One quarter of Canadians say they’ll watch Sunday’s Grey Cup as popularity for CFL edges NFL approval

Canadian Football League maintains loyal older audience, but is now struggling to engage younger fans.


A new survey by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) reveals one-in-four Canadians say they’ll be watching the Grey Cup on Sunday, but a significant difference in generational preferences may be casting clouds over the long term future of the Canadian Football League (CFL).CFl Graph 1

 One-quarter of Canadians (24%) say they’re committed to watching the game, while one-third (36%) are still making up their mind, and two-in-five (40%) say they won’t.

The Angus Reid Institute online survey of Canadian adults measured opinion on the Grey Cup and CFL, and its significance to Canadian culture and identity.

Key Findings:

CFL and Canadian Culture:

Just over half of Canadians surveyed (53%) told ARI that the Grey Cup is an important aspect of Canadian culture and identity. One-fifth (21%) says it isn’t a big factor, while the rest, (26%) say it holds no cultural impact at all.

CFL’s Saskatchewan Strength

The CFL is known for its strong fan base on the Canadian prairies, and the Angus Reid Institute’s survey results bear this out. When Saskatchewan respondents were asked how closely they follow professional sports, they chose the CFL (65%) more than two-to-one over the NHL (29%). In every other province, the NHL commands the top professional sport spectatorship of Canadians (see tables at the end of this release).

CFL versus NFL:

Canadians are patriotic about their pigskin preferences, with two-in-five (44%) who watch both the US and Canadian leagues saying they prefer the CFL over the NFL (29%) nationally. British Columbians prefer the Canadian league over its US counterpart two-to-one. That ratio climbs to four-to-one in Alberta and Manitoba, and to five-to-one in Saskatchewan. Central and Eastern Canadians are more tepid. Ontarians prefer the NFL slightly more than the CFL. Quebecers prefer the CFL slightly more than the NFL. And in Atlantic Canada, the tables turn altogether, with respondents on the east coast choosing the NFL two-to-one over the CFL.

Grey Cup versus Super Bowl:

Affection for and loyalty to the CFL nationally does not guarantee a touchdown when it comes to the big games, with US football’s major matchup still edging the Canadian championship.

When asked if they would chose the Super Bowl or the Grey Cup if they could only watch one of the games this season, Canadians were almost evenly split, but gave the edge to the Super Bowl (52% and 48% respectively).

The troubling Age Factor:

CFL Graph 5Age demographics reveal a significant story: two-thirds (65%) of those aged 18-to-34 chose the Super Bowl, while about as many (61%) aged 55+ chose the Grey Cup. This represents an inverse preference demonstrating an aging fan base for the CFL. Further, those aged 18-to-34 are twice as likely to not watch the Grey Cup as those older than this.

Another telling, and troubling story for the CFL comes from an Angus Reid Institute poll released earlier this month, showing more than one-third (37%) of 18-to-34 years olds say they are diehard NHL fans. In turn, this survey shows two-in-five (40%) Canadians in this age bracket saying they follow the NHL closely, compared to just 16 per cent the same age who follow the CFL closely. This represents a following for the NHL over the CFL more than two-to-one among a crucial demographic for sports advertisers and teams.

CFL Graph 4

The CFL’s Popularity in context:

It is the action on the ice rink that captures the attention of people in this country two-to-one over the action on the gridiron. Forty per cent say they follow the NHL closely, compared to 21 per cent who choose the CFL. This puts Canadian football at roughly the same level of popularity as Major League Baseball (18%) and the National Football League (17%). The CFL appears to be nearly three times as popular in this country as professional basketball (NBA: 8%) and soccer (MLS: 7%).

CFl Graph 2

Spicing up the CFL?

There is encouragement to be taken from how Canadians who follow the CFL perceive the direction the league is taking. The Angus Reid Institute survey asked those respondents who are watching CFL games whether they felt the league was more or less exciting than it was five years ago. Three times as many (35%) said the league is more exciting than those who said it is more boring (11%). Most (44%) said the level excitement in the league is the same as what it was in 2009.

ARI also asked them whether combining the East and West Divisions into one large division would add excitement. One-quarter (26%) say such a move would spice things up, while two-in-five (37%) say it would actually lessen the excitement factor. The same number (37%) say this hypothetical change would make no difference one way or the other.

Image Credit: Ethan Farquharson

Click here for full report including tables and methodology

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

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