Thursday Night Football is not a TV ratings juggernaut (so far anyway)

TSN and the CFL have made a big honking deal about Thursday night football this season, revamping the panel to include Kate Bierness as host and including a bunch of musical guests as part of their in-game coverage. The idea, it would seem, is to try and bring in the younger audience both the CFL and its broadcast partner so desperately covet: they are attempting, in their own way, to make Thursday’s hip and cool.

The results so far are decidedly mixed.

Last season, there were 11 games broadcast in Thursday night with an average viewership of 484,500. Through the first three games of 2018, that number has climbed slightly to just over 490,000. But that one per cent gain lags behind the nearly five per cent ratings bump the CFL has seen so far this season.

While TSN has certainly put a lot of effort into promoting Thursday night, it is actually the least watched night of the week so far this season – as it was in 2017. The 28 Friday games saw an average audience of just over 505,000 while Saturday’s 31 contests drew 510,250 making it the most popular night of the week. There were six games on Sunday (492K), four on Monday (546K) and a lone Wednesday (326K.)

This year, there are 12 Thursday games, 23 on Friday and a whopping 38 on Saturday – an indicator that TSN and the league are trying to capitalize on the popularity of Saturday. They’ve also cut down on the Sunday games (just four this year) while keeping the four Monday games (Labour Day and Thanksgiving) and wisely axing the Wednesday outlier.

The ratings so far this season: Thursdays are averaging 490K, Friday’s 500K and Saturday’s lead the way with 585K. And no, it isn’t all just the Riders – they’ve only played once on Saturday so far this season.

There isn’t a Thursday game after Week 13 this year and they stopped after Week 11 in 2017 – likely due to the return Thursday night NFL games to the TSN schedule – while there are four Saturday triple-headers starting in Week 13 (there was just one last year.)

This past week also saw the return of the live mic games and while the opinions varied (as they usually are) the most common observation was the amount of profanity that made its way onto the broadcast, despite the presence of a 10-second delay. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers may or may not have a hurry-up call that includes a bad word partnered with a certain Canadian pop superstar.  It will be interesting to see if the broadcasts council gets another complaint and whether TSN gets a little more use out of the mute button going forward.

One of TSN’s arguments for bringing back the live mic game was that it boosted ratings by 10 per cent. While that may bear itself out over the long-term, the Winnipeg game against Hamilton was actually the second-lowest rated game of the week.

[Add expletive here.]

Here are the numbers for the week:

Ottawa at Calgary 421,300

Friday (early)
Winnipeg at Hamilton 459,700

Friday (late)
Edmonton at B.C. 483,500

Montreal at Saskatchewan 636,300

Week 3 2018 vs 2017: +4.1 per cent
Year-to-date vs 2017: +4.8 per cent