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We Got Americans Talking CFL, It’s The Best

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A new contributor to The Snap, Justin Rowan takes a look at how the ESPN partnership has helped spread the word of the CFL in the U.S. and has started to build a dedicated fan base down South.

By: Justin Rowan

The CFL has attempted to break into the United States market several times throughout its history. A southern expansion from 1993 to 1995 was unsuccessful and lead to the folding or relocation of all American teams, causing the league to once again become exclusively a Canadian league. A lot has changed since that time; the CFL has developed a much stronger identity as a league, the fan base has solidified and grown and now we are starting to see that southern expansion is not required in order to capture the attention of a wider audience.

2014 was the first year that ESPN started to broadcast CFL games, but the majority of those were only available online. Things are changing in 2015 they will televise a total of 20 CFL games with the remainder all streamed on ESPN3.

Growing up as a CFL fan, I’ve never felt the validation of others was necessary to allow me to enjoy the brand of football I hold dear to my heart. The fact that the league might not have as vast of a fanbase in the U.S. as other pro sports didn’t soften the blow when my hometown Bombers would come up short of the ultimate prize. But with games becoming more available to a wider audience, I couldn’t help but be interested in how the game is being received. When you love something, it’s even better when you can share it with others. So I took to Twitter to find if anybody was willing to share some of their thoughts about the CFL game. Below are the answers I received from those that responded to me reaching out:

NOTE: These are comments from fans in the US who have just started following the CFL game.

What were some of your first thoughts when watching the CFL game?

Ian Dougherty (@IanDougherty): The first thing that really got my attention about the CFL was that I recognized a good amount of the players on the field. I’m a bit of a college football junkie, so I know a lot of CFL players from their days in the NCAA. Seeing some guys that I recognized and enjoyed during their college days, whom I would have otherwise forgotten, was very nice.

Adam Harris (@amichaelharris): Good googly-moogly, that field! I am not what one would call a scientist, but if I had to guess you could fit 37 NFL fields in that thing. It was so big that a buddy I was watching the game with had to tell me that there was, in fact, 12 men on the field for each team. The extra space had engulfed and made invisible an enormous world class athlete in my brain. The crowd was fantastic! I’m sure my cultural ego just unknowingly assumed that it would be more tame or that there would be large areas of open seating, but from the jump everyone was going pretty nuts which actually helped me get more into it than baseball game 1/834765968 that was on the TV next to it.

Clyde Space (@10CanBananaMilk): When channel surfing and trying to figure out if a game is an NFL or CFL game, the first thing that stands out is the chaos of the legal movement of players in the backfield prior to the snap. It takes one snap, pre-snap to know its Canadian football. I often wonder how long it takes for import players to understand all the extra movement and motion and complexity from the added player.

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Was there anything that stood out that you enjoyed about the game?

Adam:  I was drinking beer and watching football in July… This is all that needs to be said. The level of play was actually super fun.

@LimrickyDavis:  I liked the passing game a lot, appealing play style. Plus its football in the summer so whats not to like?

Clyde: I enjoy the ‘p*ss or get off the pot’ that comes with 3 down football. I also like that a good QB stays in place for years once a team finds it’s guy, traditionally. I LOVE the big field, deep endzones and the kick return rules. Also I like the auto clock stopping at the end of the half and game.  Instead of contrived gimmicks, it’s understood the fans get more football this way. Fun seeing three or four possessions within that time.

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Were there any aspects of the game you didn’t like or that took time to adjust to?

Ian: I don’t think I’ve watched enough to know what I don’t like yet, but it did take some time to get used to the three-down possessions and 20-yard deep end-zones. That goes against everything I’ve ever known with football, but it does have it’s benefits.

Adam: What in the world is going on with this downs situation… I was at a bar with no audio and had to assume for the first several minutes of the game that the coaches in the league were all just terribly frightened to commit a turnover on 3rd down. I watched essentially the entire game and was still super weirded out by it. The rhythm of the game changes completely, and first down runs take on an importance that I was unprepared for (this is traditionally nacho or beer fetching time round these parts).

@LimrickyDavis: I knew about the difference in downs prior to watching, but the difference in field size didn’t hit me until I watched. That took some getting used to.

Clyde: The single point is biggest oddity, though not too hard to comprehend. And even though it was once like it in american football, I’ll never not think the goal post at the goal line is not weird. I think it’s not far off from American fans following premiere league soccer. They might enjoy the games, but little fun in glomming on to the top team frontrunner style, and even less reason to choose some also ran team and pretend the games mean something. It can be tough to find a team to root for and develop a meaningful connection unless you have a connection to a player through your local roots.

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Would you have an interest in watching more CFL and why/ why not?

Ian: I’d definitely have more interest in watching the CFL. I enjoy football in any form, and it provides an entertaining alternative during the sports doldrums of summer, where the only other sport that’s consistently on is baseball, which is always boring.

Adam: Definitely! I thought the level of play and the overall TV experience were solid enough to warrant a check-in. We don’t play meaningful games down here for almost 2 months, and as someone who is sort of “meh” on regular season baseball I have a pretty enormous sports-sized hole in my heart currently.

@LimrickyDavis: I’ll certainly watch again if its on ESPN but only if its after the NBA Finals and before CFB season kicks off. I only have so much sports viewing time and itd get pumped for either of them.

