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Eastern Canada tunes out of all-West Grey Cup

Did you hear that Toronto is staging the 100th Grey Cup next year? It was sometimes hard to concentrate on Vancouver's presentation of the football weekend above the CFL's message track about how the centennial game next year in Southern Ontario was going to be bigger, better, best. With commissioner Mark Cohon declaring that Toronto's indifference to the CFL's charms is the biggest challenge for the league, CFL officials wanted to stop any last-chance-before-oblivion talk from media and fans.

But with a one-sided game featuring two teams located in the West, the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was anyone in eastern Canada listening? Or were Ontarians latched onto the surging Toronto Maple Leafs as they humbled the Anaheim Ducks over on Sportsnet Ontario? Annually, the Grey Cup telecast ranks as the top single broadcast of the year in Canada. Last year, TSN and RDS garnered a record 6.1 million viewers for the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders contest, a historic mark.

The latest Grey Cup Sunday missed that number by a bunch. Overnight ratings released Monday show that the big football contest drew 4.6 million on TSN and RDS. A large portion of that drop was in Quebec, where viewership dropped to 225,000 from 1.1 million without the Alouettes in the game. TSN viewership dropped 13 per cent. (What were they doing Sunday in Saskatchewan?) Breakdowns for the Toronto market were not immediately available from TSN on Monday.

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On the positive side, it was still the fourth most-watched Grey Cup game since ratings were first released in 1989. It did far better than a Blue Bombers-Edmonton Eskimos final might have done. Plus, online streaming was up 65 per cent from last year to 118,000 streams. And the scrap between septuagenarian CFL legends Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca went viral in the United States where Kapp is remembered as an NFL star quarterback and Mosca did some wrasslin'.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs-Ducks tilt, which began a half hour into the Lions-dominated Grey Cup match, attracted an average audience of 600,000. Typically this season the Leafs have drawn better than that on Sportsnet in prime-time games. So there was some defection to the Grey Cup or, possibly, the NFL Sunday night game.

CFL and hockey are clearly not comparable TV properties in Canada. Football's sensitivity to matchups at Grey Cup games hurt on Sunday. But not as much as running up against Leafs Love or Argos Antipathy on a day when the CFL wanted to start selling next year's contest at Rogers Centre.

Image problems

Veteran rocker and sports author Dave Bidini probably summed up the CFL's Southern Ontario ennui Monday on CBC Radio's Q. "It's too parochial, none of my friends are interested in the sport whatsoever," the Toronto-based Bidini explained. "I don't think fans should be expected to support it just because it's Canadian. … We don't have to be slaves to an inferior product."

In short, the million bucks the league is throwing at Toronto before the 100th Grey Cup isn't going to make Canadian football organic in Toronto any time soon if it can't win over the Bidinis of the city.

Which is strange because Canadian Interuniversity Sport football is thriving, Toronto high schools still turn out excellent players and TV viewership of the CFL remains strong in Southern Ontario. Watching TSN's fine profiles of Bombers lineman Doug Brown, the Muamba brothers (Cauchy and Henoc) and John Candy tells us that there are great stories to be told about the place of football in Canadian culture

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Perhaps the CFL needs one of its principal sponsors to emulate Tim Hortons. The fast-food purveyor has woven hockey storytelling into its commercials. Hockey as culture is a given, so why not football, which attracts up to six million viewers to a Grey Cup broadcast? Yes, the CFL is a transient league, with stars coming and going. But if advertisers gave Canadian football the Crosby treatment, would that not do as much or more than a million bucks to convince Torontonians that the league is indeed about them?

Just a thought for commissioner Mark Cohon as he decides whether to re-up with the CFL for another five years.

Plugged Nickelback

Then there was Nickelback, fresh from being booed during their halftime performance at a U.S. Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit last Thursday. ("Oh, sure, we had to listen to Nickelback, but Nickelback only played one song. You know the one. It sounds like all their other songs," quipped Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press.)

The Canadian rockers were before the home crowd Sunday, however, as the feature act at halftime of the Grey Cup. They sorta' lip synced their hit. You know the one … hey, everyone to his own taste. But what was with the 1960's go-go girls doing the Hully Gully and the Swim down front? The last time that was cool, Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca could really fight. Makes you pine for The Nylons.

The dream

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Noticed TSN's glossy commercials for the coming world junior hockey championships starting Boxing Day in Calgary and Edmonton. In it, a tow-headed boy gushes that the tournament is "the dream" of every kid in Canada. So where does that leave the Stanley Cup final?

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