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Don’t Adjust Your Television Sets

Tomorrow, for the first time since March 16, 1996, the Toronto Maple Leafs won’t be playing on a non-holiday, regular season Saturday. They play tonight in Buffalo; they won’t be in action again until next Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs’ non-appearance on Hockey Night in Canada is mildly intriguing. The Leafs are a cash cow for the CBC; everyone knows this, even sports reporters who regularly lament the Leafs’ constant presence on CBC Sports’ flagship program irrespective of their on-ice performance (we salute you, William Houston of The Globe and Mail!). They retain their visibility for one very simple reason: they are, despite their well-documented Stanley Cup drought (1967, etc.), either the first- or second-most popular team in the NHL (the Montreal Canadiens might be able to give them a run for their money). Moreover, the Leafs get bigger ratings than other Canadian teams and, in turn, generate higher advertising revenue. This isn’t homerism: it’s simple fact.
CBC’s predilection for the Maple Leafs can thus be attributed to good old-fashioned pragmatism—nothing more, nothing less. Still, in addition to tomorrow night, the Leafs will be idle on Saturday, December 27 and Saturday, January 17, which suggests at least a mild ideological shift within the walls of the CBC. It’s not that they’re about to abandon the Leafs or anything, but the fact that CBC Sports was willing to live without them for three weekends in 2008/09 means more exposure for other teams—in particular Montreal, who surely deserve it in this, their hundredth year. Plus, it lets Leaf fans get used to watching Hockey Night in Canada without our favourite team; only a cynic would suggest it’s good training for this year’s playoffs. Either way, we’re sure we’ll be able to keep ourselves occupied tomorrow night; one Saturday off in twelve-and-a-half years really isn’t the end of the world.
Photo by Carrie Musgrave from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • mantisory

    All I can say is hoo-ray!
    Even though the leafs are quite popular around the country, there is no doubt that the habs are at least as popular (especially for those of us under about 50 who can’t remember the last leafs cup)
    One does tire of the CBC forcing them down our throats (especially with Bob Cole and Harry Neil at the helm – Hughson is waayyy better!)

  • StayMaitland

    you know what, that really pisses me off. Hockey shouldnt be about who can be the bigger cash cow. That is the main reason why I can’t stand ANY professional sport/corporation. You cant go 5 seconds in any sporting event on tv without having a slogan or ad slammed in your face. its Forcing its consumer culture on Canadians and I don’t buy it. Bam.

  • McKingford

    either the first- or second-most popular team in the NHL
    The Detroit Red Wings say hi.
    …unless you meant, but didn’t say, most popular in *Canada*.

  • StayMaitland

    I’m pretty sure it was implied Mcingford

  • badbhoy

    Do you have anything to back that up about the Wings?
    The Leafs are by far the most valuable team in the NHL, sell the most merchandise and tickets and have the highest TV revenues. This despite the fact they are lousy and have not won a cup in over 40 years.
    The Wings on the other hand won the cup last year and are having attendance problems. Sure, blame the economy but we could be in the middle of a full scale depression here and scalpers would still turn a profit in Toronto.

  • Stephen Johns

    To be fair, I did mean most popular, priod…although on that note, I’m curious: if people were compiling a “most popular teams in the NHL” list, how would it look? I’d have Toronto and Montreal one-two, followed by Detroit and the New York Rangers (or vice versa). I could see Detroit at #2, although I don’t see them eclipsing the Leafs (at least in terms of popularity). Anyone else?

  • Stephen Johns

    And speaking of Original 6 teams and popularity, your current 2008/09 NHL attendance leader is…the Chicago Black Hawks! Great to see.

  • McKingford

    The Leafs’ team value is a product of their new arena (and the revenues they generate out of it) and speaks to their popularity in their home market, but doesn’t say a whole lot about their league-wide appeal.
    However, based on which teams generate the best *road* attendance and highest tv (non-cbc) ratings, you wouldn’t put a Canadian team there. If this were solely an exercise in Canada, I would grant you the Leafs or Habs are likely the most popular. Look at who NBC or Versus regularly puts on their featured, non-playoff, games – only once (the Habs) has a Canadian team made it.
    Over the last 5+ years the Wings are likely the best team to sell tickets in opposing arenas or glue eyeballs to televisions – although, given the advent of Sid the Kid, they are likely in danger of being displaced by the Penguins. Sorry to say, but no US based team would ever choose a Canadian club to help generate revenues.