The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Good times continue to roll for CFL

Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is a finalist for the CFL's outstanding player award. (Canadian Press/Frank Gunn photo)
Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award. (Canadian Press/Frank Gunn photo)

If there was a year in which the CFL shouldn’t have been able to stop its television ratings slide, it was 2016.
The Toronto Argonauts were a disaster on the field and at the ticket booth. The Montreal Alouettes continued their slow decline, something that traditionally doesn’t go over well in La Belle Province.
Worse, the Saskatchewan Roughriders hit the skids and even briefly lost their title as the top television draw in the league.
Despite all that, the league’s broadcast ratings increased at a time when most sports are experiencing declines. That’s quite an accomplishment.
Ratings were up five per cent during the regular season, stopping back-to-back decreases, and jumped 14 per cent for Sunday’s division semifinals.
They also thrilled their devoted fan base by beating the NFL head-to-head in both games. The West final averaged 1.06 million viewers on TSN, almost 200,000 more than the late-afternoon NFL offerings on CTV.
The East final averaged 903,000, more than 300,000 above what the NFL’s early games drew. Add in the 90,000 who watched both games on RDS and that bodes well for this Sunday’s division finals and the Grey Cup.
There are many possible reasons for this boost in fortunes. There was more offence this season and an increase in competitive games. Sunday’s semifinals both went down to the last minute, something that always boosts audience interest.
Having a dominant team like the Calgary Stampeders also tends to boost interest, especially in Calgary.
While things look promising for the rest of the CFL season, there is one potential ratings-killer beyond boring blowouts in the finals. That’s a lead-up to the Grey Cup dominated by stories about unsold tickets rather than what’s taking place on the field.
If the league and the host Argos put that fire out before next week, the good times should continue to roll.
Here are the most-watched sports events on English-language television from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Pens-Leafs/Wings-Habs. Saturday, CBC-City: 1,600,000
2. CFL, Blue Bombers at Lions, Sunday, TSN: 1,060,000
3. NFL, Cowboys-Steeles/Dolphins-Chargers, Sunday, CTV: 981,000
4. CFL, Eskimos at Tiger-Cats, Sunday, TSN: 903,000
5. NFL, Broncs-Saints/Vikes-Skins/Falcons-Eagles, Sunday, CTV: 594,000
6. NHL, Hockey Central Saturday, CBC-City-Sportsnet: 592,000
7. NHL, Rangers at Flames, Saturday, CBC-Sportsnet 1: 507,000
8. NHL, Canadiens at Blackhawks, Sunday, Sportsnet: 504,000
9. NFL, Seahawks at Patriots, Sunday, TSN: 465,000 (NBC audience not measured)
10. NHL, Flyers at Maple Leafs, Friday, TSN Regional: 389,000
11. UFC, UFC 205 preliminaries, Saturday, TSN: 319,000
12. NBA, Knicks at Raptors, Saturday, TSN: 282,000
13. NHL, Jets at Avalanche, Friday, TSN Regional: 273,000
14. Curling, Tour Challenge women’s final, Sunday, Sportsnet: 266,000
15. NHL, Stars at Oilers, Friday, Sportsnet West: 253,000
16. NHL, Hometown Hockey, Sunday, Sportsnet: 234,000
17. Curling, Tour Challenge women’s quarters, Saturday, Sportsnet: 231,000
18. NHL, Kings at Senators, Friday, TSN Regional: 228,000
19. Curling, Tour Challenge semifinals, Saturday, Sportsnet: 217,000
20. NBA, Raptors at Hornets, Friday, Sportsnet: 214,600
21. Figure skating, Trophee de France, Saturday, CBC: 213,000
22. Curling, Tour Challenge late draw, Friday, Sportsnet: 191,000
23. Curling, Tour Challenge evening draw, Friday, Sportsnet: 185,500
24. Curling, Tour Challenge men’s quarters, Saturday, Sportsnet One: 185,300
25: Curling, Tour Challenge men’s final, Sunday, Sportsnet: 174,000

U got it: The road to the Vanier Cup continues Saturday with the Mitchell Bowl and Uteck Bowl games to decide who meets in the university football championship. Laurier meets Laval in the Uteck Bowl (Noon ET, Sportsnet 360) and St. Francis Xavier takes on Calgary in the Mitchell Bowl (4 p.m. ET, Sportsnet 360).

Hockey Night, old school: There’s nothing like a traditional rivalry, unless, of course, both teams stink and the game doesn’t mean anything. Or one team stinks and the other is good. But Saturday’s Toronto-Montreal game at the Bell Centre doesn’t really fit any of those categories, with the Canadiens looking strong all year and the young Leafs showing signs of great things to come. (7 p.m. ET, CBC).

A shade of Grey: The combatants for this year’s Grey Cup will be decided Sunday, with the possibility existing of an all-Alberta championship game. Edmonton meets Ottawa in the CFL East final (1 p.m. ET, TSN) while Calgary hosts B.C. in the West final (4:30 p.m. ET, TSN).