Sportsnet Brags About Hockey Playoff Ratings That Were Almost As Good As the Blue Jays’

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.

  • A Guy

    If nothing else this should tell Rogers that if they invest in the Jays they can sustain big viewing numbers. But if the current shit show should continue through the rest of the season, any goodwill they’ve gained since August 2015 will be gone.

    • The Humungus

      Why is that? Because fans can’t handle if players don’t perform? Sometimes things just go sideways and nothing worth doing can correct it.

      Unless you’re talking about the shitshow that was vendetta umpiring last night. In which case I advocate only a lynch mob.

      • I find this notion of goodwill kinda funny, too. I’ve probably used the term myself, so I get why people do, but when you think about it, that goodwill was earned how? Certainly not by anything they did over the 20-odd years until mid-2015 when they started to look like an actual winner.

        If fans endured 1994-2014 and still came out in 2015 because the Jays looked like a winner, I think a bad 2017 is not going to hold anybody back the next time they actually do look competitive. (Which may yet still be in 2017.)

        • The Humungus

          Goodwill is really on the value of the brand. And the brand is valuable. Moreso if they are successful, but it’s been proven pretty well that people will come back relatively quick if the team is good.

          The don’t lose any goodwill by losing. Just revenue.

          Although sports did account for 52% of Rogers Media’s revenue last year (after this post I started poking though the 2016 Annual Report to put this sort of stuff together, although I don’t have time to unpack the whole report at the moment).

      • A Guy

        Yes, casual fans can’t handle under-performance. My point was Rogers can clearly see a successful team will generate huge numbers, but they still put restrictions on the budget to fill holes. Act like a big market team.

  • Warren

    One of the great Scandals …. I commented to that effect on one of your columns over two years ago. You called me an idiot and banned me from your site, idiot.

    • fred2

      It depends entirely how you define ‘what they earn’. As a key generator of content for all Sportsnet’s media outlets, clearly they are one of the key revenue drivers for Sportsnet and through them Rogers. However, it’s possible for Rogers to pretend that subscriptions to Sportsnet and advertising revenues from 6 months of daily sport are not connected to the Blue Jays overall profitability, in which case you can pretend they made a ‘loss’. Nobody buys it.

  • victorthaddeus

    Very good points, and good to see that your article includes the unfairness of comparing a national baseball team loved by a country to a regional hockey team hated everywhere else in the country.

    I would bet my life however that
    1. more people within the GTA would watch a leaf playoff game vs a jays playoff game
    2. more people in Montreal would watch a habs playoff game vs a jays playoff game
    3. Vancouver or Edmonton or Calgary would be the same

    This is a major problem that the nhl has. fans dont really want to spend much time watching teams other than their own. Especially not one as nationally hated as the leafs. This coming from the largest leaf jays raps fan ever. People in BC or Quebec all had their tvs on for the jays. No chance would they willingly watch a leafs game. As a leafs fan I fully understand it that the rest of the country is absolutely sick of the overcoverage of the leafs. so it is an insanely unfair comparison. Most of the rest of the country probably watched another game that was available at that time? cant imagine a sens fan would contribute to the leafs avg for game 2 when they have their own OT game going on. Western Canada would probably have rather been watching the blackhawks or something that same night.

  • Matt

    Sportsnet has 2-3 games every night of the first round, so they are destroying blue jays viewership when you add it up. Second , please write this article next year after the blue jays miss the playoffs. Third sports net doesn’t own the rights to those games