The Great Canadian Ratings Report: NHL opening weekend a mixed bag for Rogers

Chris Zelkovich
Chris Zelkovich
The Leafs and Penguins produced strong ratings, but down from last season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

So how's that $5.2 billion baby working out for Rogers?

While early returns are almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things, the first week of the new NHL season as presented by the corporation that cornered the market on hockey in Canada produced a mix bag of ratings results. On one hand, as the company announced on Tuesday, the first Saturday night produced a record Hockey Night In Canada audience of 9.8 million people.

That's pretty impressive as far as audience reach goes -- that being the total number of people who tuned in to the broadcasts at some point -- but the TV business doesn't run on audience reach. It runs on average viewers per minute and in that regard Rogers did well, but fell short of last year's opening night audiences.

The early games, carried on CBC and a slew of Rogers channels, averaged 2.23 million viewers. That was easily the most-watched sports event of the week, but was 14 per cent lower than last season's Saturday night debut. The late games, also on multiple channels, averaged 1.3 million, down 10 per cent from 2013.

On Sunday, City's debut as a hockey channel, produced an average audience of 1.07 million viewers, the third-biggest audience in the channel's history. Admittedly, it's not exactly a glorious history, but a record is a record.

It's far too early to suggest that Rogers may have bit off more than it can chew. One weekend does not a season make. There are too many factors involved -- closeness of games, for one. The fact that it was a holiday weekend might even have played a role. Don Cherry will no doubt claim that the two minutes sliced off Coach's Corner played a role.

But there was a trend on Saturday night. French audiences on TVA were down, too, coming in 22 per cent behind last season's RDS opener. Both involved the Canadiens and Flyers, so that didn't factor in.

One possible explanation for the lower numbers is the public's unfamiliarity with the package. Who would expect a hockey game on FX? Or City, for that matter.

But if there's one thing that stands out is that showing six games simultaneously on Saturday evening may present some problems. The Toronto-Pittsburgh game drew an average audience of 1.5 million to CBC, no big surprise. But Ottawa-Tampa Bay on Sportsnet One attracted only 112,000 and the Washington-Boston game on FX was watched by a paltry 15,000. Even Toronto FC outdid that (55,000 on TSN.)

Football and the age-old rivalry between CFL and NFL fans also produced a mix bag. The NFL late Sunday game between Dallas and Seattle produced the biggest number from the gridiron (921,000), but the CFL's Thanksgiving Day games easily outdrew Monday Night Football. In other words, nothing was settled.

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

1. NHL, Pens-Leafs/Habs-Flyers/Sens-Lightning/Flames-Blues/Caps-Bruins, Saturday, CBC*: 2,230,000

2. NHL, Oilers-Canucks/Sharks-Jets, Saturday, CBC*: 1,310,000

3. NHL, Leafs at Rangers, Sunday, City: 1,007,000

4. NFL, Cowboys at Seahawks, Sunday, CTV: 921,000

5. CFL, Bombers at Eskimos, Monday, TSN: 843,000

6. CFL, Roughriders at Alouettes, Monday, TSN: 782,000

7. CFL, Ticats at Argonauts, Friday, TSN: 636,000

8. NFL, Pats-Bills/Packers-Dolphins/Lions-Vikes, Sunday, CTV: 606,000

9. NHL, Hockey Night In Canada pre-game, Saturday, CBC: 545,000

10. MLB, Royals at Orioles, Friday, Sportsnet: 503,000

11. NFL, 49ers at Rams, Monday, TSN: 482,000

12. MLB, Royals at Orioles, Saturday, Sportsnet: 466,000

13. CFL, RedBlacks at Lions, Saturday, TSN: 424,000

14. NFL, Giants at Eagles, Sunday, TSN: 370,000 (NBC audience not measured)

15. MLB, Giants at Cardinals, Sunday, Sportsnet: 370,000

16. MLB, Giants at Cardinals, Saturday, Sportsnet: 304,000

17. NFL, Bronocs at Jets, Sunday, TSN: 294,000

18. NHL, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Sunday, City: 262,000

19. NFL, Bears at Falcons, Sunday, TSN: 196,000

20. MLS, Whitecaps at Sounders, Saturday, TSN: 180,000

21. Auto racing, NASCAR Bank of America 500, Sunday, TSN2: 161,000

22. Auto racing, F1 Russian Grand Prix, Sunday, TSN: 110,000

* Games broadcast on several Rogers channels in addition to CBC.

THREE TO WATCH

Team of destiny?: It's an even-numbered year, so if things go according to form the San Francisco Giants will be crowned kings of the National League. The St. Louis Cardinals, who trail the best-of-seven series 2-1, beg to differ. Game 4 goes Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One

Original Six showdown: It's been almost 50 years since the NHL expanded from a six-team house league into the continent-wide phenomenon it is today, so seeing two of the original teams go at really shouldn't be anything special. But for some reason, it is. The Leafs and Red Wings clash Saturday, 7 p.m. ET on CBC.

QB vs. QB: There's nothing like a football game featuring two of the best quarterbacks in the game, which makes Sunday night's NFL offering a little special. Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers take on Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC and TSN.