Sometimes, and quite frankly too often, the CFL doesn’t do itself any favours. Exhibit A: the CFL’s choice for its 2023 season opener.
There’s a new major United States network broadcasting the three-down league and Jim Nantz was on the airwaves during The Memorial hosted by Jack Nicklaus, one of the top PGA Tour tournaments outside of the majors, promoting the Lions versus Stampeders. Interested fans who tuned in saw a half-empty McMahon Stadium.
Any Jimmy, Joe or Jenny could’ve predicted a sparse crowd in Calgary, especially considering president of business operations Jay McNeil revealed the team’s season ticket holders have decreased by 25 percent since 2019. On top of that, recent ratings data would indicate that — intriguing Nathan Rourke performances aside — the Leos and Stampeders are not large TV draws.
Bo Levi Mitchell brings in eyeballs. It’s easy to say in hindsight but the CFL should have put the Tiger-Cats versus Blue Bombers game first on the schedule. The league could also have simply copied what the NFL does, which is match the defending champions against a sexy team. They could have had the reigning Grey Cup champion Argonauts at the start of the Chad Kelly era with multiple opponent options.
Mitchell travelling down the QEW for his first game with the Ticats against their storied rivals would’ve ensured hype around the matchup and lots of black and gold fans making the short trip to check out Hamiton’s new franchise quarterback. You could have had the pomp and circumstance of the Argonauts’ 109th Grey Cup banner unveiling and the rest.
The league could have also sent Kelly and the Argos to Winnipeg or Saskatchewan where the fans would have shown out.
This is about making the league look cool and exciting to a first-time audience. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie wants the CFL to have ‘some swagger’ but that wasn’t the case with a CFL kickoff game that had 17,000 and change in attendance with less than a quarter-million people watching in Canada.
There was plenty of competition on TV for Thursday night’s CFL opener, which was beyond the league’s control. The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Houston Astros 3-2 with 876,700 people tuning in on Sportsnet. 1,660,100 watched Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sportsnet and CBC as the Florida Panthers edged the Las Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime.
Friday Night Football went over 500,000 viewers on TSN in a fun 42-31 win by the Blue Bombers over the Tabbies. The Alouettes and Redblacks’ defensive tilt on Saturday night had a decent number considering it was directly against Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, which drew 1,853,200 viewers on Sportsnet and CBC. Finally, the Roughriders and Elks produced the highest-rated CFL game in Week 1.
English TV ratings were down over 12 percent compared to the first week of regular season Canadian football one year ago.
2023 Week 1 TV ratings:
B.C. at Calgary — 226,900
Hamilton at Winnipeg — 511,500
Ottawa at Montreal — 278,500 English and 174,000 French
Saskatchewan at Edmonton — 535,300
Total Week 1 average: 388,050 (French included: 431,550)
Montreal at Calgary — 345,500
Ottawa at Winnipeg — 434,000
Hamilton at Saskatchewan — 557,000
Edmonton at B.C. — 430,000
Total Week 1 average: 441,625
Hamilton at Winnipeg — 683,100
B.C. at Saskatchewan — 764,600
Toronto at Calgary — 318,400
Ottawa at Edmonton — 341,700
Total Week 1 average: 526,950
Saskatchewan at Hamilton — 522,100
Montreal at Edmonton — 395,600
(French viewership on RDS — 140,000)
Ottawa at Calgary — 490,100
Winnipeg at B.C. — 685,800
Total Week 1 average: 523,400