CFL ratings report: Regular season numbers show solid increase

Despite a late-season swoon that took a bite out of their ratings increase, viewership on TSN for the 2018 CFL season saw a solid 4.2 per cent increase over last year.

Every team saw at least a moderate increase in the ratings with the exception of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who saw their average audience decline by more than six per cent this season. The Bombers dropped from second in the CFL in TV viewership to fourth.

Tops in the league were the Saskatchewan Roughriders with an average audience of over 700,000 per game – a 15 per cent increase over 2017. The Alouettes also saw a double-digit increase in their English language viewership, helped no doubt by the presence of quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Team Average viewership Percentage change (2017)
SSK 704,728 +15.2
EDM 558,678 +0.95
CAL 541,933 +3.8
WIN 529,717 -6.2
B.C. 514,039 +6.7
HAM 511,828 +0.72
TOR 462,328 +1.4
MTL 453,194 +14.4
OTT 442,894 +1.96

Growth in the rest of the East Division was less robust with the Ticats, Argonauts and Redblacks all posting gains of less than two per cent. All three teams were on track for more robust numbers but saw a significant drop in viewership the last two weeks of the regular season. The Toronto-Montreal game in Week 20 featuring two teams knocked from playoff contention was seen by less than 200,000 people, the lowest-rated game in at least two years.

While the numbers were somewhat better in the West, the CFL’s ratings the last two weeks of the season were below 2017 levels and it dropped the overall average for 2018 by almost 1.5 per cent.

One potential solution: the much-discussed one division format.

While much of the recent debate has centred around the Edmonton Eskimos, who were eliminated from the post-season despite having a better record than the playoff-bound Tiger-Cats, a one division format would have made Week 21 far more interesting. Instead of just one meaningful game featuring one motivated team, all four games would have had playoff implications (and likely far more viewers.)

Regardless, a regular-season ratings increase has to be seen as a win for both the CFL and TSN, especially given the challenges posed by cord cutting and digital migration. It’s important to note that the numbers do not include viewers on the TSN GO streaming service that was launched just before the start of the regular season, allowing non-cable subscribers to watch all 81 CFL games online.

Like its teams, the CFL still needs to make some noise in the playoffs to have a truly successful season. With the Riders playing in both East Division playoff games in 2017, the league has its work cut out for it to match (or exceed) last year’s numbers.

Week 21 ratings

Friday
Toronto at Ottawa: 329,900

Saturday
Winnipeg at Edmonton: 440,200
Montreal at Hamilton: 337,700
Calgary at B.C.: 528,700

Week 21 (2018) vs. Week 20 (2018): -10 per cent
Year-to-date (81 games) vs 2017 (81 games): +4.2 per cent

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