It all depends on who you ask.
A recent survey conducted by the Canada Project found that 63 percent of those surveyed felt that the CFL is integral to the nation’s sporting identity. In fact, the survey found that next to hockey, the CFL is the second most popular sport to watch with friends.
Who’s doing the watching appears to be contingent on the age of the potential viewer?
In the same poll, only 49 percent of millennials said the Canadian game was an integral part of our sporting culture, while 74 percent of baby boomers said the same.
Interestingly, 68 percent of immigrants who responded said the game is integral, suggesting that the answer wasn’t given out of a deep-seated sense of loyalty or longstanding personal connection to the sport.
A poll conducted by Angus Reid found similar results when it came to the Grey Cup – Canada’s top prize for the CFL winning team.
That poll found that 47 percent of those questioned agreed that “the Grey Cup is an important part of Canadian culture and identity.” Fifty-six percent of the those polled went even further, saying that it “defines Canadian culture and identity.” While the results were nearly split between men and women, with men answering in favor slightly more often, once again the younger generations don’t appear to be convinced of the game’s intrinsic importance to the nation’s sporting makeup.
Only 39 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 felt that the event was an important part of Canadian culture and identity. The numbers rise with age until they crest 50 percent among those age 55 or older.
The bigger problem for the CFL is that of those polled, only 24 percent said they were actually going to watch the Grey Cup game. Of the remainder, 36 percent said they weren’t sure if they were going to watch and 40 percent were sure that they wouldn’t be watching.
Attendance numbers tend to back the surveys – CFL attendance fell three percent in 2016 from 2015.
The average attendance per stadium varies widely, with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos drawing in excess of 30,000 fans during their nine home games in the 2016 season.
Canada’s three most populous cities drew the fewest attendees with Vancouver’s B.C. Lions averaging just over 21,000, the Montreal Alouettes at 20,378 and the Toronto Argonauts bringing up the rear with an average of 16,380.
In 2012, the CFL, on the whole, averaged 28,192 fans per game, a number that had fallen to 24,691 by 2016.
Nonetheless, television viewership has remained consistent and the league is launching new ventures aimed at the younger market. The CFL hopes that moves like getting players into the EA Sports Madden 17 video game, partnering with fantasy sports giant Draftkings and live streaming games will get them back into the good books of young fans and help bring the numbers back up in the nation’s largest urban areas.