After a nearly two-year hiatus, the CFL returned last Thursday night. The league’s opener, which aired on ESPN2 in America, and TSN in Canada, saw the reigning Grey Cup Champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-6 in a rematch from their championship game in November of 2019.
Week one of the new CFL season concluded with the Ottawa Redblacks defeating the Edmonton Elks 16-12 Saturday night on ESPN 2.
CFL ON ESPN 2 TV RATINGS WEEK ONE
- Per Nielsen Media Research/ESPN
Here are the TV ratings for Thursday night’s ESPN 2 8:30pm ET broadcast of the CFL’s regular-season opener between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The CFL Regular Season opener 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 Thursday’s game was 846,000. The figure is the amount of viewers who sample the product for at least two minutes.
Saturday night’s 10 pm ET broadcast on ESPN 2 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 Cable shows)
The reach number for Saturday night’s game was 1,432,000 viewers. (Number of fans who sampled the game for at least two minutes).
CFL ON TSN TV RATINGS WEEK ONE
Thursday- Winnipeg-Hamilton: 683,100
Friday- BC-Saskatchewan: 764,600
Saturday- Toronto-Calgary: 318,400
Total Week 1 average: 526,950
Slightly disappointing numbers for the debut game on the Canadian side. It could have been higher. The league was up overall from their opening week in 2019 but it was facing stiff competition against the Olympics on opening night. In 2019, the CFL’s opening week on TSN averaged roughly 400,000 viewers overall. So it’s an increase of over 30 percent on average.
Regardless of the TV ratings in Canada. The quality of play was solid for the CFL in week one, especially considering the two-year layoff and fans were very happy to see the league back. The on-field product will improve as the season progresses.
On the American side of things. You’d like to see better numbers but the ESPN aspect is an added bonus for the CFL. It gives the league an opportunity for people outside Canada to be exposed to the fantastic on-field product that the Canadian football league has provided for years.
Last week, it was announced as part of a multi-year agreement between ESPN and the CFL that ESPN2, ESPNEWS, and ESPN+ would combine to present every CFL game live this season, culminating with the Semi-Finals, Finals, and 108th Grey Cup on December 12th. The full CFL TV schedule on ESPN can be found at this link.
Since 2014, in the United States, the CFL has been exclusive to ESPN. In years past, the Canadian league has aired on the NFL Network and NBCSN. On those networks, the CFL barely reached a six-digit average in viewership per telecast.
As a secondary source for viewership outside of Canada. TV ratings for the CFL in America have fluctuated over the years; in 2018, the CFL averaged 163,000 viewers per game on the linear ESPN channels. A modest total, but the numbers were up 18 percent from the year prior. In 2019, the league averaged roughly 155,000 viewers per telecast.
Many CFL games in the states go up against NFL competition head-to-head. Like last Thursday night’s CFL opener running simultaneously against the Hall of Fame Game between the Cowboys and Steelers, which drew 7.3 million viewers on FOX. The highest viewership total for an NFL preseason game since 2017.
At the end of the day, it’s not fair to compare the CFL to the NFL, or any other league for that matter. But the head to head from this past Thursday gives you an idea of the difficulties of attracting an American audience that is either a casual viewer of the CFL or that hasn’t sampled the league yet.