Canadian Teams in Playoffs Equals a Windfall for CBC, TSN

The 2013-2014 sure didn’t get off to a hot start. CBC and TSN suffered, showing classic games and movies while the lockout dragged on until after Christmas. CBC was averaging around 200, 000 viewers for classic NHL games on Saturday nights in October, only about a tenth of the average for the usual 7:00pm ET Leafs broadcast. When the new season finally began on January 19th most of the lockout talk was forgotten. Now three months later the memory of the lockout is just a distant memory for most fans.

However, for CBC and TSN those were real games and advertising dollars lost. TSN lost out on 40% of its usual number of games featuring a Canadian team, while CBC lost out on about 50% of the Saturdays in a full season. The silver lining for the broadcasters is that four Canadian teams will make the playoffs. This includes the return of the Toronto Maple Leafs, after an almost decade-long absence. The Canadiens also return after missing out last season. Add in playoff fixture Vancouver and in all the three most popular Canadian teams are playing in May. And luckily for them, most advertising dollars are made during the two month playoff run.

When the new NHL television contract took effect for the 2008-09 season TSN picked-up the right to show the third most valuable series in the first round. After showing the Flames in 2009 and setting records with the Canadiens in 2010, TSN hasn’t shown a playoff game involving a Canadian team in the past two years. That possibility was almost unthinkable when the contract was signed. Three or more Canadian teams making the playoffs was much a sure thing as the Leafs failing to win the Cup. It had happened every year since the conference re-alignment in the 1990s, and in fact mostly every year before that as well. Half of NHL teams make the playoffs, so statistically its likely three Canadians teams should as well.

This is the first time all three Canadian teams in the Northeast Division have made the playoffs since the season before the last NHL lockout. That year there were two all-Canadian first round series – Ottawa vs. Toronto and Calgary vs. Vancouver – and the Flames went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. CBC would love for the Canadian teams to have that kind of success again this year, but even moderate success would be an improvement over last year.

So, how do the playoff matchups look for CBC? If the playoffs started today the Leafs would play the Habs in the first round in their first playoff meeting since 1979. I think this is the best case scenario for CBC. Not only did over three million watch their season-opener in January, but 2.5 million watched the re-match on Hockey Day in Canada in February. Their third meeting on February 27 attracted 1.5 million on TSN (and almost another million on RDS), the most-watched regular season game on TSN since 2005. Most recently they played on April 7, averaging over 2 million viewers on CBC. That’s an average of 2.3 million viewers on English-language TV. It wouldn’t surprise me if every game in a Leafs-Habs series hit 3 million viewers, with the series climbing to 4 or even 5 million for Saturday night and/or elimination games.

With their second pick, CBC will likely take the Canucks. They will finish third in the west and could play St. Louis, San Jose or Los Angeles. Regardless of who they play the Canucks are a ratings-earner in the playoffs, averaging 2.4 million for their 5 game series with the Kings last year. That would leave TSN with the Senators for the third pick. The Senators are clearly the least-desirable Canadian team, averaging 2 million viewers for their first round series against the Rangers last year, despite it going 7 games.

There is one unlikely possibility that could result in an interesting twist for CBC and TSN. I say unlikely because it would involve the Senators jumping the Leafs and the Habs staying below the Bruins OR the Habs passing the Bruins and the Senators finishing 7th. I don’t think the first scenario (a 4-5 matchup) is even possible. A 2-7 series is possible, but unlikely, so I won’t spend too much time on it. But if it did happen CBC would have to choose between Habs-Sens and a Canucks series. I think CBC would take the all-Canadiens series, but I’m not sure how much better the ratings would be. And TSN would be extremely happy to get a Canucks series.

That leaves the all-American series. CBC has 4th and 6th choices, while TSN has 5th, 7th and 8th. It probably depends on scheduling, but I think CBC will end up with the Pittsburgh and TSN will get Washington in the east. There are still too many scenarios to play out in the west, but if the Red Wings play the Ducks, I think CBC would try to show it. A Red Wings-Blackhawks series might not work for CBC scheduling-wise, but would probably get good ratings for TSN.

I’ll have more on all of this as information is revealed throughout the weekend.

20 thoughts on “Canadian Teams in Playoffs Equals a Windfall for CBC, TSN

  1. Rangers vs Pens could be a ratings winner for TSN as well. Both networks have some intriguing decisions to make. There is no doubt CBC is desperate to have Leafs vs Habs in round 1. That could break ratings records in this country.

    • While Toronto-Mtl would be a dream match up for Cbc first round would not be ideal second for conference finals would be the true dream for Cbc.

