Should Grey Cup Ratings Concern CFL Fans?

The 99th Grey Cup game between the Blue Bombers and Lions averaged 4.6 million viewers on TSN Sunday evening, down from 4.94 million in 2010. RDS saw its rating drop by 900, 000 without the French-market Alouettes. CFL ratings have trended downwards all season. Of course TSN trumpeted out its press release on Tuesday morning spinning that everything was great. Even by comparing this year’s press release to last year’s, one can tell that things may not be so well. Here is one quote from the TSN press release that creates a bit of an allusion if not read carefully.

“It was the… most-watched sports program of the broadcast year.” – This is true, but if you leave out one word when reading it, broadcast, it can become confusing. While the calendar year is 11 months old, the broadcast year began in September. The Super Bowl and all 7 games of the Stanley Cup Final brought in more viewers than the Grey Cup in 2011. As did the final of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

One consideration in comparing the past two Grey Cups is the market size of the teams involved. The Alouettes and Roughriders are probably the two most popular CFL teams nationally. The Lions aren’t far behind; however, the Blue Bombers are in a small market. This year is the first Grey Cup contested between any teams other than Saskatchewan and Montreal since BBM introduced portable-people-meters in 2009. So, it is even hard to compare to the past. The 2008 Grey Cup on TSN only averaged 2.44 million viewers. Roughriders vs. Blue Bombers in 2007 did 3.3 million on CBC.

One can attribute a number of reasons to the decrease in CFL viewership this year. The struggles of the Roughriders, who carry a large amount of bandwagon fans from across the country, is a popular – and most likely correct – reason. Some have also pointed to a poor season for the Argonauts, but that’s nothing new. Besides, many in Ontario don’t even notice the CFL. The general consensus from that area of the country is that there are no CFL fans. A lack of interesting storylines may have also contributed. Sure there was Anthony Cavillo breaking the all-time pro football passing record, but what else – I’m sorry, “Swaggerville” is not a storyline. Everyone outside of Manitoba was sick of it by the end of July.

While the ratings prove that many CFL fans have found their way to TSN, I think the CFL needs an over-the-air presence. I suggest they sell two packages in the off-season (the next contract will kick in for 2013), one over-the-air and one cable. It will probably be a given that TSN will get CFL rights back in some form or another, while CBC will have limited funds to spend to compete for the entire package. If there is any interest from the CBC, which I believe there is, selling two packages may get the CFL top dollar.

In the end, I think the CFL will be fine. Gate revenue is as high as ever, ratings are still better than they were ten years ago and the CFL is still the second most watched league in Canada, behind the NHL (some would dispute that the NFL gets more viewers than the CFL). Except for 2009 and 2010, CFL ratings have remained fairly consistent over the past ten years.

Vanier Cup… TSN’s move to put the Vanier Cup in primetime this season paid off. The overtime thriller attracted an average of 372, 000 on TSN and 288, 000 on RDS. CIS football is more popular in Quebec than the rest of Canada, so the RDS rating isn’t surprising at all. In fact, more people watched the Vanier Cup on RDS than the Grey Cup. TSN’s numbers aren’t overly impressive – the 2010 Rose Bowl averaged 613, 000 viewers on TSN – but they are up 17% from last season.

EURO 2012… I really enjoyed TSN’s coverage of the EURO 2012 draw on Friday afternoon. Noel Butler has greatly improved as a TV analyst since making his TV debut last fall. Luke Wileman and Jason deVos are both great as well. TSN would be wise to use all three as part of the EURO 2012 studio crew. I’d also add in former Toronto FC player Rohan Ricketts. One other EURO 2012 suggestion for TSN, use ESPN’s commentary. Ian Darke is better than John Helm.

Sportsnet World… is on free preview from now until January 2nd. Great news for Canadians who want to watch all the Premier League action over Christmas and the Old Firm match on December 28.

Canada Cup… Curling returns on TSN this afternoon with the Canada Cup. Vic Rauter, Linda Moore and Russ Howard return as the main commentary team. TSN will show women’s and men’s semifinals today (3pm and 8pm ET) and finals tomorrow (11am and 3:30pm).

Blacked Out… Tomorrow’s Buffalo Bills game against Tennessee is now blacked out in Buffalo’s primary and secondary markets because tickets for the game are not sold out. Viewers in southern Ontario will also be shutout as CTV isn’t allowed to show the game on its Toronto and Kitchener stations because Toronto is a secondary market. Both stations will show Jets @ Redskins.

