by Angus Reid | February 8, 2023 9:30 pm
February 9, 2023 – Millions of viewers will gather with friends and family to view one of the biggest spectacles of the year in sports this weekend – Super Bowl Sunday. The game is a largely unmatched commercial and sports extravaganza, but depending on where they are in Canada, some Canadian football fans would give it up to support their home league instead.
A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that while three-in-five football fans in Canada (62%) would choose the Super Bowl over the Grey Cup if they could only watch one, two-in-five (38%) disagree, including a majority in Alberta and the Prairies.
On a broader scale, each league has its strengths and weaknesses among the Canadian public. The aforementioned Prairie advantage is evident for the CFL, with close to twice as many Saskatchewan and Manitoba residents saying they follow that league closely (41%) than say this about the NFL (22%). That said, the American game has key strengths in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada which will likely hearten NFL Canada executives and dismay CFL brass.
Age is also a factor. One-quarter of men aged 18 to 34 follow the NFL closely (26%) compared to just one-in-nine (11%) for the CFL. A similar ratio is evident for men 35 to 54 (34% NFL vs 19% CFL), while older men (55+) follow both leagues at an equal level, approximately three-in-ten.
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
The NFL and CFL have competed for viewership for decades. This has led to innovations in the Canadian game, including feature games on Friday nights to avoid the Sunday head-to-head. The CFL has also more recently leaned into its Canadian-ness, choosing no longer to pursue American expansion – a strange memory for fans who watched in the 1990’s. That said, a multi-year television deal with ESPN has helped to grow interest in the game south of the border.
Both leagues have built their own niche in Canada, with close to the same level of fandom among the public. Overall, 16 per cent of Canadians say they follow the CFL closely or very closely, while 20 per cent say this of the NFL. Another one-quarter or so consider themselves fringe fans of each:
The CFL has endured some challenges in recent years. Its 2020 season was cancelled after the league was denied funding from the federal government to allow it to operate a mini season in Winnipeg. Further, while the Grey Cup still drew solid viewership this year, the league’s semi-final viewership has been trending downward for more than half a decade. The Angus Reid Institute notes a drop in the percentage of Canadians saying they follow the league closely compared to studies in both 2014 and 2018:
The real intrigue among viewership populations is within the demographic data. Each league appears to have its own strengths and weaknesses – with the exception of British Columbia, which is amenable to both at the same level. Albertans and those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are far more likely to follow the CFL than the NFL, while fans further east are more likely to watch the American game:
The CFL draws much of its viewership from men over 54 years of age. This group is by far most likely to say they follow Canada’s league closely (29%), while also watching the NFL with a similar propensity (28%). Their younger peers offer much higher levels of viewership to the NFL, while women are close to equally likely to follow each – approximately one-in-ten across all age groups say this:
Attention paid to each league is close to even, but which is preferred? Here the split between the two becomes more evident. Slightly more than two-in-five (44%) prefer the NFL, while slightly fewer than two-in-five prefer the CFL (36%). One-in-five football fans (19%) say they don’t have a preference between the two.
This is, however, perhaps another sign that the CFL is facing faltering momentum in the head-to-head against the NFL. The percentage of Canadians saying they enjoy both leagues equally has dropped eight points since 2014, with most moving in the direction of the NFL rather than the CFL:
The same geographical trends are noted on this question is in the previous:
*smaller sample size interpret with caution
Notably, while men over 54 years of age are equally as likely to follow both the CFL and NFL, they show a clear preference for the CFL. The challenge for the Canadian league in the coming decades will be competing for attention among their younger counterparts, who show an obvious preference for the NFL:
Canadians don’t have to choose between the November tradition of the Grey Cup and the February spectacle that is the Super Bowl. If they were forced to however, most would opt for the American game. Whether it’s the lure of Rihanna at the halftime show, the multi-million-dollar commercials, or the game itself, three-in-five (62%) say they would watch the Super Bowl, while two-in-five (38%) would watch the Grey Cup:
British Columbians, divided evenly in attention paid to both leagues, and preference for each, lean toward the Super Bowl in this faceoff:
Notably, CFL fans are more likely to prefer the Super Bowl than NFL fans to prefer the Grey Cup. Further, two-thirds (65%) of those who don’t place one league over the other would watch the Super Bowl if they had to pick:
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here. 
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