Johnny Manziel’s debut draws highest CFL rating ever on ESPN

Johnny Manziel’s highly anticipated CFL debut was reflected in the comparatively large United States television ratings.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner made his first CFL start last Friday and the game was carried in the USA on ESPN2. Manziel threw four interceptions as his Montreal Alouettes were beaten down by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 50-11. Americans tuned in to watch in droves.


That made it the most-watched game for ESPN since it started showing CFL contests in 1980. The previous record was a Saskatchewan-Edmonton game in June 2013 that drew an average of 347,000 viewers on ESPN2.

Over 130,000 more viewers saw Manziel’s first CFL start than any other CFL game on ESPN outlets in 2018 – all CFL games are being shown on ESPN2, ESPNNews or ESPN+. The 2017 Grey Cup game between the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts drew 237,000 viewers.

Manziel beat out The Basketball Tournament final which has a $2 million in winner-take-all cash prize on the main ESPN channel head-to-head.

That’s the Johnny Football affect.

-with CP files


18 Comments on Johnny Manziel’s debut draws highest CFL rating ever on ESPN

  1. Leo Lewis // August 7, 2018 at 1:19 pm //

    That WAS the Johnny Football affect.

    He looked great against college players, but not so great against the pros. There are so many American college football programs, that 90% of U.S. college players never play professional football. The pros (even the ones in the CFL) are far superior to the average U.S. college player that Johnny Football excelled against.

    With dedication and hard work, Manziel may be able to have a decent career, but he’ll never be an elite quarterback in either league. Of course, dedication and hard work aren’t exactly what Johnny Football is all about.

    • Johnny Bust // August 7, 2018 at 1:46 pm //

      Just for context, a rerun of “Muppet Babies” on the Disney Channel had 100,000+ more viewers (!!!) last Friday evening than the Manziel Effect game.

      What an absolute embarrassment. No one south of the border cares about Manziel anymore. What a shame the CFL decided to market him instead of what is a great league.

      I was an NFL fan exclusively for a third of a century. Clowns like Manziel are not why I switched.

      • Johnny Busted // August 7, 2018 at 1:48 pm //

        Oh, and here’s the proof:

      • Whata Embarrassment // August 7, 2018 at 1:52 pm //

        Just about every show on cable last Friday had higher ratings. But leave it to 3Down Nation to find an obscure basketball tourney that no one has ever heard of with lower ratings to claim success for their masters in the league office.

  2. Johnny will be fine. He has the skill set to do well, in the CFL
    It always helps to have good coach and good teammates. I’m sure we will all be convinced before the end of the 2018 season

    • HandsOffWomen Manziel // August 7, 2018 at 1:35 pm //

      How long are you going to wait for a clueless 25 year old who has proven at every stage of his pro career that he isn’t a pro QB…

      Oh forget it. You rubes will always make excuses for the womanabuser. It’s just your nature.

    • White Horse // August 7, 2018 at 8:26 pm //

      Are you saying the WNBA had better ratings? How is that possible.
      WNBA SUCKS!!!

  3. Hype and No Talent // August 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm //

    Ouch!!! Only 400K viewers in the entire United States? We all knew interest would die down after his debut, but that’s less than 10,000 per US state! With him proving to be a dismal failure, the ratings will be dreadful.

    The Johnny Headcase Effect is real. There will be no benefit to the CFL for bringing the circus to town. The only real winners are the 8 teams that are not starting him but get to face him at some point. Opposing defenses and their fans cannot wait.

    No one else on Earth cares even slightly now. I guess some of us were right all along about Johnny Benched.

  4. If the CFL ratings were decent on ESPN2 they would be broadcasting more games. But only 2 games remain until the end of the season and the next one is another Als game.
    ESPN+ will stream CFL games but streamed games have no “ratings” because there is no way to measure “streamed” games

    • 400 k is pretty good I think. That is close to the average viewership in Canada. If ESPN can maintain those numbers that will be a new revenue stream for CFL.

  5. We don’t need approval for our great game. As a Canadian enjoy it.

  6. Allanis morrisette // August 7, 2018 at 3:05 pm //

    I worked at Disney in Glendale, California. Kids shows have huge ratings because they watch so much of it. I spend too much energy trying to get my boys doing something else. But they don’t make the purchase decision s for the household. Women do and they think John is hot. Men do and they think John is cool. Comparing sports to children programming is not apples to apples.

  7. David Tress // August 7, 2018 at 3:15 pm //

    Manziel will get better with more practice and the popularity of the CFL could grow. How about a franchise or two south of the border to keep the ratings up?

  8. Alfred E. Newman // August 7, 2018 at 3:31 pm //

    TSN pays the CFL $45M a year for 500,000 ratings, so with the exchange rate 400,000 U.S. viewers should be worth around US$30M? Most CFL games draw closer to 200,000 on ESPN2, so even $15M would be a welcome bonus to the league’s coffers.

    If the average audience over 3 hours was 406,000 for a blowout which was over by halftime, there were likely many more U.S. viewers watching the first quarter than the fourth quarter. The potential was there for 1-million rating if the game was closer or with Johnny leading the Als on a last second come-from-behind victory drive.

  9. Allanis morrisette // August 7, 2018 at 3:44 pm //

    Hah i got the Mad Mag aZine reference.

  10. Evil Empire // August 8, 2018 at 11:22 am //

    I always wondered how many folks down here tuned into the CFL. I just didn’t care enough to actually research it. I’m not surprised an Eskimo game was the highest rated game ever on ESPN2.

    And, I knew this game would beat whatever the previous record was. But, with 2million+ followers on social media. I would have thought the numbers for Manziel’s debut as a starter would be alot higher than they were. Like maybe as high as a million.

    But as @Alfred E. Newman said above. The blowout may have significantly altered the numbers. And, I have no idea if the Average American watches sports on TV, on Friday nights. Or, other than baseball if there was any other sport on US TV that night, that would be big competition.

    I hope we hear what the numbers are for the next Mtl game on ESPN2. Whether they’ll drop right off to the average numbers a CFL game does on ESPN2. Or, if they’ll still be higher than average. Because, that game is on a Saturday night. And, will be a 9:00 pm start, out here in the East.

    It’s just too bad that Manziel’s first game was him on a crappy team, playing in a crappy game. Blowouts are not exciting to watch, and probably don’t look very good to the eyes of a new, or casual fan.

  11. it just goes to show those guys watching from the states that j ohnny football is not good enough to make it in the cfl like most who come here, head back south to the easier league.

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