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

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1569 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

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

  1. Leo Lewis // July 5, 2018 at 12:46 pm //

    Considering how uncompetitive many games have been this season, it will be interesting to see if the ratings increase over last season continues.

    While Kate Bierness is very easy on the eyes, she doesn’t strike me as someone who follows the CFL very closely (although I could be wrong).

    • Jeff Garcia's Agent // July 5, 2018 at 1:52 pm //

      She does. She’s a basketball fan first and foremost but she does does follow football, both CFL and NFL.

  2. Kate is a very ‘welcomed’ addition , yes indeed!

    • She is easy on the eyes…nothing more than a big loud mouth who is a football fan like myself.
      I would rather listen to Rod Smith and the panel. Could care less about Kate!

      • She is another female sports commentator that sounds like she just finished gargling with Drano. Would much rather Natasha Stanisweski was added to the panel.

  3. Best CFL Fan // July 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm //

    Get the young’uns out with cleavage and profanity. And it’s not even working.

    What about us oldies, the big majority who want to watch good football and don’t care about any of the other stuff.

    • Jeff Garcia's Agent // July 5, 2018 at 1:54 pm //

      Then don’t watch “the other stuff”. That’s what your clicker is for, as you oldies would say.

    • The problem is that TSN needs to sell advertising and they don’t sell advertising unless there are a lot of young people watching.
      They could have 1 MILLION viewers on a Thursday but if 900k are old guys it doesn’t matter they can’t sell advertising, but if they had 200k young people it would be a winner.
      Advertisers know that the older crowd is not influenced by ads and they are wasting their money.

      TSN and the CFL must promote the TNF with young females as hosts and sideline features, the crowd shots of young women and young people having fun with beer in their hands, the music, the live mics.
      How many camera shots do you see with older people?

      • Have you found those “streaming” numbers yet? You know, the excuse of why family and friends watch TFC. Everybody must be “streaming”, that’s it.

  4. Scottsask // July 5, 2018 at 1:37 pm //

    Friday’s and Saturday’s only please.

  5. Not sure the reference to the Riders was necessary ?

    “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”

    Certainly did OK with 636.300

    • The Riders games are always the highest rated.
      There are more viewers in Western Canada.

      Two weeks ago an article in the Star stated that out of the 600k viewers only 175k were in Ontario.
      We know that Ottawa and Hamilton have strong football support, if you subtract the viewers in the two cities I doubt that there are 50k in Toronto watching the CFL.

    • JackBlack // July 6, 2018 at 10:55 am //

      Holy crap these riders fans are delicate…

  6. While TSN and the CFL are putting a ton of extra work into the promotion of Thursday night football, they have not upgraded the production value or innovated any new segments as part of the broadcast.

    Kate Bierness adds very little as a host. Its the same old panel, with the same discussion and talking points as always. In-game, its the same broadcast, no new camera angles, no improvement or invitations in the way the game is presented.

    The worst segments are Brodie Lawson’s segments. They are beyond awful. I don’t know if I have witnessed any worse TV segment than what she did in Winnipeg at the Rum Hut. Literally putting the names of Bighill or Bowman (that were written on tape) on the back of fans existing jerseys. It was beyond awful and added absolutely nothing.

    • Solara2000 // July 5, 2018 at 2:07 pm //

      Agree with Adam Stocker. A fresh coat of paint does nothing for the infrastructure. Give Bierness some fresh faces, some new segments to work with – no Hank is not a fresh face. The only positive thing I can say about the panel is at least we don’t have to listen to Dunnigan mashing his words and his very unappealing voice when he is the ‘colour’ person on the the broadcasting team. If the viewer didn’t know better you would think someone @TSN has pushed the destruct button.

    • Good post, but there is a silver lining you’re missing. Kate Bierness as host means Rod Smith in the booth … he’s actually quite good (and better than he is in studio). The bonus: less Rod Black. 13 Rod Smith games should mean at least 6 less times that we are punished for turning on our TVs.

