What's the Deal with CFL Television Ratings?

Television ratings are a very inexact science. Radio ratings, too, but this is about Monday's CFL matchup between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Ti-Cats. It was the Labour Day Classic, so you knew many across this country would be tuning in.

A small collective of unknown people across this country carry PPM devices to record what they watch. Then, this number is extrapolated to estimate the number of viewers in total. It's like polling, and seems to discount streamers and such. Like I said, it's a very inexact science.

I follow Steve Simmons on Twitter, and saw this tweet from him. 2.9 million people tuned in, he wrote. That's an incredible number!

Maybe Steve was wrong? After all, he's been wrong before. A little digging reveals the source of this information. The official CFL account had tweeted that 2.9 million Canadians had tuned in to watch a regular season CFL match. Wow.

But wait, there's more. Arash Madani, who covers the CFL for Rogers Sportsnet, claims the actual number is substantially less. He has it at 902,000. That's a lot of people watching the CFL, but a far cry from 2.9 million. Arash claims this is the actual number.

So, what gives? Why is the CFL tweeting 2.9 million watched if the ratings tell us 902,000 watched?


I've spoken with the CFL's Director of Communications. He's explained the discrepancy. The average audience was 902,000, and a total of 2.9 million Canadians watched some of the coverage.

In my opinion, this wasn't clear in the tweets from @CFL or Steve Simmons, but Arash is playing a little dumb here himself. He likely knew exactly where the CFL got the 2.9 million figure.

It's more Rogers vs. Bell games. Grab some popcorn and hear me and Dave Hodge talk about it here.

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Could be CFL is using Reach numbers....that's the total amount of people who tuned in during the entire broadcast - vs Average Minute Audience which is the average number of viewers watching at any time during the broadcast (and what the all important Advertisers use to measure) that Arash may be stating. Neither quantifies, and both should to be credible.

September 8, 2016 @ 11:02 AM


2.9 is unique viewers which is not the rating, and is rarely reported. Unique viewers (also peak audience) are "wow" numbers usually only quoted by PR releases.

Arash's number would be the "rating". That's the average number, and the one that is usually quoted and compared.

September 8, 2016 @ 11:22 AM

Mike V

Yeah, the number the league and TSN are using is the reach. In a nutshell it counts all the people who flipped past TSN at some point during the game.

Both are technically accurate but the thing is: AMA is the standard in the TV industry and a much more accurate number of the actual audience. When Bell puts out that 8M watched the Super Bowl/5M watched the junior Gold game/3.5M watched the Big Bang Theory last week, that's AMA. The reach is something 2-3 times that amount. For whatever reason, the league & Bell decided to switch to tweeting out the reach last week without making it clear what they were reporting and as such it looks suspicious. Maybe they got tired of seeing the Blue Jays with 1.5m AMA viewers and wanted to put out "larger" audience numbers?

September 8, 2016 @ 11:52 AM


South of the border, "reach" is usually phrased as "X million watched part of the broadcast." It is a fairly common metric, though not the "official" one. I agree that the CFL should be touting the average viewers, as they are very solid numbers. "2.9 million watched," while not a lie, makes the CFL look like its, uh, reaching when it doesn't need to. And a journalist like Simmons shouldn't simply retweet it as it's the average number. That's the average number of a Stanley Cup Final game, and it should have raised Simmons' eyebrow.

September 8, 2016 @ 2:12 PM

Mike V

Just saw Simmons had a follow up tweet

The 2.9 million TV audience for the Argos-Ticats on Labour Day is a lot more than any Stanley Cup Finals game did on its own in 2016.

— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) September 7, 2016

That it is a complete, flat out lie. Really makes you wonder what they think they are achieving by being this brazenly dishonest.

September 8, 2016 @ 3:06 PM


I'd love a breakdown of viewership across the country. My hypothesis is that a majority of those viewer were in the western Canada where football is taken much more seriously than here in Ontario.

I have noticed that there is an interesting patterns with CFL TV numbers. Most CFL games will average fairly closely to each other in viewership numbers (regardless of who is playing). You compare that to the NHL where ratings are different between Canadian cities but seem proportional to the population of each city (Ex: Toronto will get around a million, Calgary will get a couple hundred thousand. Given their population size, this seems reasonable).

This leads me to having a hypothesis that if indeed these viewership numbers are accurate...then I argue it's football fans tuning in, not fans of a particular CFL team.

September 8, 2016 @ 3:15 PM


Simmons has since corrected himself.

September 8, 2016 @ 4:34 PM


So... If I had a TV and cable, and was flipping through channels... what registers as a 'view' in these ratings? How long do I have to pause on the channel to be counted? If I flip through channels 12 times per hour and pass TSN 12 times in an hour for 5 mins each time, how is that counted?
What is a view?
Please excuse my ignorance, I don't have cable, don't have a tv. Yeah- I'm one of those.

September 8, 2016 @ 11:29 PM



An individual cable customer doesn't actually impact the ratings unless they have been selected to use a Numeris people meter.

My understanding is that the "big" numbers include everyone who has tuned in for at least a minute. That excludes channel flippers (unless the channel flippers hang around for more than a minute if, for example, they turned to the channel during a commercial). Sometimes you'll be able to see a ratings breakdown that says how many people tuned in during the first half, second half, etc., or how many watched for more than fifteen minutes, for example, but I think those numbers are harder to find in Canada than they are in the US.

