The CFL is back up and running, and its 2021 season is in full swing. And judging by the league’s TV ratings thus far, particularly in Canada. The CFL is on an upward swing; after a nearly two-year layoff, Canadian viewers have welcomed their league back with open arms.
Before diving into this past week’s CFL ratings. As a reference point. Here’s a quick look back at how the CFL performed in the TV ratings for its opening week on TSN and ESPN2.
CFL ON TSN: Opening Week TV Ratings
Thursday- Winnipeg-Hamilton: 683,100 (up 31 percent from 2019 opener SSK/Hamilton)
Friday- BC-Saskatchewan: 764,600
Saturday- Toronto-Calgary: 318,400
Total Week 1 Average: 526,950 (English-language audience)
CFL ON ESPN 2: Opening Week TV Ratings
The CFL’s Regular Season opener between Winnipeg and Hamilton on ESPN 2 drew 61,000 viewers. The game registered a 0.02 rating in the 18-49 demo. (173rd in Cable).
The CFL’s reach number for their opening game was 846,000. The figure is the number of viewers who sample the product for at least two minutes.
The Saturday night broadcast on ESPN 2 in week one between the Edmonton Elks and Ottawa REDBLACKS registered 174,000 viewers. The game scored a 0.05 in the 18-49 demo. (82nd on Saturday amongst the top 150 Cable shows)
The reach number for the game was 1,432,000 viewers. (Number of fans who sampled the game for at least two minutes).
CFL ON TSN: Week Two TV Ratings
- Updated current numbers (Per TSN/Bell Media)
The Thursday night telecast on TSN of the BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders averaged 522,000 viewers.
The Friday night telecast of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts did strong numbers for TSN. The game averaged 609,000 viewers, which is the most-watched game between those teams since 2014.
The early Saturday night game between the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Elks averaged 496,000 viewers on TSN.
However, as an aside, Across TSN and RDS (Réseau des sports), the Montreal/Edmonton game attracted an average audience of 691,000 viewers, an increase of 26% compared to Montreal’s 2019 season opener (also against Edmonton).
The Saturday week two finale between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders attracted 671,000 viewers, a higher audience than their two games in 2019.
CFL Ratings Thoughts
It’s worth noting that the tweet above was from information provided by sources at the networks. It took a while for the Montreal-Edmonton Saturday number to become available. And when it did, there was an added layer of info provided in terms of the RDS numbers. So in hindsight, I apologize for jumping the gun and tweeting out the first three numbers and information I received. The intention was to immediately add the last remaining info to the thread in the tweet, but there was a bit of delay there. You live, and you learn.
Most TV rating information nowadays is a bit skewed as well. And there are so many different variables in terms of streaming, out-of-home viewership, reach numbers, etc. That it’s hard to gauge how many viewers are counted and or should be counted. That’s another story for another time. Thanks for indulging me. The English and French-language audience numbers for CFL games provide another layer of ambiguity or perhaps confusion for someone like me.
Regardless, The CFL’s week 2 TV ratings in 2021 are favorable for the league moving forward. The early returns are very promising. In 2019, the average week two audience was 435,704. Depending on the math here provided, the number I have for the CFL’s week two average audience is 574,500. That would represent a 32 percent increase from 2019. (Setting aside the RDS numbers).
As someone who monitored and reported on the XFL ratings very closely in 2020, the CFL is a league that I have followed my whole life, but the TV rating aspect is new territory for me. From what I can muster, the CFL on TSN average viewership for the 2018 and 2019 seasons was roughly 525,000. So the CFL in 2021 is off to an excellent start in that department.
As always, no matter the country, competition, and the timeslot could work in your favor or against you. In Canada, for example, there are the Blue Jays to contend with head-to-head. And last week, the Olympics with Team Canada in the mix vying for medals provided Canadians a legitimate alternate viewing option.
There is usually a dropoff in viewership from opening week to the next for most sports and entertainment properties. Sports league ratings in the regular season, if you are not the NFL in the United States, tend to fluctuate during a season, depending on the markets involved, the matchup, and the importance/uniqueness of the event. Last week’s “Field of Dreams” MLB game on FOX, which drew extremely strong numbers (roughly 6 million viewers, largest viewing audience for a regular-season baseball game in more than 15 years), represented the latter.
ESPN News Rating?
In week one, The CFL aired games in Canada on the TSN network and ESPN 2/ESPN+ for fans in the United States. In week two, there was only one game available outside of ESPN+ on ESPN’s linear networks. The week two finale at 10 pm EST on Saturday, featuring the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, aired on ESPN News because ESPN News is no longer a rated network. As of press time, there are no Nielsen numbers available for that particular game in the states. It’s very likely, that if there were, considering the time slot and the channel the game was on, the number would be in the mid-five digit range at best.
In week three, there will be two ESPN2 games. The first will be this coming Thursday at 10 pm ET between the Edmonton Elks and BC Lions. And the other is on Saturday at 4 pm ET, when the Toronto Argonauts host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for their home opener. The rest of the weekly schedule will air on ESPN+. The entire ESPN network 2021 CFL schedule can be accessed at this link.