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.

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