4 Ways the CFL Can Improve Popularity

We all love the CFL and its distinctly Canadian identity, but the game could be in much better shape when you compare it to the major four North American sports, especially with the younger generations. While some people will argue that those people don’t matter, the reality is that they do, and probably more than the older people who have loved the CFL for 60+ years.

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The future of the CFL depends on getting those young people to buy tickets, merchandise, and follow their favourite team(s). Without that happening, the CFL would be on a crash course for disaster. No longer is hoping that people come to the games going to work, the CFL needs to get out in front of things to sell the game to the younger generations. Here’s a handful of ways that they can think about doing that.

Drive to Survive Style Docuseries

If you happen to be a Formula 1 fan, you already know what a huge success Drive to Survive has been. When I was first told about Drive to Survive by a couple of friends, I had absolutely no interest in motorsports, period. I refused to watch the show on those grounds, but one day, I finally caved after being told for the umpteenth time that I just have to watch it. After the first episode, I was completely hooked on not only the show but Formula 1.

Trailer for season one of Formula 1: Drive to Survive

I just finished my first season watching Formula 1 and I didn’t miss a race all season. I have purchased more merchandise than I am willing to admit, and I subscribe to F1TV. All that to say that I have spent a fair amount of money on the sport. I’ve spent countless hours trying to understand the inner workings of the sport including how the engines work, how DRS works, why camber is important, and all sorts of other things that I never previously cared about. Why is this relevant? Allow me to explain.

Related: Fan Frenzy Over Report CFL May go to 4 Downs

I am not the only person who has become a Formula 1 fan since watching Drive to Survive, in fact, it’s very common to come across someone who is in the same situation. If the CFL had a series similar to Drive to Survive, it’s almost certain that people would be drawn to the show and some would become fans of the league, casually or otherwise.

Getting a Video Game

We have already written an entire article about the benefits of having a video game in today’s day and age. Many kids now play games and learn about the game and the league’s players through various game modes in video games. They could become a star quarterback for their favourite team in player modes, they could manage their favourite team and become champions with them in franchise mode, or they can compile all of their favourite players from around the league in ultimate team modes.

CFL mod in Madden 21

It doesn’t matter how you play the game, you are learning about the players and how the sport works. In many cases, people who are casual fans or who weren’t fans of the sport to begin with pick up the game and become fans that you can count on to watch the games all the time. It helps people familiarize themselves with some of the lesser-known players and makes them feel more involved.

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Kids today grow up playing Madden and nothing but American football. In many cases, young people will never even think to care about the CFL, but if they got their hands on a game that featured the Canadian game, who knows how that could change. Even if it was as an add-on to madden, the CFL would benefit so much from having a mainstream product use their teams, players, and rules.

Better Fantasy Football

One place where the NHL, NFL, and NBA have all succeeded is fantasy sports. There are various apps where you can build a team and make trades with other members of your league, but that kind of fantasy experience doesn’t exist for CFL fans. Instead, you pick a new team every week from a list of players with a predetermined budget and compete against a small league of friends or an open league with thousands of random people.

This isn’t the fantasy experience that many people crave, however. Any time there is a conversation including young people and fantasy football comes up, it immediately turns into how their players are great or even how they are underperforming and they need to make a trade. It’s almost like they are a general manager of a team. Only one of each player exists and you have to build the best team possible.

Greg Ellingson, Edmonton Elks

Some people may prefer the current option, but building a roster that you have to use all season long is the most popular way to play, and for the CFL, that just doesn’t exist. There are entire podcasts and daily series telling you who you should sit and who you should start in a given week in other sports, but the fantasy market is very underutilized in the CFL.

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Finding a way to allow players to draft a team consisting of a quarterback, a couple of running backs, some receivers, and a defence would bring another player base to the game that would be more interested in playing week to week. People would watch games to see how their players are doing, and even if leagues were limited to eight players, it would be much more fun than what we currently have.

The more ways that you can get people paying attention to your product, the better. We know now that people love to beat their friends, and fantasy football has been immensely popular in the past handful of years. Expanding it would be a huge break for the league.

