Banking on increased ratings

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

The Canadian Football League has granted TSN's wish.

League executives have moved the opening four playoff games this fall to Saturdays - breaking a longstanding tradition of having the games on Sundays.

"The playoff games have been scheduled on Saturdays because that was thought to have the potential to maximize television audiences," said Jamie Dykstra, CFL spokesperson.

Further digging reveals TSN asked the CFL two years ago about the idea of moving the divisional semifinals and finals to Saturdays to increase ratings.

With TSN about to broadcast its first ever set of CFL playoff games this fall - the sports cable network will broadcast every playoff game, including the Grey Cup - the stage is set to see if TSN made the right request.

On the surface, the move should give the network a chance to gain higher TV ratings - which is what drives advertising revenue.

"There is an awful lot of sports on Sundays," said Phil King, TSN president. "Many, many people are fans of both brands (NFL, CFL)."

Of course, moving the first four CFL playoff games to Saturdays means the Canadian league doesn't have to go head-to-head with the NFL's large slate of games on Sundays.

According to the CFL head office, the exact playoff schedule is: East semifinal at 11 a.m. MT on Nov. 8, West semifinal at 2:30 p.m. MT on Nov. 8, East final at 11 a.m. MT on Nov. 15, and West final at 2:30 p.m. MT on Nov. 15.

The Grey Cup is still slated for a Sunday in Montreal - Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. MT.

The only football competition against the CFL for Saturday playoff games will come from college action.

But King doesn't see that as a major issue.

"The ratings for (American) college football in Canada are minuscule. We're talking 30,000 people," said King.

While King can't logically predict what the rating numbers will be for Saturday CFL playoff games, he's hoping to top the seven-figure mark.

"Anything less than a million (people) will be disappointing," he remarked.

Media musings ...

There is a quiet scheduling conflict brewing for the East semifinal if the Toronto Argos host the game. A concert is booked at Rogers Centre the night before (Nov. 7), which means there would be little time to turn the stadium around for a football game the following afternoon.

Around the dial ...

TSN is enjoying a rise in ratings in its first year as the lone broadcast home of CFL games now that the CBC is out of the picture.

The network is averaging 406,000 viewers a game, up roughly 10% from last year.

That means King is hoping for playoff audiences to more than double for the Saturday games.

Parting shot ...

If the West final is played outdoors, fans will be screaming at the league - once again - for the late kickoff time.

If the game is played in Calgary, the final hour will likely be played in darkness because the sun will set on Nov. 15 in Cowtown at 4:48 p.m.

What will make the griping even more relevant is the fact the East final will be played in the warm climate of covered Olympic Stadium in peak sunshine hours as the early game.

But from the perspective of the football teams, if the kickoff times were reversed the West teams would be starting at 11 a.m. MT, which would be at least eight hours earlier than a typical night game for a player's internal clock.


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