Someone with greater knowledge of such things might want to correct me on some of this, but this is how I understand the workings.

September 9, 2016 @ 11:27 AM


Some CFL fan out there will make the comment that the lower of the two numbers still outdraws what a Raptors game gets during the regular season, and therefore people in Ontario/Toronto favor the Argos over the Raptors. We all know the Raptors are by far ahead of the Argos in terms of popularity.

September 9, 2016 @ 12:09 PM


Cfl released "reach" numbers in their tweet - not unusual. PR departments use reach numbers all the time.

Simmons takes a CFL tweet out of context without doing any sort of independent investigation, simultaneously making himself look like a hack while taking all the attention away from the actual news. Again, not unusual, just part for the course with Simmons.

Arash MadanI, as Rogers' designated pit bull on all things CFL, tries to paint this as the CFL being dishonest. In doing so, he ignores the fact that Rogers Sportsnet regularly releases similar "reach" info for their broadcasts (see: hockey playoffs) without any corresponding explanation or clarification. As Drew Edwards said in his column, "pot, meet kettle".

And finally, some insecure fan of some other sport will start taking potshots at the Argos for reasons not entirely clear. Lost in the whole discussion is the fact that Monday's game was wildly entertaining football.

Situation normal.

September 9, 2016 @ 8:58 PM


Another example of the Rogers/Bell hate: Rogers has been pumping coverage of the World Cup Of Cash, err, Hockey. But for radio, they've gotta air the Jays over the hockey boondoggle on Fan590. So TSN 1050 will obviously have the Team Canada and Team North America games on radio. Nope. Rogers transferred them to Corus and AM640. Ouch.

September 10, 2016 @ 12:44 PM


My question has always been, why can't the cable boxes, which are basically computers connected to your TV, relay data to the cable providers regarding ratings?

Yes I understand that you will get errors due to people turning their TV off and not their cable box, but i think you can build in a margin or error that is less than extrapolating 50,000 Neilson families into 350,000,000 Americans or, you know the comparable Canadian Neilson families

September 12, 2016 @ 9:20 AM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike


My guess is privacy concerns.

This needs to be an "opt-in" thing.

September 12, 2016 @ 9:31 AM


@Daniel @TorontoMike

Cable companies have the ability to collect data and presumably do (I think in the US the legal way was cleared for this several years ago). I would think the reason they don't share with a third-party like Numeris or Nielson is that it is proprietary data, and it is much more valuable to them for for their own, exclusive use than it is if made available for public consumption. There's very little incentive for them to make the numbers available to a ratings agency, who wouldn't be paying big bucks anyway. They can provide their own numbers to advertisers and they'll be much more clearly defined than anything Numeris can provide. The cable companies have all sorts of data on you and it's digital gold.

September 12, 2016 @ 10:12 AM


I don't mean to possibly shift the topic but I think it is related as he is involved but has anyone else noticed recently how harsh Arash Madani has become towards the CFL? I'm not saying it's not all justified, the grey cup pricing is right on point, but it seems everything else the CFL does is completely wrong in his eyes or is slanted that way with his reporting in the last little while.

Is this another case of a Rogers person thinking/feeling they have to go a certain way because of the ongoing Rogers-Bell media war or just a case of someone who is sick of the CFL?

September 12, 2016 @ 12:26 PM



Arash is an excellent journalist but he does get rather dick-like at times. I haven't noticed his CFL comments, but he make snarky comments about the Jays too, so I don't think it's a Bell-Rogers thing. I think whatever team/product you support you'll find him a tad harsh. I couldn't tell you how balanced his opinions are because I only don't listen to PTS anymore, which is generally where he is more opinionated.

September 12, 2016 @ 12:44 PM


@Barry @TorontoMike

You're completely right Barry, companies would never share this information, there's no reason to... but 2 points

- So nobody has ever leaked a "cable box rating" number to anybody ever? I've never seen a rating that was derived from cable boxes. It just seems hard to believe there have never been leaks

- Wouldn't they want to pose cable box ratings if their ratings are astronomically good? wouldn't they want to create FOMO from the sheeple by saying: "Hey everyone and their cousin is watching the _______ vs the __________ you don't want to miss out on this"

September 12, 2016 @ 1:04 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike


I really think the "opt-in" factor is big here from a privacy standpoint. We can reasonably assert that Rogers knows what's viewed via their digital terminals, but the idea they collect that data and analyze it is concerning.

Would you want Rogers knowing everything you watched? It would be enough to push people to the other guys.

September 12, 2016 @ 1:23 PM


I think the privacy concerns are real. I think the cable companies will mine your data but they'll stop short of publicizing your data. I don't imagine they'd protect it for altruistic reasons, but rather, they don't want to draw attention to their data mining by shouting it from the rooftops.

Leaks -- certainly, they must happen, but we're not talking about headline-making leaks. I don't think there's a lot of public interest in what the cable companies' numbers are. Since Numeris keeps ratings anyway, it's doubtful the public would care much about leaked Rogers or Cogeco numbers. (I have heard people in media talk about numbers they have seen.)

September 12, 2016 @ 2:09 PM

Rob J

Leaf fans, whose team won 100% of its Cups when the league had but a handful of teams, who mock the CFL for giving its teams a 2/9 chance of making the Grey Cup are the best.

September 13, 2016 @ 4:13 PM

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