Unprecedented move… Fox will finally get to show Tim Tebow when the Broncos visit the Vikings tomorrow afternoon. This is an unprecedented move because inter-conference games are usually broadcast on the network that is affiliated with the conference of the road team (in this case CBS/Broncos). The game was moved to Fox a couple of weeks ago when the NFL flexed Lions @ Saints (a Fox game) to Sunday Night Football in exchange for Colts @ Patriots (a CBS game). This left CBS with eight games, while Fox only had six. The NFL awarded Fox a CBS game to even things out. The last time it happened was in the early 70s.

More than a game… Many Canadians would agree that hockey is more than a game in this country, it is a cultural institution. PBS, led by affiliate WNED in Buffalo, has produced a new documentary titled “Hockey: More than a Game”. Some have seen it all before, but it looks interesting regardless. The trailer even includes Canadian sports media writer Bruce Dowbiggin; check it out. Hockey: More than a Game will air at various times on local PBS stations, so check your TV listings.

Cross-platform promotion… Sportsnet won Playback Magazine’s award for 2011 cross-platform media brand of the year. If there was an award for over-the-top, almost annoying, cross-platform media brand of the year, I’d give that to Sportsnet too.

21 thoughts on “Should Grey Cup Ratings Concern CFL Fans?

  1. Being from the Ottawa area and there being no CFL team, in all honesty I could really care less about the CFL. If Canada’s Capital gets a CFL team in the future (not holding my breath), I will most likely follow the CFL again and make an effort to attend the first regular season home game. About the television situation, I agree that their best bet would be to keep TSN as their cable outlet with the CBC bidding on a potential over the air package and airing a limited number of games. Unless they are able to sub license games from TSN and then the CBC could air a few more games.

  2. There were also 3 NHL games involving Canadian teams (regional broadcasts) scheduled on the same evening as the Grey Cup. Audiences for those games could’ve cut into the potential number of viewers watching the Grey Cup. I think in the past the NHL has usually avoided scheduling games involving Canadian teams on the night of the Grey Cup but I guess didn’t bother this year.

    I think having an over-the-air partner would be good for the CFL. Most big sports fans have cable/satellite anyway I’m guessing, but having events on network television does still carry a little more prestige and added visibility, in my opinion. I couldn’t imagine the Super Bowl ever airing on ESPN in the States.

    • There was a discussion on HF Boards about Senators and Leafs game airing head-to-head with the Grey Cup. The consensus on there was that “nobody watches the CFL anyway”. I kind of get the feeling the CFL’s penetration in Toronto and Ottawa isn’t that great and those people would have watched NFL (or something else) instead of the Grey Cup.

    • I could see it happening at some point but not for years. The BCS Championship is the closest thing to it and that’s already on ESPN.

  3. People in Toronto claim to be the worlds best sports market but the truth is its a 2 horse town the Leafs and Toronto Fc as for Ottawa after the last cfl team folded i think many people just lost any interest for cfl.

    • I think the Jays (and even Raptors) are quite a bit ahead of Toronto FC. TFC averaged around 20, 000 attendance per game (in a 23, 000 stadium) over 17 MLS matches in 2011. The Jays averaged 22, 445 in 81 games. The Raptors fell off a bit last year, but there was a time only a few years ago that they were in the top 10 in NBA attendance. The Argos averaged 22, 069 in 2010 (last in CFL).

      So I don’t think that TFC is even close to the Leafs. The Jays get a tonne more media attention than TFC and have better TV ratings. The Argos, Raptors and TFC are probably pretty close after that. The Leafs are miles ahead of everyone else.

  4. I think TSN has an option for a sixth year so the new deal may not kick in until 2014.

    If CBC were to get some games next contract 1 of two things will have to happen. Either Mark Cohen or whoever is the commissioner leaves money on the table to get an OTA signal or CBC stupidly overbids TSN to the point where it will probably be money losing for them. I can’t see either of these as likely, especially with the current government’s position on the CBC, so I think TSN getting the whole package again is most likely.

    • Why can’t CTV show games on Saturdays and the playoffs as part of the CFL’s deal with TSN. That makes more sense.

      • CTV cannot show any CFL games because the CFL’s contract is with TSN and not Bell Media. Though it would make more sense to show Saturday games on CTV and the playoffs as part of a new deal. Assuming that CTV is allowed to carry any games that is.

      • Because TSN has no reason to put them on CTV. They make more money by showing the games themselves (with subscriber rates etc.)

