CFL on TSN

The Canadian Football League has returned this year after skipping all of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the early numbers for Canadian broadcaster TSN look promising. In Week One (beginning on Aug. 9), the Hamilton Tiger-Cats-Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup rematch drew 683,100, up 31 percent from the 2019 season opener (the Saskatchewan Roughriders against Hamilton); that comes with caveats on both sides, considering that this year’s game went head-to-head with Olympics and Blue Jays coverage and 2019’s went head-to-head with (the early part of) the Toronto Raptors’ NBA title-clinching game, but it’s still a good improvement. Week One’s overall average English-language audience of 526,950 was pretty close to the 523,400 in 2019. But the Week Two numbers are even more notable; some dropoff might have been expected, with curiousity around the league’s return not as much of a factor, but the overall numbers actually wound up better than Week One, with an English-language average audience of 574,500, up 32 percent from 2019.

How did we get there? Well, Mike Mitchell of CFL News Hub has the particular numbers for Week 2. He initially tweeted them based just off of the first three games, then later added in both the TSN and RDS (French-language) audiences for Montreal-Edmonton.

From there, some math provides 435,074 as the average Week 2 audience in 2019 (the average Mitchell provides through three games divided by 1.34, the percentage increase he cites) and 574,500 as the average Week 2 English-language audience this year (counting the 496,000 TSN audience for Montreal/Edmonton, and not counting the 195,000 French-language viewers on RDS). 574,500 is a 32 percent boost over 435,074, and that seems like the most reasonable number to use.

(The French-language viewers for Alouettes coverage are certainly significant, but they throw off year-to-year comparisons, so it’s usually best to go TSN to TSN on percentages and just mention the RDS numbers as an aside. Oh, and as a note, we don’t have the U.S. numbers, with most games there streaming-only on ESPN+, but the U.S. isn’t the league’s primary market. Of note, the season opener on ESPN2 only averaged 61,000 viewers.)

Are those incredible numbers overall? Well, it depends. For some past context, 2014 saw the CFL  average 700,000 regular-season viewers across TSN and RDS (Alouettes broadcasts only, in the latter case). Even working the TSN/RDS combination (691,000 for the Montreal/Edmonton game) in to this week’s totals, you’d only have an average of 623,250 this year. But 2015 (also referenced in that above link) saw an average of 590,000 across TSN and RDS, and just 539,000 across TSN. And there’s been a general decline since then; 2018 averaged 524,371 viewers on TSN, slightly up from the year before. (Season-long 2019 ratings don’t seem easily available, but were probably around the 2018 mark.) There have been large drops in lots of sports ratings since 2015, with growing cord-cutting and expanding streaming entertainment options factors, so 574,500 average CFL viewers in Week 2 seems pretty decent, and it’s certainly a step up over Week 2 in 2019. We’ll see how that trend goes for TSN as the season continues.

[CFL News Hub]

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.