  7. Jeff Garcia's Agent // July 5, 2018 at 1:57 pm //

    Looks like nobody watches Calgary live in person or on TV.

  8. True Green // July 5, 2018 at 2:20 pm //

    Saturday average under 600,000 but viewership exceeds 600,000 with Rider game, but that isn’t because of the Riders? Right. Win lose or suck, Riders draw the biggest viewership.

    • Yes you are right about that. The Riders and Western viewers drive the CFL numbers. The East TV numbers are pathetic. As was pointed out by the Toronto Star, only 175k our of 600k viewers were from Ontario when the Argos played the Riders.

  9. Evil Empire // July 5, 2018 at 2:38 pm //

    When I still lived in Edmonton, and was a STH. I was not a fan of Thursday home games. About a decade ago the Esks had something like 5 Thursday home games a cpl years in a row. Back then I think they actually had a Wednesday night game, too ( I count it as one of the 5 Thursday games, in this post ). Some of these games were a late start, too ( 8pm local ). I think they may even have had 6, or 7 Thursday night home games one year too, iirc.

    It sucked when I had to work early on Friday. Because, being in the stadium, the adrenaline gets going, and it would take me a while to relax enough to sleep. I didn’t mind Thursday road games, though.

    Now that I live in the US. It doesn’t matter at all. As long as there is at least 3 different nights, or days when there’s a CFL game on TV each week, it’s all good. Unless I’m out doing something it’s nice to be able to watch a CFL game if I want to.

    It’s awesome having Rod Smith doing the Thursday games, now. When Black is calling a game, I want to stab myself in the ears, with an ice pick. If ppl learn Black isn’t doing the Thursday Night Football game, anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratings numbers went up. No matter what, though. TSN just flat out sucks.

  10. Howard Wulkan // July 5, 2018 at 2:48 pm //

    Hey Drew, ever going to hire an editor to proofread your sloppy articles? Apostrophes aren’t used to make something plural: “Thursdays”, not “Thursday’s”.

    • Does it matter? this is a football site, football fans are not known for their expertise in English.

      • Ticats63 // July 5, 2018 at 5:38 pm //

        To answer Howard’s question: “No, Drew is never going to hire an editor, and is apparently too lazy (or flunked English in school) to pick out and correct these mistakes.”

        That said, interesting article Drew, thanks.

        As for the Mic’d Coaches and QB’s….it would be better if:
        1. Black and Forde could keep their traps shut!
        2. If whoever is producing/directing the broadcast would pay attention, so that the camera shot and live mic are both focused on the same person. I got tired of looking at Coach O’Shea when one of the QB’s were calling the play.
        3. Black and Forde could keep their traps shut.

        As for the ladies, if they know what they’re talking about, bring them on. The egos on the panel are to be expected, but it would be really nice to have someone more humble to fill Schultz’ shoes. Can we drag Darryl Flutie away from his business interests for the right $$$?

  11. Thursday night is a terrible night for football games. I think it’s one of the worst for attendance and TV numbers. I think the league should let the home team pick the day as much as possible, because local conditions on a given weekend can change things, but for the most part most games should be on Sunday afternoons.

    • yet I hear the excuse from Argo and Ticat fans that they want Thursday night games because they go to their cottages on the weekends.

