Former Globe and Mail columnist William Houston has his own blog (a lot of media or former media guys have that don't they?) in which he discusses things with the Canadian sports media. His latest article talks about the numbers the Riders draw in and the money they generate. Take a read...
They don’t play in a small market as much as they do a teeny-weeny market. And they don’t win all that much.
But when it comes to television, merchandising and attendance, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are giants on the Canadian sports scene.
Consider the popularity of the Riders, who will make their second Grey Cup appearance in three years, against Montreal Alouettes, after a reasonably good season of 10-7-1, tops in the West Division.
They are TSN’s audience champions. Four of the network’s five most watched regular season CFL games involved the Riders.
Last Sunday for the West final, the Roughriders along with Calgary Stampeders, delivered an audience record of two million viewers to TSN, the most to ever watch a CFL playoff game on TV.
“[The Roughriders] are clearly the biggest draw,” TSN president Phil King said this week. “It kind of flies in the face of logic, but they just are.”
They’re also a big gate attraction on the road. All figures weren’t available, but the Edmonton Eskimos, for example, set a club record for home attendance, 62,517, when the Riders visited on Sept. 26. In terms of retailing, nobody’s close. The CFL sells more Riders merchandise than the combined total of the seven other teams. In overall CFL sales, by the league and elsewhere, the Riders make up whopping 38 per cent of the total.
Why are they so popular?
You could perhaps invoke the mystic pull of the prairies, the ghost of Ron Lancaster scrambling around in the backfield. Or you could compare the appeal of the Riders to another wildly popular small market football team, the Green Bay Packers.
But there is a difference. The Packers have a history of excellence, starting the legendary Lombardi teams of the 1960s and then the Brett Favre years. The Roughriders don’t. In their long history, starting in 1910 with rugby, they’ve won only three Grey Cups
A more apt comparison than Green Bay, King says, is a U.S. college team.
“If you went to Syracuse University, no matter where you live, you’re an alumni and a fan, and your kid becomes a fan,” he said. “I think Saskatchewan might be a little that way. Somebody living in Regina 20 years ago maybe has moved to Toronto my now, but he’s still a huge Green Rider fan and his kids are fans.”
That intimate connection between a fan and the team doesn’t exist as much in other markets where a fan, say in Calgary, has two professional teams for which to throw his support.
“Being the only pro team in that province, they obviously get a ton of profile,” King said. “If you’re a sports fan in the province of Saskatchewan, you’re a Roughrider fan. It just comes with the birthplace.”
Roughriders resonate because viewers in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere are impressed by the popularity of the team in its home market It gives the Riders status. They’re the little team everybody loves.
“People like pulling for the underdog,” King said. “The old saying is they’re everybody’s second favourite team.”
All of this, King notes, adds up to the contradiction of a small market team ranking as the league’s leading TV attraction.
“It’s one of the biggest paradoxes I’ve seen in sports,” he said, “where the smallest team in the league is the most popular team on television. It just doesn’t follow logic.”
In fact, the Riders are so big on TV that King says given a choice between having Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup or the Toronto Argonauts, which play in Canada’s largest TV market, he’d take the little team on the prairie.
“If you ask me from a pure ratings point of view which team I would like to see in there, truthfully we’d probably say Saskatchewan,” he said. “If Toronto was having a great year with 15 wins and were marching along, would that improve it? I don’t know.
“How about Toronto and Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup?”
By the way, Houston's blog can be found at http://www.truthandrumours.net/