Before we get too deep into this one, let me make a couple things clear:
1) Sportsnet’s PR crew is going to brag about good ratings no matter what they are, so I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be talking up their viewership numbers for the NHL playoffs so far.
2) This isn’t a “please like my sport” kind of thing. If people want to watch hockey or baseball or both or neither, that’s totally cool.
That said, it’s kinda funny that hockey’s biggest draw isn’t reaching the same levels as the Blue Jays have at their TV ratings heights the last two seasons. And it’s relevant to bring the numbers up because of how Sportsnet’s massive 2013 broadcast rights deal with the NHL shows that they value this sort of content.
First the numbers, then some context. On Monday night, Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski tweeted the following image of a Sportsnet press release:
Reporting the total billions of minutes watched is a nice touch, Sportsnet PR! Clever stuff.
What isn’t being said — because why would they? — is the fact that last fall the network was chuffed about the AL Wild Card game between the Blue Jays and the average audience of 4.02 million it pulled in. “Sportsnet said more than nine million Canadians watched some part of Tuesday’s broadcast,” crowed… uh… Sportsnet.
A number not found in that story, but in a press release emailed to media notes that audience levels peaked at 5.38 million “at 10:54 p.m. ET in the bottom of the ninth inning with none out, two runners on base and Jose Bautista at the plate.”
The difference is not a huge one, especially with respect to the peak audience, but still, that’s a win for the Blue Jays over a nationally televised Maple Leafs playoff game.
Granted, the Jays have the entire national market to themselves, and have done exceptionally well in using that to Sportsnet’s advantage. Plus, we’re talking about games in round one of the NHL playoffs, a team that is as disliked in parts of the country as it’s liked in this part, and a series taking place while folks in other cities had their own teams to worry about. And comparing it to a winner-take-all game to get into baseball’s playoffs — a much more difficult task to accomplish *COUGH* — isn’t exactly apples to apples.
Which is to say: I’d imagine that if most of the rest of the Canadian NHL teams were out, and the Leafs were deeper into the playoffs, or facing a less daunting opponent, or facing a Canadian opponent, they’d likely be pulling in bigger numbers. Numbers like, say, the Jays were pulling in during their 2015 run. When they lost in Game Six in Kansas City, the Jays were being watched by an average audience of 5.12 million viewers, according to a release at the time. Over 12 million watched at least part of that game, and the audience peaked at 7.01 million. And that was without the wider reach of the CBC, it should be noted.
Still, I don’t doubt that the Leafs could get there. And in the grand scheme I know that one team’s playoff run doesn’t produce enough content to put it in the same ballpark, in terms of value to Rogers, as the NHL package as a whole. We can’t compare the Leafs and the Jays and then talk about the $5.2 billion Rogers paid the NHL for their current 12-year deal and wonder if the Jays are hard done by in this equation. It isn’t that simple.
And yet I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t still a part of me that thinks the Jays’ payroll, relative to the value of their TV rights, is one of the great scandals in North American pro sports that no one really talks about.