      • That is another possibility but if it does happen, Cohen would still likely be signing a deal for less money for the reasons CSM states.

  5. Love the format of this post.

  6. You mention the NFL flexing Lions/Saints into primetime. The issue was not just Fox having fewer games in total, but rather that it left Fox with only 2 games in the 1 p.m. slot, which is quite low.

  7. i do not think that the grey cup ratings should worry the CFL. without the Alouettes in the game the RDS numbers being way down was to be suspected but the CFL should learn something from this that more CFL football should be in quebec. A major push to get a team into quebec city should be at the forefront of the CFL priority list as having two teams in quebec would give the ratings an amazing boost. the longer they sit back and wait for it to happen by itself the more revenue will be lost.
    with the TV deal expiring end the 2013 season the CFL should do watever it takes to get that 10th franchise in Quebec city up and running by 2015. Stepping up and recruiting an ownership group and building a temporary stadium would be in the best interest of the league the tv ratings with two teams from quebec will bring the average wa up and games between the two would most likely triple the average CFL numbers for a CFL broadcast

  8. TSN has done such a great job with the CFL games. It was able to show all games Nationally for the first time ever on a yearly basis. It also brought in a whole new audience fan base by televising all Montreal games in French on RDS. That was huge as it took a whole province of 7.9 million people over 90% Francophone and opened the world of the CFL to them for the first time. Football in Montreal and Quebec has become huge now boosting the TV ratings to unthinkable levels. They were also instrumental in getting National coverage of the CFL in the US for the first time since the 80’s as The NFL Network now carries coverage of the CFL airing the TSN produced games.
    Perhaps the same thing can be done with the Networks for a financial agreement that would create more reveue for each CFL franchise. As CBC could air the TSN produced games regionally for each franchise. Meaning that Saskatchewan would get coverage of all its games on CBC can be an outlet for TSN produced games so each team will have its games shown. The same with other teams also. If fans wanted to see any other game besides their home team then they would have to subscribe to TSN. Even a blackout rule could be put into affect for home games if teams did not have a mandatory 25,000 in attendance. The more people watching the better but financial compensation would have to be made. The same for the Grey Cup As this should be aired on a National over air Network for all Canada to see but the rights to picking p the TSN Broadcast would come at a fee to the Network who want the coverage payed to TSN and shared among the CFL Franchises.
    So in short CBC would buy regional airway rights from TSN to show games to each teams region and also for the Grey Cup. Keeping TSN in charge and giving coverage of all games to subscribers but regional fans can see their team. With the financial agreement being shared with TSN and the CFL franchises. Seems like that would be more fans able to watch and more TV revenue for the franchises.
    This would enable the CFL to restructure their salary cap to a more substantial payment for the players especially those Canadian Players the CFL are losing to NFL Practice squads. This situation needs to be fixed. The really talented players that will be able to sign contracts in the millions will go to the NFL but those going to the NFL to practice squads for 3 sesons at 97,000 dollars needs to be adjusted so that the CFL minimum compensation can at least be equal to this number.

  9. The CFL should not worry the GREY CUP ratings it was mostly in part that Montreal did not participate in the Grey Cup. the RDS ratings were down 800,000 because of that. With Montreal garning such high ratings for the Alouttes the more reason that the CFL needs to make a big push for a second CFL franchise and the leagues 10th in Quebec City. This would double the CFL ratings on RDS and the ratings for a game between the two Quebec Province franchises would be unthinkable for a regular season game as all over 5 million of the popualtion is french could you imagine and eastern finals rating between the two.
    The CFL and TSN should work out a deal so that each of the teams games could be telecast regionally over the regular network.

  10. TSN should be the only show games Nationally on one of their Networks. As for showing games in each teams regional market they may want to think about making a deal with a regional over the air network so that at least all fans of a team in a particular region can see their teams games even if they do not have TSN. For example ESPN Broadcast NFL Monday Night Football but say the the Philadelphia Eagles are playing. ESPN will allow a local over air station to televise the ESPN broadcast so that everyone in the Philadelphia Football Region Can see the Game even if they do not have ESPN. Since ESPN is now partnered with ABC the games are shown on the regions Channel that carries ABC. TSN would be a little different since they are not affiliated with a Major over the air NEtwork such as CBC. TSN however could create a deal with a regional network. For example ShawTV is a prairies only Network. TSN could make a deal with ShawTV to air Edmonton games in the Edmonton games in the Edmonton Region of Alberta, Calgary games in the Calgary Region of Alberta, Saskatchewan games in the entire province as it is a provincial team, and Winnipeg games in the Winnipeg Region. ShawTV would also be able to broadcast the Grey Cup. This would allow for better TV ratings and with TSN carrying a variety of sports I do not htink that people would cancel their cable or satellite do to this.
    There are only 8 teams soon to be 9. So a deal with ShawTV would cover half the CFL.
    TSN already has a deal with another cable network the NFL Network that provides National coverage of 2 games a week in the US. This is the first time that has happend since ESPN in the 80’s.
    Whether or not they do this I still believe that TSN should retain the rights to all CFL games as they have and will be the only Network in Canada that will give the CFL the type of serious coverage they need.