      • Let’s be honest here, the chances of Toronto and Montreal both making the conference finals is not great. They haven’t played each other in the playoffs in over 30 years. They’d be more than happy to have them meet 1st round and guarantee having a Canadian team in the second round. They don’t want a situation like last year where all the Canadian teams lose in the first round.

  2. You are correct, the only way the Senators and Canadiens can play each other in the first round is for the Senators to finish in seventh place and the Habs in second place. The Habs-Leafs game on Saturday does not allow the Habs and Senators to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

    I think it is very possible that the #2 vs. #7 scenario could happen. I was impressed how the Capitals played against the Senators last night and I think the Capitals will give the Bruins a difficult time. The Habs will blow the Leafs out of the ACC and the Senators should take care of the Flyers on Saturday. That will set up a fun season finale with the Senators and Bruins.

    The other first round possibilities are:

    #1 Penguins vs #8 Senators
    #2 Habs vs #7 Rangers or Islanders
    #3 Capitals vs #6 Leafs or Senators
    #4 Bruins vs #5 Leafs

    Bruins-Senators as #2 vs. #7 OR #4 vs #5

    My opinion is that the CBC will take the Canucks and Leafs as their first two picks, regardless of a Canadiens-Senators series. I think TSN would love to have an Original six Habs-Rangers series over a series involving the Senators.

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to say any matchup in the east is “likely”. And I certainly don’t think TSN would rather have the Rangers than the Senators.

    • My guess is Cbc will take the Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver Tsn will take Ottawa.

    • 4-5 Habs/Sens is possible, but highly unlikely. It requires the Habs to beat the Leafs in regulation, the Bruins to beat the Caps in any fashion, the Sens to beat the Flyers in any fashion, and the Sens to beat the Bruins in OT/SO on Sunday. That would leave the Bruins with 64 pts, the Habs with 63, the Sens with 58, and the Leafs with 57. So, it is possible, just highly unlikely.

  3. Doing doubleheaders probably means more to CBC than it does to TSN in the first round too which means the Leafs and Canucks series are of greater importance than picking two series involving Canadian teams out of the east and having two weaker late matchups or possibly more conflicts early. Inevitably an all-US matchup that belongs to CBC will end up as online streaming and CHEX Peterborough only if it goes head to head with a Canadian team’s game.

    Any thoughts on what the commentator assignments will look like? CBC will likely put Hughson/Simpson on the Leafs series and Ball/Hrudey on the Canucks series. I guess that would leave Cole/Galley for their secondary east series and Lee/Millen for a secondary west series. TSN seems to regard Miller and Cuthbert as co-number 1 announcers so one will likely get the Canadian team series in the first round while the other works the conference final games they get.

    • I’m not sure about CBC. I’m still not convinced Ball is their #2 (or even 3) play-by-play. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hughson/Simpson get Canucks and Cole/Galley (or perhaps Hrudey) get Leafs.

      As for TSN, I may be able to find an answer on that one.

      • I see Hughson-Simpson out West with the Canucks, and Bob Cole and Kelly Hrudey doing Habs-Leafs or whichever team the Leafs play. Mark Lee will probably work with Garry Galley.

      • If the first round series is TOR vs MTL I don’t see how they can’t put their number one crew on it. Plus Cole got a couple weekends off this year when he could’ve been working Montreal games (Mar 16 and Mar 30) instead they went with Lee so it seems Cole is being phased out even more. Ball/Hrudey were billed as the main western crew at the start of the season by CBC so that’s why I’m thinking they’ll get Vancouver. Most weeks when Ball didn’t work it appeared to be because he had Canucks radio duties, either they played Saturday afternoon or had Friday/Sunday games which would’ve made for a lot of travel.

  4. Ottawa has been such a huge story this year with so many players out hurt i think your going to see Tsn want them as there main draw.

    • Huge story doesn’t always = ratings. Habs will get better ratings than Sens, trust me when I say TSN wants them. This coming from a Senators fan.

      • I think if Toronto-Montreal play no question Cbc takes them then Tsn would take Ottawa over Vancouver if they pittsburgh or Boston.

        • No they wouldn’t. The order is Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa regardless of who they’re playing. No American team is popular enough to change the order IMO. Pittsburgh playing Ottawa could flip Montreal/Ottawa maybe.

          There is no ratings proof as to why anybody would rather have Ottawa than Vancouver.

          • That’s what happened in 2010 when CBC took OTT-PIT over MTL-WSH. The factors at play there were likely due to Crosby who had won the Cup with the Pens a year earlier and had scored the gold medal goal at the Olympics, as well as many thought the Habs would be out quickly against the Caps. If they knew that MTL-WSH series would go 7 with the Habs winning, hindsight may have had them take that series instead since I believe it gave TSN some of its biggest ratings for NHL hockey.

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