Strong future for CFL?

Saskatchewan Roughriders fans cheer on their team against the Montreal Alouettes on Canada Day....

Saskatchewan Roughriders fans cheer on their team against the Montreal Alouettes on Canada Day. (REUTERS/Fred Greenslade)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

This is our league.

That’s the bold statement made by the Canadian Football League. It’s splashed on their website, marketing materials and on their fields and across television screens.

But do Canadians really care?

Fewer than one in five (16%) of those taking part in a country-wide Leger Marketing poll commissioned by QMI Agency punched in an “interested” rating from eight to 10 on a scale of one to 10.

More than half (52%) of the sample of 1,500 Canadian men and women 18 or older who participated from Aug. 2-4 clicked “not interested” numbers from one to three.

At first glance, the results are obviously disappointing. Upon further review, however, it seems the uniquely Canadian brand is pretty healthy.

Another 32% of those polled came in from the four- to seven range in rating their interest in the CFL.

Consider them the casual fans.

“Those are the people that may be interested when it comes time for the Grey Cup,” said Leger vice-president Dave Scholz. “Go to a Grey Cup party, maybe keep track once in a while, watch some highlights, but not necessarily go to a game or watch the game on television.”

If you combine the casual fan with the die-hards who rated high on the Leger poll, the results are strikingly similar to what the league’s own research department has come up with — and they’re plenty happy with the state of our game.

“What our research shows is there’s very strong interest among Canadians,” said Rob Assimakopolous, the CFL’s senior vice-president of marketing and commercial assets. “About 50% of Canadians consider themselves either a huge fan or a casual fan. That’s about half of Canadians 18 years and older.

“The strength of the CFL is really good.”

Nowhere is that more evident than the prairies — Saskatchewan and Manitoba — where the QMI Agency poll returned an incredible response of 44% on the high end of the scale.

That jumps to a whopping 75% when you include the casual fans.

“I’m not surprised by the results. You see it when you go out to the prairies,” Scholz said. “When you’re walking down the streets of Regina and it’s game day, you see nothing but a sea of green walking around. Everyone’s wearing their jersey. Everyone’s into the game.

“In a lot of ways, it’s similar in Manitoba with the Blue Bombers there.”

The CFL is the biggest ticket in town in the prairies, with no National Hockey League teams in either province.

Alberta — home of the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos as well as the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — follows the prairie provinces in celebrating Canadian football with 22% of the high-interest variety responses and another 32% considered casual fans. Quebec edges B.C. by a hair, and Ontario — a province with as many options as a Canadian sports fan can ask for — comes in well ahead of Atlantic Canada.

Time zone differences for TV viewership, and the lack of a team to root for in the region is the obvious cause for the Maritimes pulling up the rear. Hopes are high that will improve, though, with the league scheduling a regular-season game in Moncton, NB, this season.

Tickets for the Sept. 26 game between the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts at the University of Moncton’s new stadium were sold out in just 32 hours in March.

“The incredible demand for football is actually there,” Assimakopolous said. “It’s our job now to understand it better, prove it out and determine whether or not potentially (adding a team in Atlantic Canada) could be something we do in the future.”

The future appears strong for a league that Assimakopolous says is seeing TV audiences of more than 880,000 tune in this season, and an average of about 28,000 coming through the turnstiles per game — comparable to the what’s considered the gate-driven CFL’s heyday in the 1980s.

By the time the 100th Grey Cup contest is played in 2012, maybe a few more fans will be clicking in the eights, nines or 10s to rank their interest in the CFL.

“We’re looking forward to the day we can look at those numbers with even more pride,” said Assimakopolous. “Especially with the momentum we’re seeing now with the brand.”

All poll results are considered accurate to plus or minus 2.5 points.


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