More Pre and Post Game Content/Coverage

There’s nothing quite like the American hype machine. It’s made meaningless games feel important, it’s made boring games feel exciting, but when you peel it all back, you realize that without it, people wouldn’t care about the major leagues they do now. Take the NCAA for example. Oftentimes, games are decided in blow-out fashion, but the entire week leading up to the game is spent promoting and building hype, something the CFL rarely ever does, even during Grey Cup week.

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Before a game, there will sometimes be a pre-game show, but it is rarely ever very long. It’s usually a 30-minute segment that briefly goes over some of the storylines, but that is nothing compared to what happens in the US. The entire week, they will have talk shows blabbing on about the game, radio shows will go on and on about Tom Brady playing Patrick Mahomes, but that never happens with the CFL.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie addresses the media during the State of the League news conference at Grey Cup week in Edmonton, Friday, November 23, 2018. The Ottawa Redblacks will play the Calgary Stampeders in the 106th Grey Cup on Sunday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Many times, there won’t even be a pre-game show at all. There is virtually nothing to build hype around a matchup. You won’t hear about Bo Levi Mitchell playing Michael Reilly all week until Friday night when the game is played. Finding a way to get shows like Tim and Friends to talk about games before they happen would be huge. Getting more podcasts out there would be huge. Finding a way to create more content about the games before they happen to build any semblance of hype among casual fans would be welcomed.

This is easier said than done, of course. There are all kinds of hurdles to clear to make something like this happen, but if the NCAA can make people care about a game that ends 42-3, then the CFL can find a way to make people care about their biggest games of the season.

Adapt or Die

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been talking about reviewing the Canadian game, but his search for answers seems to be quite misplaced. It’s no longer 1980. It’s not enough to put an advertisement on the last page of the newspaper anymore. Entertainment is plentiful and dollars are scarce. Today’s consumers have so many options for their entertainment, and right now, the CFL is toward the bottom of the list in many markets. The above options are at least worth exploring before a change is made to the game itself.

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6 thoughts on “4 Ways the CFL Can Improve Popularity”

  1. The CFL has alienated some diehard fans by making the games exclusive to TSN or Sportsnet, or whomever they signed with, not making an effort to have games televised on CBC, or CTV, or any of the local networks. We are on tough times, all of us, and we fight to survive, the CFL is no exception. I understand that their mass exclusion was in an effort to generate income, but was the cost of so many fans really worth it? Why is it that I can watch an NFL game any, in fact almost every, day of the week, yet it’s a complete blackout for any and all CFL games simply because I have had to reel in my finances and cancel the more expensive cable packages?
    You want the CFL to weather this storm? Start by making every game accessible to all! Install value and integrity into the Franchises through customer acknowledgement. Leave the rules of the game intact. Though there are many other ways to suggest the sustainability of our fare game, I have given a jumping off point from which you can do as you wish, but hear this loud and clear; make it accessible to all!

    1. The unfortunate reality of that is that the TSN contract generates the league the majority of it’s income. Without it, the salary cap would drop drastically, and with it, the quality of play would drop. I would meet you halfway and say there should be a CFL streaming option, perhaps with TSN, that would allow people to buy the games for a reasonable enough price. Askign for it completely free just isn’t possible right now, however.

  2. I think the CFL should go to 4 downs, with 15 yards necessary to gain a first down. That would balance out against the wider field. I like the sustained drives that occur in the NFL, which 3 downs does not allow as much. The end zones could be shortened to 15 yards to match.

    I have not diligently watched the CFL for over 10 years now, but I would always see great Canadian college QB’s, but rarely do they play in the CFL. If you want Canadian content, why not make it Mandatory that all QB’s be Canadian? I am certain that over time we could develop a talented pool of players. These would help keep up the interest of people in University towns.

    Alternatively, just let the CFL adopt full NFL rules, be funded by the NFL, have no designated Canadians, expand by a few teams and have each team be a “farm” for 2-3 American teams. That way, we could see players as they develop and move to the NFL.

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