      But Sunday afternoons have the lowest TV ratings. In the fall if you put a CFL game against an NFL game, viewers will watch the NFL game

      • Hmmm… Your first comment could have been legit, but your second gave it away. The CFL beats the NFL on Sunday head to head. Not only doesn’t it lose viewers, it gains them. Sunday afternoon games are generally the highest rated games, and this is probably why CTV doesn’t want them on Sunday, because they feel they cut into their NFL numbers. But NFL numbers have been dropping and I’m one of the ones who watches a lot less NFL these days, almost unconsciously, so I tried to figure out why. I realized that I used to get invested in the NFL season when I would catch a bit of a game before or after a CFL game on Sunday. So when the CFL season ended I knew some of the story lines and who the top teams and players were, and I just switched from CFL to NFL on Sunday afternoons. Now, however, with so few CFL games on Sunday afternoons I catch little to no NFL before the end of the CFL season, and when it ends I know very little about what’s going on in the NFL season and I find I don’t end up starting to watch it. So I think CTV should consider that having the CFL on Sunday afternoons could be a gateway to getting CFL fans to watch the NFL after the CFL season is over.

  12. I’m just one man, but as someone with a regular commitment on Thursdays, I gotta say these Thursday night games are cramping my style.

    I know the rationale is to get some viewership before people head out to the lake/mountains/forest/cottage/beach for the weekend, but there’s gotta be a tradeoff with those who simply don’t have time on a Thursday night to sit in front of the TV for three hours.

    • We get to see and talk about football from Thursday to Saturday, not just Friday and Saturday.

  13. Brodie Lawson is so easy on the eyes I never noticed how bad her segments were – I have not enjoyed the musical half-times but more importantly they have extended the half-time show for western games that were already a late start and probably made for fewer eastern viewers in the 2nd half because the games just ran too late.

  14. Paul Bomber // July 5, 2018 at 4:31 pm //

    get rid of the gimmicky live mic and fire Burris out of a catapult and get Rod Black back on figure skating or lawn bowling or something like that, and it’ll be alllll gooood!

    • Ticats63 // July 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm //

      Never thought I’d agree with a Bomber fan once, let alone on all 3 points!!!

    • And get Milt off the show too he is so full of himself makes me want to throw up. don’t watch the half time panel shows anymore. Bring back Schultz.

  15. Huff's Neighbor // July 5, 2018 at 5:29 pm //

    Generally I don’t tune in anyhow, but since they added Burris I definitely don’t tune in. Rather listen to the Pedersen and crew right up to kick off and post game, than TSN.

    • You are fortunate to be able to do that – I have tried that with the Hamilton broadcasts but the time delay is so great that you cannot put the telecasts together – one seems to be several plays ahead of the other.

      • Ticats63 // July 5, 2018 at 5:44 pm //

        Another great comment.

        You would think (hope) that TSN, in their wisdom (although these are the same people who keep employing Rod Black) would synch the radio and TV broadcasts, ESPECIALLY when the radio is a TSN owned station (TSN1150 in Hamilton, for example).

        I can remember faithfully bringing my radio to Never Wynne Stadium to watch the game live and listen on the radio, back when there wasn’t this nonsensical 7 second (or whatever) delay.

        Are we really afraid that little Jimmy is going to hear a word on the broadcast that he hasn’t heard before? Be glad he’s watching/listening to the game instead of browsing the latest porn website his grade 5 buddy Joey told him about!

  16. Edward Leslie // July 6, 2018 at 5:50 am //

    Kate Beirness is nowhere near as good as Rod Smith or Dave Randorf as a host.
    I think TSN screwed up big time by not choosing Kate McKenna. She is much nicer looking and obviously knows far more about the CFL.

    I used to always defend Rod Black from all the haters, but I must be starting to see things differently.
    Why does Rod ALWAYS mention the NFL? Why does he always refer to Converts as “Extra Points”?
    How come he often ignores acknowleding who came up with turnovers or making tackles?
    It’s starting to get annoying.

  17. Edward Leslie // July 6, 2018 at 5:58 am //

    Rather than live mics or country acts at half time, I think the CFL might get bigger ratings if the games were faster.
    All of the reviews and timeouts suck the life out of the game and kill momentum. The endless big plays called back because of dubious infractions also are a major buzz kill.
    Let’s increase the tempo and flow to the games. Less reviews and penalties. Get rid of the Command centre altogether and ease up on non flagrant penalties that don’t result in possible injuries.
    If they did, games would be more entertaining… and word would get out, which would increase ratings.

