Once again the CFL playoffs are taking over Sunday afternoons on TSN, and once again the usual boo-hoo CFL die hards (particularly those in the media and based in Regina) cry about how hard it is to convince people to watch the CFL when it is up against the NFL, and why don’t they move these playoff games off of Sundays?!
The NFL? Are you kidding? They aren’t just up against the NFL! In fact, this weekend in particular, the highest rated playoff game on Canadian TV will surely not even be a CFL playoff game.
It will be an MLS game. Toronto FC at Seattle, for the MLS Cup title.
Believe me, if FC wins today, that will be the top story on Canadian sports TV, and it will drown out all the news out of the CFL games today in Montreal and Calgary. After all, Toronto is the centre of the universe for Canadian sports (as we found out when the Raptors won).
But compounding the issue this week and next, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup goes with its final two playoff races of the season — Phoenix this week and Miami Homestead next week for the Cup title. (I should point out Phoenix is a particular favourite destination for western Canadian snowbirds who hate winter.) This will be even more competition for the CFL as gearheads defect to NASCAR for the last two big races of the season. Worse yet, the CFL plans to move the end of the season up by a week in future years, which would potentially put the Grey Cup up head to head against NASCAR’s Cup finals. Someone at CFL head office wasn’t thinking there, folks.
Now, one thing I notice about NASCAR, as a sport, is that they don’t seem phased in the least about putting their product up against the NFL on Sunday afternoons. Their attitude seems to be: “the NFL? Who cares about them?” Yet in Canada people are wringing their hands over the issue.
The suggestion from a lot of people is to move CFL playoff games to Saturdays to avoid the NFL. Fine, but you’re still up against US college football and their marquee matchups in front of packed stadiums full of people (making CFL crowds look puny by comparison) not to mention Canadian uSports and their football playoffs (who struggle enough for attention without the additional competition from the CFL, thank you).
Worse for the CFL, you are also competing with the NHL, particularly if you have late-afternoon playoff games that start to run over into the time when Hockey Night in Canada is on. (By the way, you can’t escape the NHL on Sunday’s either — I notice there is a Winnipeg Jets game on TSN right now, versus Dallas.)
You are also competing against the fights on Saturdays, in particular the UFC. Saturday happens to be their biggest night, in fact. If you schedule CFL playoff games up against a major UFC fight featuring some big names, you’ve got big trouble.
People are also suggesting moving the Grey Cup game itself to Saturdays to avoid the NFL, but that would also mean it would be up against Hockey Night in Canada/UFC/et al. — if the game were on in prime time. Theoretically they could move the big game to the afternoon, but that wouldn’t be a prime time game and the ratings wouldn’t be as good as they are now, with the Grey Cup currently taking up good prime time real estate on Sunday.
You could theoretically take a page out of the NCAA’s playbook and hold the Grey Cup game on a Monday night. But then you’d be up against the NFL again with Monday Night Football. Besides, from a fan standpoint, it sucks! On a Sunday, you can basically treat the day as an unofficial holiday, but Mondays are a pain because you are usually exhausted from working and having to fight the traffic to get home. What’s more, some people have to work Monday nights, too (ie. myself). Besides, having the game on a Monday would simply be too weird from a fan perspective, because Grey Cup games have been on Sunday afternoons for as long as anyone can remember.
Anyway, there are no easy answers. What’s more, it could be a case of fixing what ain’t broke, because the Grey Cup normally gets one of the biggest TV audiences of the year in Canada (behind the Super Bowl). Maybe you keep the Grey Cup game on a Sunday but move the other playoff games to Saturdays? Who knows. It’s simply unfortunate this year for the CFL with the whole timing of the MLS Cup final on the same afternoon. Perhaps the real solution for the CFL is to simply improve its own product and fan experience/engagement in general, because there is no escaping competition from other sports.
Or perhaps the real solution is for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to be involved in the big games. Trust me, the Roughriders are basically bulletproof up against the NFL, NASCAR, MLS or any other sports competition. Their fans will tune in, no matter what.
(Unfortunately for the CFL, the Riders have this week off.)
UPDATE: So I spent this afternoon tuning in the CFL and NASCAR for the most part. I didn’t watch much of MLS Cup at all. I started losing interest when I learned Seattle was up by a goal, and then when they went up two goals I lost even more interest, and what interest I had left disappeared completely with their third goal. The final score was 3-1. So, to heck with the MLS Cup, I’m concentrating my energies on the CFL and NASCAR.
ANOTHER UPDATE: hmm, MLS Cup didn’t dominate Canadian TV ratings at all.