The 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship recently took place on January 10. In the final match, the University of Georgia beat the University of Alabama at the packed Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with over 68,000 fans in attendance.
Seeing that crowd made me wonder why college football isn’t big in Canada. There could be many possible reasons, such as exposure and popularity. That being said, things can still be done for Canada’s college football scene to elevate it to a level that rivals NCAA football in the United States.
One of the biggest reasons that U SPORTS — the national governing body of university sports competition in Canada — is not as popular as the NCAA is its lack of exposure. However, U SPORTS is growing in Canada. CBC Sports now has a deal to broadcast 19 of its national championship games through 2025. Meanwhile, the CBC and Ontario University Athletics — the governing body for university-level sports in Ontario —are in a partnership to broadcast 13 conference championship games over the next two years.
NCAA football gets huge revenues in the United States. In 2020, ESPN, ABC, CBS, and Fox paid a combined 1.4 billion USD for college football game rights. Plus, the NCAA makes another 470 million USD annually through its 12-year deal with ESPN to broadcast the college football playoffs. As long as it is marketed properly, such deals could potentially be great for U SPORTS.
The issue is that U SPORTS’ football marketing pales in comparison to how the NCAA is marketed. I am usually informed about the majority of sports, and I had no idea that CBC’s deal to broadcast U SPORTS’ events existed until I started researching this article. Collegiate football simply doesn’t have the same exposure in Canada as it does in the United States. This lack of exposure leads to a lack of popularity; U SPORTS football isn’t even on the same planet in terms of popularity compared to NCAA football.
One of the reasons that I think U SPORTS football is less popular than NCAA football is because of the in-game experience. The in-game atmosphere in Canada as compared to the United States is drastically different.
American football stadiums also have traditions that get the fans involved with the atmosphere, such as ‘the wave’ in Iowa. It’s not like the wave that we see at a Blue Jays game — instead, after the first quarter of games, fans and players turn around and wave at the children’s hospital that has a view of the stadium. Another such tradition is ‘Jump Around in Wisconsin,’ where fans jump around to the song “Jump Around” by House of Pain before the start of the fourth quarter. In stadiums of dozens of thousands of people, these traditions and the tailgating culture that we see in the United States lead to NCAA football being more popular than U SPORTS football. That atmosphere brings people to games.
Similar fan involvement cannot be witnessed at U SPORTS football games. For example, U of T does good things to get people to games, such as by giving free tickets for students, but the issue is that these games aren’t known to be the events that they are at schools in the States. Having these games being run as events rather than just games would help grow the popularity of U SPORTS football. Moreover, Varsity Stadium seats 5,000 people, while Colorado State University — a team that performed quite poorly in 2021 — has a stadium capacity of over 30,000. Their last game in a poor season still garnered an attendance of over 17,000 fans.
Unfortunately, U SPORTS also lacks popularity because non-pro sports are viewed poorly in Canada. Even the CFL, which is a pro league, is a punching bag for many. Look at the attendance for leagues like the OHL in Ontario, the AHL, and the CFL. They don’t get the numbers that the top leagues do — even if some of them are pro leagues.
In order to grow college football in Canada, it needs to be marketed well, and it needs to be treated like an event rather than a game to keep people coming.