Monday, July 11, 2011

Canucks? loss could have implications for the CFL

When it was first announced back in April that TSN and TSN2 would be carrying live coverage of seven of the CFL's pre-season games, the plan seemed like a sure-fire success for both the league and the network. Excitement's already building for the coming CFL season, training camps are wrapping up and plenty of fans across the country are interested to see how their teams are shaping up for the regular season (which starts June 30 with the B.C. Lions travelling to Montreal to take on the Alouettes). However, unpredictable circumstances mean the first pre-season game Wednesday night between B.C. and the Calgary Stampeders may not be such a ratings triumph as originally thought. Those circumstances? The Vancouver Canucks' 5-1 loss (which a lone Canucks' fan is pictured mourning above in Boston's deserted TD Garden)�to the Bruins Monday night .

That Canucks' loss, which came in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals, evened the series at three and ensured that there will be a Game Seven. That Game Seven just happens to be Wednesday night, and it happens to overlap with the CFL's first pre-season game (the hockey game will start at 8 p.m. Eastern, with football starting at 9 p.m. Eastern). Moreover, the football game features two markets that have substantial reason to care about what happens in hockey; it's tough to picture many B.C. types turning away from the local hockey team for a preseason football game, and plenty of Calgary fans are interested to see how one of their chief rivals does.

If series ratings thus far are anything to go by, much of the rest of Canada will be tuning in to the hockey game as well. The Canucks-Bruins series set CBC's Hockey Night In Canada's ratings record in Game One with an estimated average audience of 5.6 million viewers; it then broke that record in Friday's Game Five, hauling in an average audience of 6.1 million and a peak audience of 8.9 million. With the Stanley Cup on the line in Game Seven, it seems likely CBC will hit close to those numbers again. Moreover, the media focus around Game Seven means there isn't going to be anywhere near the amount of buildup towards the CFL's first pre-season game that we might normally see. Of course, the pre-season doesn't draw as much attention as the season itself, but it still at least usually gets a bit of discussion in local papers and on local radio and television shows. That attention isn't going to disappear entirely, but it's probably going to be significantly reduced from what it could be without the clinching game of the Stanley Cup Finals as competition.

However, that isn't necessarily bad for TSN. Networks, and sports networks in particular, tend to have lower numbers of viewers opposite prominent sporting events, and programming against events like this that draw so many viewers isn't easy. The CFL might actually be a better alternative than most counter-programming they could offer, as the league has a loyal base of football-first fans who will tune in regardless of what else is on (and another live sports event seems like a more compelling alternative for fans to tune into if they're not into hockey, or depressed with how the game's going). This isn't a crisis for the league, either; it's the preseason, and there are still plenty of further games that will be televised (including Thursday's Winnipeg-Montreal clash at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and Friday's Edmonton-Saskatchewan matchup at 9 p.m. Eastern, both of which will be shown on the main TSN network). Still, the Canucks' loss would seem to be far from the CFL's gain.

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