL season doesn't really get started until Labour Day, which always made more than a few people wonder why so many fans bothered to show up those first two months.

Regardless, it's a long-standing belief and the CFL is certainly hoping that it bears out this season. If this year's Labour Day Classic schedule is any indication, the league is in for a big bounceback in its television numbers.

Prior to the first weekend in September, CFL ratings were showing some improvement: up 7 per cent overall and up an impressive 14 per cent in the much-valued 18-49 age bracket.

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But after this Labour Day, the league is no doubt dreaming of bigger numbers ahead.

The most encouraging sign was the average of 902,000 viewers who tuned in to watch a wild-and-crazy game between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Monday. That was a 60 per cent jump over the 559,000 who watched last year's game.

It was the most-watched CFL game of the season for TSN and the most-watched Hamilton-Toronto Labour Day game in seven years.

Taking into account the belief that these two teams reside in the most challenging media market in the league, that's pretty impressive. Take into account that a total of 2.9 million Canadians watched at least some of the game and you have the potential for big growth.

If enough of those liked what they saw - and what wasn't to like in a 49-36 game that featured an incredible comeback? - the Argos and Ticats just created a few more loyal followers. (The Labour Day games in Calgary and Saskatchewan both had 2.3 million total viewers and there's no doubt some of them might be back, too.)

The other Labour Day weekend games weren't quite as impressive, but still not discouraging. The Edmonton-Calgary game averaged 781,000 viewers, up 3 per cent from last year. The Winnipeg-Saskatchewan game on Sunday averaged 889,000, a 20 per cent drop from 2015.

But when you take into account that one of those teams - the Roughriders - went into the game at 1-8, a double-digit drop isn't that worrisome.

Despite those strong numbers, the weekend was dominated by the Toronto Blue Jays, who hit the million mark in three of four games on the holiday weekend. Their games were the most-watched TV programs in the country on Friday and Saturday.

The Jays averaged 1.2 million viewers per game in August, which oddly enough is actually an 8 per cent drop from the same month in 2015.

The reasons? One was an outsized game against the New York Yankees last year that hit the 2 million mark. Another might be that the fan base, so energized last year, is starting to lose faith as the Jays stumble a bit.

But a few wins, and a weekend series against Boston, should change that.

Here are the most-watched sports events on English-language television over the Labour Day long weekend,according to Numeris overnight ratings:

1. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Friday, Sportsnet: 1,400,000

2. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 1,160,000

3. MLB, Blue Jays at Rays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 1,130,000

4. MLB, Blue Jays at Yankees, Monday, Sportsnet: 926,000

5. CFL, Argonauts at Tiger-Cats, Monday, TSN: 902,000

6. CFL, Blue Bombers at Roughriders, Sunday, TSN: 889,000

7. CFL, Eskimos at Stampeders, Monday, TSN: 781,000

8. MLB, Red Sox at Athletics, Sunday, Sportsnet: 393,000

9. MLB, Red Sox at Padres, Monday, Sportsnet: 295,000

10. Auto racing, F1 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 222,000

11. PGA, Deutsche Bank Challenge, Sunday, Global: 157,000

12. MLB, Red Sox at Athletics, Saturday, Sportsnet: 137,000

13. Tennis, U.S. Open third round, Saturday, TSN: 118,000

14. Soccer, Canada vs. Honduras, Friday, TSN: 115,000

15. Tennis, U.S. Open round of 16, Sunday, TSN: 110,000

16. Tennis, U.S. Open second round, Friday, TSN: 100,000

THREE TO WATCH

Rio, part deux: If you're missing the thrill of the Rio Olympics and the accompanying miracle that made you care deeply and passionately about steeplechase, the 2016 Paralympic Games should fill that gaping chasm in your life. CBC has the most extensive Paralympics coverage in Canadian history -- it says so itself -- starting with daily coverage Thursday on cbc.ca. Television coverage starts at midnight Thursday on CBC.

Summertime and the hockey is easy: The resurrected World Cup of Hockey has puck fans positively delirious after a painful three months without ice. Things get rolling in pre-tournament action with Sweden and Finland squaring off Thursday (Noon, ET, Sportsnet) while Canada gets its first taste of September action Friday against the U.S. (7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360.)

Name the quarterback: The NFL kicks off its new season Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET,  NBC and TSN) with all kinds of issues, most of them involving quarterbacks. Superstar and Donald Trump lover Tom Brady is suspended and several others are on the injury list. Denver will begin defence of its Super Bowl title against Carolina with someone named Trevor Siemian at quarterback. It promises to be super interesting.

 

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