The rising popularity of the NFL in Canada

NFL viewership has increased steadily in Canada in recent years, and with the Super Bowl around the corner, the buzz is only growing.

Though Canada has its own football league in the CFL, Canadians are huge fans of the NFL. The league has a storied history in Canada and while there are of course no Canadian teams in the NFL, it is still watched by millions of Canadians every year.

In fact, the NFL has been playing games in Toronto since 1959, when they first held an interleague game between the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL and the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

Since then, preseason and regular season NFL games have been held in Toronto, making it the third city alongside London, England and Mexico City to hold regular season NFL games outside of the U.S.

Interestingly, NFL viewership in Canada saw a steady decline between 2016 and 2020, but over the past year or so, there has been incredible growth in the number of Canadians regularly watching NFL games.

In fact, in 2020, NFL viewership in Canada was increasing by double-digit percentages almost by the week. In some regions of Canada, people are watching more NFL than CFL.

Almost half of the population in the Prairies watch NFL games, and while the CFL remains more popular in the West, viewing figures for the NFL are steadily growing there.

Ontario is a hotbed of NFL fandom within Canada, as roughly half of football fans in that province watch the NFL. This compares to just one fifth who exclusively watch the CFL. Quebec and British Columbia are also seeing rapid rises in NFL viewers.

Ontario, being Canada’s most populous province, is home to numerous CFL teams as well as NHL, MLB and NBA franchises. This means sports fans have a wider range of teams to follow and CFL teams tend to fall farther down the list.

Plus, as the NFL hosts games in Toronto, fans are able to attend games in person and generate a much more intimate relationship with the league and its players and teams.

Further to this, the NFL is home to some of the world’s most recognizable athletes, and its teams all have deep histories. This makes it not just wildly popular within the U.S. but in Canada and around the world as well.

Canada’s proximity to the U.S. also makes it easier for fans to make the journey over the border to attend games in person. 

In the provinces that have legalized it, betting on NFL games is also extremely popular and adds another layer of excitement to games and competitions. Of course, the biggest event of the year is just around the corner, and this year’s Super Bowl odds are attracting plenty of attention across Canada, as the KC Chiefs and the CIN Bengals face-off for the ultimate prize on the Sunday, Feb. 13.

The rising popularity of the NFL in Canada

The NFL audience in Canada is also a fairly young one, which bodes well for the future of the league in this country, especially considering the significant interest in NFL betting. Almost half of 18–44 year-old football fans in Canada watch the NFL but not the CFL, compared to one-fifth who only watch the CFL.

There’s also the fact that numerous Canadian players ply their trade in the NFL, further helping raise the popularity of the league in Canada.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool is a fine example of this. The 23-year-old burst onto the scene last season as a rookie, racking up 873 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. 

He is easily one of the most high-profile Canadian players in the NFL and continues to make a name for himself this season, despite some disappointing results for the Steelers.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, is another Canadian export that has made serious waves in the NFL. In 2020, having previously just won the Super Bowl, the Montreal native elected to not play in the regular season. Instead, he used his medical degree to return to work at CHSLD Gertrude-Lafrance in Quebec to help the facility deal with the added strain from the COVID-19 pandemic. He was awarded the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the 2021 ESPYs and the 2020 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete.

For Jevon Holland, defensive back for the Miami Dolphins, football is in his blood. He is the son of former CFL and NFL player John Holland, who played in the same position.

Currently in his rookie season after being selected in the second round of the Draft, Holland is developing into an effective player with Miami.

Canadian football fans now access NFL games through DAZN, an online subscription-based streaming service that is making waves within the sport industry. This allows people to access games live and on-demand from a variety of different devices.

The NFL already has a significant foothold within the Canadian market and recent figures suggest viewership numbers are going to continue to grow. ■

For more sports coverage, please visit our Sports section.