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Could the CFL ever reach the prestige of the NFL

The CFL and NFL are enjoying rising audience figures this year as the popularity of both leagues continues to grow. While any sport in Canada has an almost impossible task of competing with Ice Hockey, the CFL has seen its reputation grow despite the many other popular sports in the country, such as basketball, baseball, rugby, tennis and curling.

The NFL has no such problems when it comes to grabbing the attention of the sports world however, dominating audience figures in the U.S and growing its fan base internationally to record levels. Despite the presence of Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey and Soccer, it remains the number one watched sport in the U.S. The NFL’s superiority in terms of popularity, is no better explained than in the number of markets found in the NFL odds section of a sportsbook. Betting on the CFL is possible, but there is nowhere near as much depth in the markets. The evidence is also there in the cold hard numbers.

Average Attendance:

CFL: 21,746

NFL: 67,254 (2021 season)

Championship Attendance 2022:

CFL: Grey Cup            33,330

NFL: Super Bowl        70,240

Attendance Record:

CFL:                69,093             Toronto vs Montreal                                        1977

NFL:                105,121           Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants             2009

The NFL has seen massive investment in recent years, and there is no better example of this than all the impressive new stadiums that have been built, offering state of the art facilities for fans and players alike. Los Angeles Rams spectacular new SoFi Stadium, which hosted the 2021 Super Bowl, cost $5 billion and is a perfect example of the NFL’s success.

The Buffalo Bills are set for a new, $1.4 billion stadium in Orchard Park, New York, with an expected capacity of 60,000 seats, while the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, and Washington Commanders are all hoping to build new homes in the future.

The CFL Stadium landscape has also seen considerable change in the last ten years. Since 2012, four teams have new stadiums, while the Ottawa Redblacks, have updated their TD Place Stadium. The newest stadium in the CFL is the Mosaic Stadium which is home to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, with a capacity of 33,000, although it can be expanded to 40,000.

Viewing Figures

The Grey Cup on TSN drew an average audience of 3,121,000 on TSN, an increase of 7.5 percent on the previous year. An estimated 8.2 million Canadian viewers watched some or all of the Argonauts’ 24-23 victory over the Blue Bombers, with audiences peaking at 4.7 million viewers.

In the NFL, the 2022 Super Bowl which saw the Los Angeles Rams defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, was watched by 99.2 million viewers in the United States. The game averaged 112.3 million viewers across its platforms, up 16.5 per cent on 2021.

Player Salaries

There’s no better example of the discrepancy between the two leagues than player salaries.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is currently the highest-paid player in the NFL, earning $50 million per season. The highest paid CFL player in 2022 is quarterback Zach Collaros, who brings home $550,000 per season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The average yearly salary for an NFL player is an estimated $2.7 million, in comparison, the average salary for a CFL player is approximately $80,000 CAN, which means players in the CFL often need to hold second jobs in the offseason to supplement their income from playing football.

How the NFL grew

The globalisation and booming popularity of the NFL is no accident. It is all part of a long term, carefully executed plan to make American Football one of the most popular sports in the world.

Tools NFL used to grow the game:

  • Broadcast deals
  • International matches
  • Utilising social media/internet
  • Relaxation of gaming laws
  • More teams
  • Extra game

More games, more games on TV, and more matches abroad have all added up to more fans. Throw in some great marketing with social media and using the internet to make fans across the globe feel part of the action and you have a winning formula that has snowballed.

The relaxation of gaming laws in the states has seen a cultural change in attitudes to betting on sports, with it now regarded as a fun leisure activity. Fantasy sports, and the proliferation of sportsbooks with their wide variety of bets on offer, has helped spark gamers and fans interest in football.

Future of the CFL

How does the CFL compete with the success of the NFL? The answer is by learning the lessons from their growth.

  • Add more teams
  • More matches
  • More TV exposure
  • Social Media

In recent years the CFL has slowly started to close the gap between itself and the NFL. Several CFL players have gone on to have successful careers in the NFL, and the league has seen an increase in both attendance and television ratings. Ultimately, the CFL needs to grab the attention of Canadian sports fans and grow their base, or risk losing out to other sports. Selling the game to Canadians and getting fans to think about football instead of Basketball, Hockey or the NFL is the key to its long-term success.

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Priyanka Chaudhary
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