  18. OttawaHamiCatsFan // July 6, 2018 at 8:39 am //

    I watched the broadcast last night and it will be the last one I do. I have never ever been a fan of Kate Bierness and I have found that the Thursday night broadcast is painful to watch. I have no issues with adding females to the TSN cast I just do not like Kate and find her extremely annoying. As long as she is the host I won’t watch non Cat games on Thursday anymore and if they are playing the channel will be muted until the game actually starts. I do like Rod Smith in the booth as others here do and add me to the not a Rod Black fan list. I really think that TSN needs to get their act together as their broadcasts come across as second rate television. The producers need to watch the NFL games and studio shows as most of them are significantly better then what TSN delivers.

  19. There is very good interest in the CFL to begin the season. But no one is going to watch Hamilton loose to Sask. or Masoli. We need Johnny Football playing. Win or Lose, if he is playing half way decent, their will be huge numbers watching. Look at the hype of the pre-season games and the promos TSN ran for the first game of season.

  20. habbernack // July 6, 2018 at 11:42 am //

    Was Kate supposed to bring in more female fans? or was this just one of those politically correct moves. Why not have an all female panel. When I see her on the tsn desk she acts like an excited 13 yr old.

  21. Edward Leslie // July 6, 2018 at 1:58 pm //

    They had Brody Lawson and some other woman doing “Puff pieces”. One was more than enough.
    Brian Williams would be embarrassed to be on Thursday Night Football.

  22. Edward Leslie // July 6, 2018 at 2:05 pm //

    TSN really needs to get it together. They seem to have loads of technical difficulties, such as letting F Bombs get by on the Live Mic game, in spite of the 10 second delay.
    After all these years they can’t seem to get through many games without encountering audio problems

    Did anybody notice the weird mistakes during the Hamilton/ Saskatchewan game?
    1. When they were listing the starting Defensive line for Saskatchewan, they showed a picture of Zack Evans for Evans AND for Mi’chael Brooks! LOL

    2. At one point the ball was placed just shy of midfield, and the graphic said “49 yard line”.
    Geez, does TSN employee some crew member who only is familiar with the NFL or something?
    The CFL has a 55 yard line, the last time I checked!

  23. Noodles Romanoff // July 6, 2018 at 2:21 pm //

    maybe instead of trying to entice the younger crowd to watch the CFL, they should appease us older farts and run ads that pertain to us. You for Viagra…..Geritol…..Depends…..Brylcream….Dentucream…..the HurryCane etc etc.

  24. It just needs time. It will catch on eventually I would bet

  25. I love the live mic games. What I don’t like are all the double headers. I love football but even I can’t watch 6 hours in a row. It’s too much

  26. Brodie Lawson’s segments are not very good. Kate Beirness is OK as a host. Stegall is far more annoying than her. Nothing can compare to the great video pieces Brian Williams used to do on Friday night Football

  27. I enjoy the stories on TSN ratings, good job.

  28. We want Kate

  29. Hand it to the Riders: they’re in a dead-heat with the Eskimos as the most annoying team (id!ot Mass v. cl0wn Jones) but their numbers are good.

  30. For the last couple of years the panel has been mandated to ‘argue’ – raise their voices, cut each other off etc. I don’t enjoy that at all. It feels forced to me. There was disagreement before too, but there was also more subtlety – humour, personality, more opportunity for well constructed arguments. This feels hype-y. I don’t know if it’s meant to appeal to young viewers or not, and I know you have to change things up once in a while. But this misses the mark for me. It’s annoying to listen to.

  31. Edward Leslie // July 12, 2018 at 6:58 am //

    BC: I agree completely. I consider myself a hardcore CFL fan. But double headers are too much.
    Now they are going to have triple headers??
    You’d have to be a hardcore nut to watch 9+ hours of football.

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