It says a lot about the often-murky world of TV ratings and network ownership that both Rogers Sportsnet and TSN are claiming to be Canada’s most-watched sports channels, and that both can make claims backed up by ratings numbers.  As Yahoo’s Chris Zelkovich writes, that’s what happened this week. In a release claiming to be ” the most-watched sports brand on TV in Canada,” Rogers proclaimed that they notched 167,000 viewers per minute on average. TSN parent company Bell then followed up with its own release, saying “TSN once again ranks as Canada’s #1 specialty channel in all key demos.” Bell only claims 140,000 viewers per minute for TSN’s networks, but claims to be winning all the demographics and says Sportsnet’s channels are only drawing 112,000.

How are the sides getting different numbers? Well, the key matter in dispute is whether they should be compared on an equal number of channels or not. TSN has four regionally-focused feeds (TSN 1, 3, 4 and 5), plus alternate network TSN2. Sportsnet also has four regional feeds and alternate network Sportsnet One, and that’s the basis TSN is using for its comparisons. However, Sportsnet’s 2012 takeover of Score Media’s TV assets means it has a sixth channel, what used to be The Score and has now been rebranded as Sportsnet 360. Rogers wants those numbers included in viewers-per-minute, while TSN does not. Both sides’ executives argued to Zelkovich that their approach is correct:

Phil King, president of CTV, sports, and entertainment programming for Bell Media, says Sportsnet compiled ratings from six channels and compared them to five of TSN’s.

Comparing “our four feeds versus their four regional feeds, we beat them handily,” he told Yahoo. “Even in you add in Sportsnet One and TSN2, we’re still ahead. The only way they can declare this is by putting in a sports news channel (Sportsnet 360) to somehow squeak by us. That’s the hollowest victory of all.”

[Rogers president of Sportsnet/NHL properties Scott] Moore defended Sportsnet’s decision to include all channels.

“Our numbers compare all viewers to Sportsnet versus all viewers to TSN,” he said.  “That’s how I would measure the health of the network brands. It’s also worth noting that all of our networks are up year over year. You would have to ask them if there is growth on theirs.”

Ouch.

King denied the Bell release was a return of fire against Rogers, saying that it had actually been done in response to claims that rival Shaw had made recently.

As for claims that Sportsnet is Canada’s top sports TV brand, King called that “silly.”

“It’s a self-declared award,” he said. “I don’t know what that means. It’s certainly not quality, it’s certainly not viewership, it’s certainly not journalism. If I knew what the criteria was, I might have a comment. Radio, online, mobile, we beat them. I find it a little bit silly.”

Really, the takeaway here is that the battle for Canadian sports television supremacy remains heated. It’s a much different situation than south of the border where ESPN has traditionally been miles ahead of the competition. Growth is certainly on Sportsnet’s side, especially with their new 12-year NHL contract, but as predicted at the time, that deal didn’t instantly rocket them past TSN. In fact, TSN posted its most-watched month in five years this January despite not having national rights to NHL games. However, the Rogers-NHL deal has made the playing field a lot more even than it was previously, and Moore’s right that more people are (on average) watching a Sportsnet channel of one variety or another than a TSN channel at any given minute. King’s also right to note that a large part of that’s thanks to Rogers’ six-to-five channel advantage, though.

It’s also interesting to see the drastically different approaches the sides are pursuing, especially throughout the summer. Rogers is focusing on baseball, where they own the Toronto Blue Jays and have a variety of other MLB rights; TSN is focusing on the Women’s World Cup and on the Canadian Football League, where they recently extended their broadcast rights through 2021 and had parent company Bell (together with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum) agree to purchase the Toronto Argonauts. With both networks soon to have ownership stakes in the sports they’re focusing on, expect their positions and tactics to get even more entrenched. Sportsnet’s done well enough to make it so that they can actually have a ratings fight with TSN and claim to be Canada’s most-watched sports brand, but they haven’t won the war yet. We’ll see how this plays out in the months and years ahead, but one thing’s clear; this is a real rivalry, and one that’s only heating up.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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