All those empty seats in Montreal and Edmonton for last Sunday's CFL playoff games aren't the only things outgoing commissioner Mark Cohon sees in his nightmares. The television ratings from last Sunday's division semifinals no doubt have him bolting upright in bed and screaming in horror.
The West semi between Saskatchewan and Edmonton averaged 1,267,000 viewers on TSN -- a 20 per cent drop from the ratings for last year's playoff game between Saskatchewan and B.C. Much more scream-inducing was the East semi between the B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes, which saw audiences plummet 40 per cent from the 1.45 million who watched last year's version between Toronto and Hamilton.
The only good news that came out of the weekend for TSN was the fact that the two CFL games ranked second and third among all sports programming, finishing well ahead of everything but perennial ratings-topper Hockey Night In Canada.
Nothing the NFL offered up came close, so there's that. Maybe football fans were too busy raking leaves (or shovelling snow) to watch TV that day.
But considering that the league saw ratings drop 6 per cent this season, this could be part of a disturbing trend. If fewer people watch during the regular season, it's only natural that fewer people will be interested in what follows.
There were a few mitigating factors that might help Cohon and his cohorts sleep a little easier -- or at least not wake up so often -- and still hold out hope that this year's Grey Cup will be a hit.
The West playoff game was a pretty uninspired affair, with both teams fielding shaky backup quarterbacks and little being generated in the way of offence. On the other hand, the game was competitive and the outcome was in doubt right up until the final two minutes. Regardless, any time you can draw more than a million viewers you shouldn't be too concerned.
The East semi suffered from the fact that only one team appeared to be trying to win as the Alouettes basically ran the Lions off the field. The fact that an average of 874,000 viewers watched the game isn't that discouraging. After all, there's little doubt that the only viewers hanging in for the fourth quarter were either relatives of the Alouettes or the kind of people who enjoy visiting abbatoirs on their vacations.
But even with all those factors considered, there are disturbing signs. This marks the second straight ratings decrease for the East semifinal and the audience for last year's Grey Cup experienced a 17 per cent drop from the previous year.
This could all be ancient history by Sunday if the two division finals produce great games and great audiences. The potential certainly is there with plenty of bad blood in both games.
But with so few people interested in the semi-finals, those will have to be superb games to reverse that trend.