CFL telecasts primed to be a post-season hit

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Perspective, it's often been said, can be a wonderful thing.

So it is that the folks who broadcast CFL games aren't exactly ready to jump out of windows over the final regular-season ratings for the just-completed season, which show a decline from 2005.

On TSN, which airs the bulk of the CFL's telecasts, the season average was 356,000 per game -- an 8% drop from last year's number (395,000). CBC recorded an average audience of 415,000, off 10% from 2005.

Now the positive spin, if you will.

The ratings decline was only the second for CFL games in the past decade. And last season's figures represented the highest ever for the league. TSN's numbers this season rate No. 2 in network history; CBC's CFL audiences are its fourth-best since 2000.

Why the decline?

An excess of blowout games surely didn't help the cause, as TSN's lead CFL voice Chris Cuthbert noted in a conversation with the Sun during the summer.

The biggest hit came in Ontario, where TSN's ratings were down 30%. Blame the demise of the Ottawa Renegades and a bad Hamilton Tiger-Cats team for that, in great part.

None of this has done anything to dampen enthusiasm for the playoffs, however, and the Grey Cup in particular. CBC raised its advertising rates for this year's game in Winnipeg and has still done brisk business.

"We are in a strong revenue position this year," said Brad Furtney, CBC's director of national media sales and marketing. "(Ad) inventory is extremely tight. There's (just) a handful of spots left on the network level for the Grey Cup. It's sold extremely well for us."

Then again, this is the Grey Cup we're talking about a much-beloved piece of Canadiana that annually draws an audience of 3-4 million -- one of the top numbers you'll find for any single night in Canadian television.

"It's just a massive show," said CBC studio analyst Greg Frers. "That Grey Cup energy is celebrated by the fans across Canada.

"People want to be around a great event, and it's been a great event historically, so people just keep coming back."

PLAYOFF CHATTER: Nobody from the league office will say it for the record, but the CFL can't be pleased with the CBC's decision to broadcast just the West semi-final and final in high-definition format. The East playoff games the next two weekends will only get standard TV coverage. The fact the Grey Cup is in Winnipeg played into the decision to go west. "We wanted to get the truck out west," said Trevor Pilling, CBC's CFL executive producer. "That's where our pre-game shows and a bit of our post-game show will originate from. It just allows us to give the most content that we can (each Sunday) through HD." The CBC operates only one HD mobile at the moment ... CBC will augment its Grey Cup coverage with 30 cameras, including the overhead Cable Cam ... CFL on TSN: Countdown, the network's one-hour playoff preview show, returns Sunday at 10 a.m. It bumps TSN The Reporters to a 9:30 a.m. start time the next three Sundays ... CBC has two preview shows this weekend: Tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

PUCK DROPPINGS: Coach's Corner makes its Ottawa season debut tomorrow, with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry spending the night at the Senators-Hurricanes game. Bob Cole and Greg Millen have the game's call ... The NHL Network has added 22 ECHL games to its lineup. Most will air on Fridays, starting with Charlotte-Florida tonight at 7.

FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL: First, the good news. Raptors fans hoping to follow their favourite team this season can catch all 82 games on the tube. Now, the bad. It'll cost you a little more to do so. The team has placed 24 of its broadcasts exclusively on Raptors NBA TV, a digital channel. The Score (30 games), TSN (20) and Rogers Sportsnet (eight) share the rest.

AROUND THE DIAL: Memo to TSN, Sportsnet and The Score: Can you all knock it off with the poker? Like now. It's people playing cards. Isn't it time to move on? .. Reports indicate the NBA has started talks with ESPN/ABC and TNT about renewing their TV deals, which expire after next season ... NBCSports.com is offering live online coverage of Sunday's New York City Marathon. Yes, there's a charge: $4.99 US.


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