The early television ratings on the NHL and Toronto Maple Leafs blasted away any lingering good news from the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Media.
While NHL TV ratings are down across the board on average for Rogers for the first seven weeks this season, as expected the worst news concerns the Maple Leafs, the team that drives the numbers because it is in the largest broadcast market in Canada.
The combined ratings for the Leafs on all the Rogers-connected networks that carry them, CBC, Sportsnet and City, are down 30 per cent from Oct. 7 through Nov. 21 according to Numeris, the only company in Canada that compiles broadcast ratings.
In 16 games carried on the CBC, Sportsnet or City networks, the average audience for Leafs games was 863,825 viewers, down from 1,226,264 in the same period last year, when 14 games were shown. The difference is that in the first seven weeks of the 2014-15 season, the Leafs were still a playoff contender, unlike this season when they are in rebuilding mode and in last place in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division by Thursday night.
The drop in viewership also means a corresponding dip in advertising revenue for Rogers, which gambled heavily on NHL hockey by grabbing the league’s Canadian national broadcast rights in 2014 for $5.2-billion over 12 years. Revenue failed to meet the company’s expectations in the first season of the contract, although Rogers chief executive officer and chairman Guy Laurence said the company made a 10-per-cent profit on the NHL. Year 2 is off to an even worse start.
The Leafs ratings cratered in the last half of the 2014-15 season when the team collapsed in January and then decided to tear apart its roster. This left Rogers, which owns the club in tandem with rival Bell Media through Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, as a helpless bystander as Leaf fans turned away from their televisions.
This was also bad news for Bell Media and TSN, as the rival network still has the rights to about 26 regional Leafs games, although its costs for them are not as high as Rogers’s. In five games on TSN in the first seven weeks of the season, the Leafs drew an average audience of 425,260, down 215,040, or 34 per cent, from last year .
While new head coach Mike Babcock has the stripped-down team playing surprisingly well with a 10-13-5 record, the Leafs’ new, more defensive style and lack of scoring are not pulling viewers back and may not for a few more years. Also hurting the Leafs and NHL ratings in October was the unexpected success of the Blue Jays, who captured the imagination of fans across Canada with their run in the baseball playoffs.
Rogers can take comfort in the fact it owns the Blue Jays outright, and broadcasts their games. The media division enjoyed a profit of $58-million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, up more than 150 per cent from $23-million in 2014, but the hockey ratings so far are a definite damper. In fact, the Jays’ success in the October playoffs drew viewers away from the Leafs and the NHL even when they did not go against each other, as many fans did not follow through with watching hockey in the evening after seeing the Jays play a late afternoon playoff game.
Scott Moore, president of Rogers’s Sportsnet and NHL Properties, was not available for comment.
The Eastern games on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada, which usually feature the Leafs, are down 19 per cent from the same period last year. From Oct. 7 through Nov. 21, an average of 1,771,500 viewers saw the prime-time Hockey Night Eastern game, a drop of 412,500 from last year’s 2,184,000.
The news was equally bad for the second game of Hockey Night’s Saturday doubleheaders, as the Western Canadian teams saw viewership drop an average of 173,529 a game to 686,471 from 860,000, a slip of 20 per cent.
Playing into this drop was the mediocre start for the Vancouver Canucks, the most popular team in Western Canada. Another stroke of bad luck for Rogers was the injury to budding superstar Connor McDavid. Rogers loaded up on national games for the rookie NHLer and his Edmonton Oilers, only to see him suffer a broken collarbone on Nov. 3, which will keep him out of the lineup through January.
And Rogers Hometown Hockey, the company’s expensive gamble that Canadians will watch hockey on Sunday nights as well as Saturday continues to struggle. The show is also down sharply in the ratings, drawing an average of 475,271 viewers over seven weeks this season, down from 664,000 last season, which was also a disappointing number.Report Typo/Error