Why the CFL is integral to Canada’s sporting identity

Millennials aren't as invested as boomers or GenXers, but the Canadian Football League remains one of Canada's strongest sports brands

Ottawa Redblacks wide receiver Jake Harty (8) and Redblacks linebacker Tanner Doll (52) celebrate their victory over the Calgary Stampeders during overtime CFL Grey Cup action Sunday, November 27, 2016 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/CP)

For much of my life I’ve felt like a CFL evangelist — a missionary trying to speak the gospel of Canadian football.

But it turns out that despite how it may often feel a majority of Canadians are actually already on my side.

According to results in the recently conducted Canada Project survey, 63 per cent of respondents said the CFL is an integral part of Canada’s sporting identity. Among immigrants that number is as high as 68 per cent, which to me means it is not just solely based on Canadian nostalgia.


In the same survey, football also finished as the second-most-popular sport to watch with friends, behind only hockey.

That said, there is a generation gap. Less than half of millennials (49 per cent) said the CFL was an integral part of our identity, compared to 74 per cent of boomers and 59 per cent of Gen Xers.

And if I’m being honest, many of my sports-fan friends profess allegiance to the NFL, not in concert with the CFL, but instead of it.

I acknowledge I’m biased. I grew up with the league. The saddest day of my childhood was when my mother withheld tickets to the CFL East Division Final between the Alouettes and the Argonauts because I forgot to bring home a textbook that I needed in order to study for a test. Best believe I never made the same mistake again.

People who have played in, coached in, covered and purchased season tickets for the CFL were at my wedding. Argos cat calls were answered by Hamilton Tiger-Cat Oskee Wee Wee chants. I was even forced to wear a Hamilton Tiger-Cats hat during the proceedings by my father-in-law in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage.


I’m abnormally connected to the CFL, especially considering I’m a millennial, which makes me an anomaly. But it shouldn’t.

There is nothing wrong with the NFL game. I love it. I just watch it knowing that much of what I see on Sundays has a precedent in the Canadian game. The current replay and challenge system in the NFL — plus the end-zone celebration rules — were adopted based on a framework that previously worked in the CFL.

The zone running scheme you hear so much about, the spread offences you track via your fantasy team — those all have roots in the Canadian game.

Black quarterbacks? Yeah, we were the first to do that, too.