    • There are a few things in here which aren’t true.

      “For example ESPN Broadcast NFL Monday Night Football but say the the Philadelphia Eagles are playing. ESPN will allow a local over air station to televise the ESPN broadcast so that everyone in the Philadelphia Football Region Can see the Game even if they do not have ESPN. Since ESPN is now partnered with ABC the games are shown on the regions Channel that carries ABC.”
      It isn’t that ESPN does this out of the kindness of their heart, the NFL forces them too. The NFL is in a much more powerful position with American broadcasters than the CFL is with Canadian broadcasters. American nets would do anything and everything to get NFL coverage (especially the cable nets since there are so many).

      If an ABC affiliate carries the game, it is just co-incidental. Either the team or the NFL (I can’t remember which) auctions off the rights to the highest bidder. The winner also gets to show NFL Network games.


      “TSN would be a little different since they are not affiliated with a Major over the air NEtwork such as CBC.”

      Bell Media owns TSN and CTV. The two networks have very close ties. CTV is showing 3 sports events this month (Canadian GP, a Euro 2012 game and the French Open men’s final) because of conflicts on TSN.

      Shaw TV is a cable-only channel. Chances are, most people who have Shaw TV also have TSN.


      The NFL Network deal is completely different. TSN isn’t available in America. It is like, for example, how Monday Night Football airs on TSN since ESPN isn’t available in Canada.

      The fact is that most CFL audiences come from a local region. TSN has no reason to offer games locally OTA on CTV (or CTV Two). The CFL has no real reason to ask them to do so. It would make the rights less valuable for TSN because they couldn’t make as much off advertising or subscription fees.

      There are rumours that the CFL wants a 2nd partner (probably CBC or Global TV) to show 1 game per week when they sell the next broadcast package later this year. TSN doesn’t want any part of it. The CFL has sold exclusive rights to TSN for a long time now. The only difference is in the past TSN would re-sell some games to CBC. They stopped doing this in 2007.

      The fact is, sports are going from over-the-air to cable, not the other way around. This is the trend in Canada, America and Britain (and I’m sure other countries as well).

      I actually suggest the CFL sell four different packages for the next season (similar to the Premier League). Package A would be Friday Night Football (total 24 games; 1 per week plus 5 doubleheaders). Package B would be Thursday/Sunday games. Much the same deal (21 games; including 3 doubleheaders). The Third would be Saturday games (total 20 games; including 2 doubleheaders). The last would be Holiday games on Canada Day, August long weekend, Labour Day and Thanksgiving for a total of 7 games.

      There would be no Thursday/Sunday games on Canada Day Weekend, the August long weekend or Thanksgiving weekend. And no Saturday game on Labour Day weekend. No network could win more than 3 packages.

      The playoffs would be split between an over-the-air network and a cable network, both of whom have to have some regular season games. Each would get one semi final, one division Championship and both would show the Grey Cup.

      Probably would never happen, but I really like the Premier League’s way of selling rights.

  11. TSN has by far made the CFL amore popular TV product than ever before. With the coverage of every game for the 1st time, coverage in French on RDS for the first time, and a pre game and Halftime show that is similar to the NFL format. The games are all shown on the top network TSN and not TSN2 as well as the french version of RDS and not RDS2. TSN like ESPN is carried by every cable package and most people in the modern era have cable TV. The French coverage was a huge boost to football as a sport in french Quebec. If another network can provide the same coverage for more money the CFL would obviously have to take it but it is unlikely that will happen. So TSN/RDS it is most likely. A second team in Quebec via Quebec City would draw more interest from th eastern part of Quebec while also giving French Quebec two teams to watch along with a better chance that one will make the grey cup gaining the support of the french province. Also a possibility of and all qyebec eastern semi final may draw record ratings from TSN/RDS

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