A brief history
Interestingly, the Grey Cup has a much longer history than the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl. The first edition of the Grey Cup was in 1909, while the first Super Bowl didn’t come along until 1967, when the Green Bay Packers triumphed against the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s understandable that the heritage and memories of past achievements linger long in the blood and fandom of CFL fans. Since the formation of the NFL in the US, surprisingly few Canadian players have graced that particular stage.
The number of Canadian NFL players to have appeared in the Super Bowl stood at just 21 before the 2022 edition. LA Rams players Alaric Jackson and Michael Hoecht pushed the number of this exclusive club up to 23.
What the numbers say
In numbers reported by Statista, the viewership of the 2022 Super Bowl in Canada was an average of 8.1 million. That was the third year running that viewership had gone above 8 million on average for the NFL’s Championship match.
It was a big recovery after some low numbers from 2017 to 2019. However, stretching back to 2011, nine of the 12 Super Bowls were viewed by at least an average of 7 million Canadians.
Considering that the ratings in the US for Super Bowl LIV (2020) made it the second-least-viewed Championship match in 11 years, viewership in Canada was peaking. CTV, TSN and RDS combined reported a 79% jump.
Is the Super Bowl thriving north of the border?
For the 2020 Super Bowl, Canadian broadcasters were allowed to plug their domestic commercials into the feed, instead of showing the US ones. That return of the ‘simsub’ feature probably helped boost viewership quite a bit.
However, it can’t alone account for what is some clear popularity, a craving for some gridiron action from south of the border. It does, after all, fill in a very nice gap for football fans after the season’s Grey Cup.
The right timing
A CFL season starts in the middle of the year and the post-season is all wrapped up by the end of November. The Toronto Argonauts won the 2022 Grey Cup over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on November 20th.
Football fans itching for some further football viewing naturally turn their attention to their American counterparts. The NFL fills that gap nicely with the start of its post-season bracket in January. Canadian viewers with no domestic action from the CFL to enjoy can therefore get fully invested in the drama, thrills and spills of the NFL playoffs.
The NFL playoffs must feel like an exciting mini-tournament. The drag and fatigue of the regular-season matches can be skipped over, leaving the more exciting, more intense knockout football on the radar.
More than just a hockey nation
Canada remains a big hockey nation, of course, with a huge focus on the NHL. However, the recent figures from the country suggest that the NFL’s popularity is going strong alongside it. There appears to be a bit of a buzz, and that’s reflected in Toronto hosting regular NFL fixtures, one of only a select few cities outside the US to do so.
It’s also popular in the regions. It was reported that Ontario, a hotbed of professional sports franchises, has seen a big rise in NFL fandom. The fact that the sports scene is so competitive speaks volumes about the NFL’s popularity to gain ground there.
The Prairie regions don’t get quite so much of the NFL broadcasts, and out west is where the CFL seems to be more heavily supported. Viewing figures of the NFL across British Columbia, for example, are on the up. Back in 2020, the Toronto Guardian stated that NFL viewing figures were increasing week by week and overtaking CFL viewing figures in the country.
Sport is sport
The NFL has done an excellent job of spreading its wings across the globe, with talks of potential London and NFL Toronto expansions still floating around. There has been a long love affair between Canadians and the Super Bowl.
Considering that Canada has no NFL team, the support from Canadians for the NFL is large and growing. At the end of the day, sport is sport. A huge occasion such as the Super Bowl, the continent’s biggest single sporting event, is just not going to go unnoticed.
It’s an attention-grabbing, engaging spectacle that football fans just want to dip into, even out of nothing more than curiosity on the day. If broadcasters will deliver it. Canadians will keep on watching.