A sports fan’s biggest confession

Yep, I’m saying it: the Canadian Football League is more entertaining than its American counterpart

Photo of the Hamilton Tigercats of the CFL by Mark Watmough via Flickr

I’ve got a confession to make.

Ever since my dad brought me to a sold out B.C. Place to watch our hometown Lions battle the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2007 Western Division Finals, I have been hooked on the CFL.

When I’m with my sport-crazed friends, though, I will lie and tell them I prefer the style of game south of the border — which they all swear by. But as the NFL season starts tonight, I’m ready to admit that CFL games are more entertaining.

The CFL, which started its regular season back in late June, just held its famed Labour Day weekend, which included both the Battle of Alberta between Calgary and Edmonton and the Battle of Ontario featuring Toronto and Hamilton, along with the infamous Saskatchewan–Winnipeg “Banjo Bowl” (which got its name from former Blue Bomber kicker Troy Westwood calling Roughrider fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds”).

Now, the league enters the time of the year when it routinely struggles for viewers against its American counterpart.

The declining attendance, TV ratings, and popularity amongst Canadians, especially millennials, has been well-documented.  I even wrote a piece on why Canada should embrace the 60-year-old league last year.

But I think it’s important to revisit the topic.

Last season, a September matchup between the Ottawa Redblacks and Montreal Alouettes went head-to-head with a NFL game on TSN (the exclusive TV broadcaster of the CFL), and averaged 190 000 viewers to the NFL’s 461 000.

Why are we flocking to a league that refuses to let its players protest police brutality, but spent over 22 million dollars to hire a private investigator to see if New England Patriots Tom Brady deliberately deflated footballs, a league whose owners turned a blind eye to free agent quarterback and social-justice activist Colin Kaepernick for fear of receiving a damaging tweet from the president, and a league where 62 players have been arrested since the start of 2017?

Maybe it’s because the higher quality of players that fill up the NFL’s talent pool make for exciting one-handed highlight plays every week, or maybe we don’t want to watch our own league where we know the player’s end goal is to graduate up to the NFL for a multi-million dollar salary.

Why are we flocking to a league that refuses to let its players protest police brutality, and whose owners turned a blind eye to free agent quarterback and social-justice activist Colin Kaepernick for fear of receiving a damaging tweet from the president?

But with larger fields and end zones, three downs instead of four, and TSN’s brilliance in marketing its players, the CFL is the perfect platform to watch lesser-known football stars.

Since CFL fields are 110 yards long, and have massive 20-yard end zones, players have more space to display their jaw-dropping jukes and dives, rather than being confined to the NFL’s 10 yard enzone and 100 yard fields.

However, at the same time, the CFL rules restrict the number of opportunities its players have on the field, which means every play is more important than the last.

The “differing down” rule adds more intrigue in games, since a team can easily mount a large comeback despite being down by double digits as a result of the constant possession turnover three-down football creates. It also adds pressure to the CFL offence to get a first down in three tries instead of two, and forces the offence to draw up creative plays to stymie the defence it will see frequently from the added possession changes.

Last season, TSN also introduced “live mic games,” which wires players and coaches up to hot mics so TV audiences can listen into the plays quarterbacks and head coaches call while watching the game on their couch.

The live mic games bumped the CFL ratings up nearly 10 per cent last season, and benefitted both the players by highlighting their unique personality, and the league by giving fans a first-hand experience of playing in the trenches.

This fall, I hope Canadian sports fans don’t abandon the league in their own backyard and switch the channel to the celebrities, bright lights, and allure of the NFL. I know I’ll be nestled on my couch watching the Lion’s quest for a seventh Grey Cup, perhaps to the dismay of my NFL-crazed friends.

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