The 2015 Grey Cup wasn't the ratings bonanza the Canadian Football League and Bell Media were hoping for, but it did stop a steep slide in the number of TV viewers going back several years.
An average of 4.3 million people watched the Edmonton Eskimos down the Ottawa RedBlacks 26-20 in the CFL championship game in Winnipeg, an increase of six per cent from 2014. That may be only a modest gain, but both the networks, TSN and RDS, have been dealing with sharp declines in recent years.
Ever since 5.4 million viewers watched the 100th Grey Cup in 2012, audiences for the annual championship have been in decline. There was a drop of 17 per cent in 2013 when an average of 4.5 million viewers tuned in, and a 14-per-cent dip in 2014, when the audience totalled a little more than four million.
However, the Grey Cup still remains among Canada's most-watched sports events. Even though rival Rogers Media's Sportsnet displaced TSN as the No. 1 sports network in Canada thanks to acquiring the national rights to NHL hockey and the unexpected success of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, Bell Media can say the audience of 4.3 million for the Grey Cup easily topped the average audience of 3.29 million for last June's Stanley Cup Finals, the first under Rogers's 12-year deal with the NHL.
The ratings bump was welcome news for TSN, whose owner, Bell Media, has a significant interest in the CFL as the television rights-holder and, as of January, part-owner of the Toronto Argonauts. Regular-season audiences for the CFL have been declining in recent years; they were down 15 per cent on average for the 2015 season, to about 600,000 viewers per game.
The playoffs nearly doubled that on Nov. 22, though, as both the East and West Division finals attracted an average of at least one million viewers to TSN. The seesaw fight between the RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats was watched by 1.03 million viewers, while an average of 1.3 million watched Edmonton beat the Calgary Stampeders in the West.
However, the West final audience was down 13 per cent from 2014, according to Chris Zelkovich of Yahoo! Sports Canada. And the East final was down 8 per cent from the previous year.