After a regular season that featured a solid increase in TV ratings, the CFL playoffs numbers have taken a nosedive.
Last Sunday’s East final between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had an average audience of just 729,000 on TSN – a drop of almost 50 per cent from 2017 when the Toronto Argonauts hosted the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Even taking the Riders out of the equation – and they consistently draw the CFL’s highest audiences – Sunday’s game was still down 38 per cent from 2016 when Ottawa hosted the crossover Edmonton Eskimos.
The West final between the Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers did better, with an audience of over 1.2 million but that’s still a decrease of 8.7 per cent from last season’s Calgary win over Edmonton. And it was down slightly from last week’s semifinal game between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan.
Combined, the final games were down over almost 30 per cent from 2017.
There are a couple of possible explanations for the precipitous dip. The elimination of the Riders from playoff contention – and the massive audiences they’ve been drawing this season – didn’t help. That Ottawa held a 14-point advantage over Hamilton at halftime and turned the game into a blow out in the third was also likely a factor.
But the biggest competitor for eyeballs on Sunday: the NFL, which has seen a significant spike in rating this season. Through Week 8, NFL ratings were up 19 per cent across CTV, TSN and RDS compared to the same time frame last year.
By hosting it’s playoff games on Sunday at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. EST, the CFL is going to head-to-head with the NFL – something they choose not to do in the regular season. The Canadian league played just four of 81 regular-season games on Sunday this season and six in 2017. Saturday was the most-watched day of the week last year.
As we discussed on the 3DownNation podcast this week: it’s time for the CFL to consider moving its playoff games to Saturday.
By playing one day earlier, the CFL would avoid the NFL and, if they kept the games in the afternoon, dodge ratings juggernaut Hockey Night in Canada as well. Its primary competition would likely come from afternoon NHL games, the NBA, some U.S. college football and the USports Bowl games (which could be moved to Friday night.)
And while traditionalists are likely to complain, it’s worth noting that the CFL playoff format has evolved over the years, including the use of a two-game total-point format and a best of three series. The league played the division semi-finals and finals on different days – one Saturday, one Sunday – for several years in the 1970s.
The CFL schedule makers have already seen the wisdom of avoiding Sunday’s in the regular season. It’s time they consider a similar move for the post-season – or run the risk of continued ratings decline at a time when more people should be watching, not significantly less
CFL East and West final ratings
Hamilton at Ottawa: 729,000 (-48.2 from 2017)
Winnipeg at Calgary: 1,220,000 (-8.7 from 2017)
Semifinals (2018) vs. Semifinals (2017): -28.9 per cent
Year-to-date (85 games) vs 2017 (85 games): +1.7 per cent