David Shoalts over at The Globe & Mail has published two fantastic pieces in the past two months on the slow start and low ratings Rogers has been getting in the first six months of their $5.2-billion, 12-year television and online deal with the NHL. Rogers promised advertisers before the season began of a 20% increase in viewers in their first season of the new deal and jacked up advertising rates to match that. That number currently sits at only 11%. Either Rogers underestimated just how much NHL Canadians want to watch, or the more likely scenario (especially if you frequent hockey discussions online) is that Rogers has ruined what was a perfectly good product in Hockey Night In Canada with flashy sets and terrible personalities.
Shoalts’ first article from December focused on the ratings numbers. The Saturday night early game was up just 9% — this is a combined rating of all 7pm games across the Rogers’ networks. The late west coast Saturday game though is down 17%, despite two games generally being shown this season compared to mostly a single CBC game last year. The Wednesday night national slot is doing better than last year with a 26% increase. Sunday night’s Hometown Hockey though.. oh, boy! Rogers say the ratings on City are better than whatever trash City was showing on a Sunday night last season, but some games have been getting well under half a million viewers, something that has rarely happened in past years when a Canadian team plays on national television.
Shoalts’ second article on the subject published last week sent everybody into pained laughter with Sportsnet president Scott Moore blaming Numeris, the company in charge of collecting television and radio ratings in Canada, on Rogers’ low NHL ratings halfway into the season. The quote came on the heels of ratings for the All-Star game drawing one-million less viewers than the last All-Star game in 2012 (1.479 millions versus 2.454 million). The Skills competition (800k less) and Fantasy Draft (600k less) were also down on 2012 numbers. The Winter Classic number was also down (1 million versus 3.6 million last year) though that can somewhat be explained by last year’s game featuring Toronto and this year’s being an all-U.S. matchup.
“We have been in discussions with Numeris for some time about the reporting of both regional and national sports viewing. As you probably know, several sports properties seem to be down, which is contrary to what we are seeing south of the border. [The] CFL was down substantially this year as well. We are concerned about both the multiplatform reporting and the regional and sports representation on the Numeris panels.”
— Scott Moore, Sportsnet president
“We are balanced by geography, age, sex and household size. So you would think that for major sports that would fall out across the population. The important thing is to keep the panels in balance so that they match the population characteristics. We have a very careful system to do that. So far we haven’t found anything [unusual] but we’re continuing to watch it.”
— Jim MacLeod, Numeris president
“We think that’s a laughable comment.How do we explain all-time records at the world juniors? Everyone knows [the Numeris numbers] are a statistically valid sample. It’s the currency everyone uses in the world. It’s funny, I didn’t hear them complaining about the Blue Jays [owned by Rogers], who had one of their best TV ratings [in 2014].”
— Phil King, president, CTV, sports and entertainment programming
The final sentence from Bell Media’s Phil King sums up everything perfectly. Rogers didn’t complain the numbers were inaccurate when touting record ratings for the Jays last year or when they sent out their only NHL ratings related press release of the season boasting how good the opening weekend numbers were. No one has heard Bell playing the blame-game on low CFL ratings, nor complaining that their record Super Bowl rating last weekend should be even higher.
After a few years absence, maybe viewers forgot the All-Star game and weekend was taking place? Maybe viewers realized what a gong show the All-Star actually is and decided to spend their Sunday night doing something better? The fact that most Canadian teams (especially the Leafs, where a majority of ratings numbers come from) aren’t doing too well this season definitely plays a factor in declining ratings so far. I live in somewhat of an online bubble, but from sports and media forums to Reddit to Twitter, the general majority of commenters absolutely hate everything Rogers has done to hockey broadcasting in Canada — from the terrible play-by-play commentators to the channel-changing talking heads in studio. At least they have another eleven-and-a-half years to try and turn things around.