Earlier this year the CFL and TSN teamed up and decided that holding games on Thursday nights would be a staple of the 2015 season. While it probably sounded like a good idea at the time, in reality, Thursday night games haven’t exactly been a hit with fans.
Through 16 weeks, the CFL has held 11 Thursday games. Do you know how many have sold out? A whopping zero. Cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hamilton and Ottawa have all hosted Thursday night football and surprisingly, especially in the case of Hamilton and Ottawa (which are traditionally sold out stadiums), not a single venue has been filled to capacity.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers for each Thursday Night Football game:
1) June 25th in Montreal (Season Opener), Attendance: 21,524 (Cap. 25,012)
2) July 2nd in Winnipeg, Attendance: 27,279 (Cap. 33,422)
3) July 9th in Edmonton, Attendance: 29,904 (Cap. 56,302)
4) July 16th in Montreal, Attendance: 20,773 (Cap. 25,012)
5) July 30th in Winnipeg, Attendance: 27,214 (Cap. 33,422)
6) August 6th in Vancouver, Attendance: 20,316 (Cap. 27,500)
7) August 13th in Montreal, Attendance: 21,170 (Cap. 25,012)
8) August 20th in Vancouver, Attendance: 20,977 (Cap. 27,500)
9) August 27th in Hamilton, Attendance: 24,212 (Cap. 24,500)
10) September 3rd in Montreal, Attendance: 21,885 (Cap. 25,012)
11) October 1st in Ottawa, Attendance: 21,607 (Cap. 24,458)
The stats paint an interesting picture; the average attendance for a Thursday game is 23,351 per game, well below the 25,557 average of a normal game. If you break it down by division, an Eastern game averages 21,861 and a Western one comes in at 25,138. It’s also worth noting that Montreal has hosted TNF a league leading 4 times whereas Calgary, Saskatchewan and Toronto haven’t had one.
In the most recent TNF game, Ottawa QB Henry Burris had a performance for the ages, literally rewriting the history books as he completed a remarkable 45 passes for 504 yards. That kind of achievement is something the CFL will celebrate forever and that those lucky enough to be on hand will talk about for years to come, but unfortunately, instead of a full house featuring 24,500 rowdy members of R-Nation, just over 21,000 were on hand to witness history.
There is an argument to be made that perhaps Thursday night games work during the summer, as people find it easier to duck out of work early and more importantly kids are out of school. Another benefit of Thursday night games (at least in the summer), is that it avoids conflicts with frequent cottage goers or campers. By having the game one day before the weekend starts, that group of people who rush out of their respective cities come Friday night still have the option of taking in a CFL game, getting the best of both worlds. That being said, the CFL’s season opener was in Montreal on a beautiful Thursday night in June and was 4000 people short of a sell out.
As underwhelming as attendance has been, the TV numbers (which come directly from CFL itself), demonstrate why the league and TSN might be interested in continuing Thursday night games.
1) June 25th in Montreal (Season Opener), TV Audience: 708,000
2) July 2nd in Winnipeg, TV Audience: 588,000
3) July 9th in Edmonton, TV Audience: 545,000
4) July 16th in Montreal, TV Audience: 745,000
5) July 30th in Winnipeg, TV Audience: 704,000
6) August 6th in Vancouver, TV Audience: 590,000
7) August 13th in Montreal, TV Audience: 835,000
8) August 20th in Vancouver, TV Audience: 615,000
9) August 27th in Hamilton, TV Audience: 761,000
10) September 3rd in Montreal, TV Audience: 702,000
In a surprising twist, TNF averages a TV audience of 679,300. That’s over 100,000 more than 2015’s CFL average TV audience of 574,750. This creates an interesting dilemma for the league. Typically the CFL has been a league driven by and centred on gate revenue, but with a new, massive TV contract with TSN that extends until 2021, perhaps both parties feel a few thousand less in the stands is worth 100,000 extra eyes on the TV.
If TSN and the CFL are really planning to continue TNF past this season, they might be smart to limit it to games before Labour Day, as afterwards most families, which are one of the key target demographics for the league, simply aren’t coming out for the mid-week game. Not to mention the fact that during the summer the only real TV competition for TNF is baseball, but once September rolls around you’ve got to worry about the NFL’s Thursday Night Football and the NHL season starting up.
In conclusion, while TNF hasn’t exactly been a hit with fans who can’t properly tailgate and struggle to get off work in time to make it to the stadium for kickoff, people are tuning in from home, and that just might mean that TNF is here to stay.
Are you a fan of Thursday night games? Let me know by leaving a comment down below.
*All stats, unless otherwise noted, via CFLdb Statistics