100 years of Canadian football

This Sunday marks the 100th Grey Cup, a milestone achievement for a league that has seen no end to its trials and tribulations, especially in the last two decades following the failed U.S. expansion bid and the resulting swath of contracted franchises. This season, the annual championship of Canadian football features the Calgary Stampeders facing off against the host city Toronto Argonauts. This has only been the second Grey Cup in the last ten years (Saskatchewan vs Winnipeg, 2007) where both Montreal and B.C. have been absent, a testament to the way the two perennially contending franchises have been owned and operated.

Attendance in the CFL has been on a slow decline over the last few seasons, and one likely factor is the emergence of the NFL’s popularity in Canada, particularly among younger sports fans. The stereotypical CFL fan is someone in at least middle age; if they live in B.C., it’s likely by way of Saskatchewan, and they will undoubtedly support the Roughriders until their death. The health of the league until said point is not in question, but to remain on the landscape of Canadian sports for future decades, the CFL needs to re-energize and attract a younger audience, something they must be aware of.  To this point, they contacted only the best in Canadian entertainment for the half-time show: Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen.

While that move is sure to generate more negative publicity than good among the average sports fan, it absolutely served its purpose of generating media attention directed towards the CFL that otherwise would have gone elsewhere. The CFL is showing signs of life, not only with continued efforts to revitalize the suspended franchise in Ottawa and add a tenth in the Maritimes or Quebec City, but also by addressing their obvious lack of youth present everywhere from the league’s structure to its followers.  Contrarily, the league remains an afterthought in Toronto. While Toronto still made sense as centennial host due to its power and influence in Canada, the residents have yet to come around on the CFL and prefer other sports – a problem the CFL must eventually fix.  The Argonauts playing this weekend can’t hurt.

One oft-repeated mantra about the Grey Cup is that the game itself, isolated from everything extraneous, is always worth watching. This is usually true – last season’s Lions dismantling of Winnipeg notwithstanding, the CFL has seen an impressive stream of Grey Cups in the last decade including the Riders’ infamous 13th Man game, a double overtime thriller between Edmonton and Toronto, and others within a single score in the closing minutes. With the Sunday afternoon slate of NFL games only sporting three games, each likely to be blowouts, consider watching the Grey Cup instead. You’re allowed to mute the half-time show.

by Geoff Sargent

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