Should the CFL worry after a lacklustre season?

BC Lions during pratice on October 17, 2013. The Lions were one of many teams to see a drop-off in their offence this season. (Trevor Beggs/Kwantlen Polytechnic University)

BC Lions during pratice on Oct. 17, 2013. The Lions were one of many teams to see a drop-off in their offence this season. (Trevor Beggs/Kwantlen Polytechnic University)

The 2014 season was anything but a banner year for the Canadian Football League.

The mediocrity of the league this season was mirrored in the Grey Cup ratings, which were the lowest since the Canadian ratings system changed in 2009.

A total of 4.1 million people tuned into the 2014 Grey Cup, down 14 per cent from the 4.5 million people who watched the 2013 final. While the ratings are big by Canadian TV standards, they were a disappointment for the CFL. It should not come as a surprise to the league after the mediocre product that was on the field this season.

Penalties were up and scoring was down. Both of these trends were apparent in the Grey Cup Final. It was the lowest scoring game since 1992, and a game-changing penalty call in the final minute was one of the major takeaways from the game.

Credit needs to be given to the Calgary Stampeders, who were the best CFL team from start to finish during the season, and deserved the Grey Cup win. While that bodes well for the Calgary franchise, the league needs to take a step back and solve some of the issues that plagued this season.

If that does not happen, their neighbours south of the border might become more relevant on Canadian televisions.

The Emergence of the NFL in Canada

While the CFL has seen a drop in ratings over the season, the National Football League has gained notoriety in Canada. NFL games are climbing the Canadian ratings, and in some cases they are even surpassing the number of viewers watching the CFL.

The third weekend of October represented one of the final weeks of the CFL season, where the majority of teams were gearing up for a playoff run. Without looking critically into the context of the CFL season, it should have been a good weekend in terms of ratings for the league.

However, all four CFL match-ups on the weekend were trampled by a slate of NFL games shown on CTV.


There are multiple NFL games in the same column because different match-ups are shown in the same time slot, depending on the viewers region. For example, viewers in B.C, were able to watch Seahawks vs. Rams, while in Ontario Vikings vs. Bills was aired.

Part of the reason why the NFL has enjoyed more recent success than the CFL, is because NFL games are being broadcast on a more popular channel. Since CFL games are limited to TSN broadcasts, they tend to reach a smaller audience than the games aired on CTV.

Regardless, the CFL needs to ponder how they can deliver a better product next season. The NFL had better ratings on this particular weekend, arguably without any marquee games. For examples, on the weekend of the Grey Cup, an NFL game between the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers still managed to draw 953,000 viewers in Canada.

Low Offence is bad for CFL ratings

This was one of the lowest scoring seasons in recent history for the CFL. Almost every team in the league dipped below its three-year scoring average during the 2014 campaign.


The three teams that saw the largest drop in offensive production all had major quarterback issues this season. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the BC Lions both had major injuries at the position, and saw their back-ups play for a significant amount of time.

The Roughriders were so desperate, they even brought 41-year-old Kerry Joseph out of retirement.

The Montreal Alouettes also had their issues at quarterback and only found their answer after they started to play rookie Johnathan Crompton, halfway through the season.

The only teams that saw a rise in offensive production were the Edmonton Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Eskimos became a prominent team against after being bottom-feeders in the West for the two previous seasons. The Blue Bombers only saw a slight rise in production, thanks to some sort of stability at the quarterback system with Drew Willy at the helm.

Even though the Blue Bombers were one of the only teams to exceed their point per game total from the previous season, they still managed to miss the playoffs.

Also the addition of the Ottawa Redblacks as an expansion team diluted the rest of the talent in the league. The consequences of bringing in a ninth CFL team showed, and the results were not unpredictable. They finished with an abysmal 15.4 points per game, far below the league average.

There are bright spots for offence in the CFL. The two young quarterbacks who faced off in the Grey Cup, Bo Levi Mitchell and Zach Collaros, are both emerging young stars, something that the league seems to be lacking right now.

The league is going to need an influx of offensive talent next season to try to bring the league back to the entertaining standard that fans are accustomed to.

If they fail to deliver, they may just watch their ratings continue to slide.

Trevor Beggs

A third year Journalism student, taught by some stellar professors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Currently covering the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.


  • David Bauerfind
    Reply December 6, 2014

    David Bauerfind

    I am not really surprised that the CFL’s television rating are slipping with how easy it is for Canadian fans to gain access to fast-paced NFL games, but I would not go so far as to say the CFL is in trouble just yet. I was lucky enough to attend the Grey Cup this year and the amount of fans that came out was pretty impressive; not just Stampeders and Tiger-Cats fans, but fans from every team in the league. There was a real sense of community and friendly competition in the stands. I think that is what the CFL needs to focus on; the fans of the sport and the community they have created around it. I doubt we’ll ever see offensive of the caliber available in the states, but there are aspects of the CFL that are drawing people in.

  • Avatar
    Reply December 7, 2014

    Kelly McKay

    I agree that the CFL might be in trouble from a ratings perspective. The CFL prides itself on its tradition and it seems lately that might not be enough. From the people I interact with they seemingly discount the CFL as they only watch the NFL. Also, because BC High School football plays American rules I think that this leads to more popularity for the American game among youth in BC. The CFL does need to be much higher scoring for ratings because without that the games can be very boring (like all football). But when the NFL isn’t high scoring it seems much more exciting because there is much less punting. Overall I thought your article was very well done.

  • Ryan Lehal
    Reply December 7, 2014

    Ryan Lehal

    Great article and some really interesting data was presented. The emergence of the NFL in Canada can not be understated as it has lead to the idea that the CFL is too amateur. One of the things about the CFL is that most of its fans are either die-hard or only restrict themselves to watching their local team. There really is no such thing as a casual CFL fan. So it’s not totally surprising that the Packers and Patriots game received quite a bit of views on the same weekend as the Grey Cup.

  • Trevor Beggs
    Reply December 8, 2014

    Trevor Beggs

    Thanks to all of you for the comments. I wouldn’t say the CFL is in trouble just yet, and I mentioned that in terms of Canadian television ratings they are still doing quite well, but they do need to take a step back and look at what went wrong this season. It was one of the least entertaining CFL years in recent memory. The correlation between the rise in NFL ratings versus the decline in CFL ratings should be motivation for the league to try and improve its product on the field.

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