Clyde: I admit once the NFL (as well as NHL and NBA camps) starts up my attention drifts away. But I love ESPN’s archived game feature. Love putting a game on that I missed and watching it.  It means if I have stuff going on friday night (usually do), that CFL tilt will be archived and ready to start like a podcast when I’m ready. I find myself complaining more and more at the NFL product, and it’s turned every play into legalistic rule interpretations.  CFL might not have the money to have the same talent of athletes, but as a game, the CFL is probably the better game in my opinion.

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While these responses might not be representative of every American viewer, I found it interesting to see responses from people that didn’t grow up with the CFL as part of their life. As I said above, the opinion of others doesn’t impact my ability to enjoy the CFL. But seeing overwhelmingly positive responses to the league whenever I look for them is heartwarming.

The fact of the matter is that the CFL doesn’t need to be viewed as being in competition with other leagues. It is it’s own sport, with it’s own traditions and rules. For a sport that plays primarily in the dog days of summer, there’s plenty of sports hungry people that are looking to be entertained and the CFL is putting forward a better product than ever. Plus, what’s better than football in July?

Justin Rowan is a Canadian writer that currently writes for the SB Nation Cleveland Cavaliers blog Fear The Sword, as well as Hoops Lounge. You can follow him on Twitter @Cavsanada.

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29 thoughts on “We Got Americans Talking CFL, It’s The Best

  1. very interesting article. We welcome all new viewers to the CFL. A win win for everyone. Iparticularly liked the opinions of the American viewers . We are season ticket holders and are diehard RoughRider fans but I follow NFL as well. Nice to be able to watch football up to Feb. otherwise our off season is waaaay too long.Nice to know that my American family and friends can catch our games. They are all fans of the CFL.

  2. Loved your article. I too am interested in reading American reviews on Canadian Football. It’s great to hear all accolades about our game. Is it a better game, I think so. Much much faster than the American version. Like you said at the beginning, if you go for a snack during a CFL game you could possibly miss a couple of touchdowns.

    Keep it up.

    1. I must say good article. I personally think the cfl is better I am not down talking the nfl by any means of the imagination. I grew up watching the cfl game here in Canada ,from Jeff Garcia to Mike pinball Clemons. There’s a pretty big difference between the two games. I can’t seem to keep interested in a more defensive game like the nfl. Although alot canadians down talk me for liking the Canadian version better. I am not a patriot In any way but defiently like the cfl better.

      One thing that does irratate me about the nfl is the fact that Tom Brady got off charges that he should’ve faced but what do I know I am just a Canuck. GO STAMPS GO!!!!

  3. I grew up in the USA near the Canadian border. Canadian TV has always been local to me until the last few years, and I grew up watching the CFL. I have loved it for years, and I only wish that the league would help us American CFL junkies have the opportunity to make sure we can see every game regardless of our level of cable tv. I’d rather pay the league directly for a season; this way, the money goes where I want it and not to buy something I’ll never use.

  4. I would much rather watch the CFL then the NFL any day. The CFL players play for the love of the game and you don’t see the negative publicity that the over paid primadonnas of the NFL . The NFL can keep their murderers , rapist , child beaters druggies , drunks and wife beaters Ill take the CFL any day.

  5. I’ve been doing my part on all the AZ Cardinals’ fan sites, to let people know about the AWESOME games on ESPN2 & ESPN3! Every time someone whines “when’s football season start?” I tell them to watch a CFL game. I grew up in Montreal. GO ALS!

  6. I have been spreading the word about the CFL for some time on my web site, http://www.theworldoffootball.com. I attended my first CFL game in 1994. As a huge Doug Flutie fan, and wanted to see him play in person. His career in the CFL made me a fan and I have been following the league ever since. I’ve taken my sons to many games in Toronto and Hamilton over the years and we are planning to go again soon.

  7. I live in Cardiff, Wales (UK) and we’re able to watch live CFL games on BTSport’s ESPN channel, though not all games are broadcast.
    Coverage was restored this season after ESPN UK showed the 2012 season, I think nearly every game through to the 100th Grey Cup final.
    I’m a long time American Football fan and was familiar with CFL before I’d ever seen a live game broadcast but that ‘rogue’ spins you out the first time you realise the score has increased by a single point. Major plus points of the CFL are the passing game and multiple possessions at the end of each half.
    I think the CFL holds its own against any other sport and agree it doesn’t need the validation of others. It could however, really do with a tenth team.

  8. grew up in Detroit watching CFL games of Cklw channel 9 Windsor. Always an Edmonton Eskimoes fan! Loved watching back in the day when Doug Flutie played.

    1. I’m from the Toledo area. Watched on CKLW. Felt the CFL had great q-backs in the 90’s.
      Been to games in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto. Love the small stadiums and great fans. Of course the fans are getting gray. Younger Canadians seem to like the NFL. I think the game is more fun to watch. Some day they may have another Canadian Q-back like Russ Jackson.

  9. Nice to see some very articulate American fans who are enjoying our game. I have had some of the same reactions to watching NFL games. The “fair catch” on kicks is something to get used to up here, and of course the pace is different (as noted by our U.S. friends on Twitter). I don’t think of one brand as “better” than the other, just different. The point about cheering is very apt. I don’t know a lot of the U.S. players and thus had no investment in picking a team to cheer for. I decided Seattle was closest to Calgary, and since we get our American cable feed out of Spokane, it seemed to be the best choice. Though I will admit that if I know a CFL star is on a particular team (like Trestman coaching the Bears), I will be more inclined to invest in those teams as well. Thanks for sharing this very good article.

  10. Loved the article. I would be interested in seeing what espn’s numbers are like for cfl games. I think the key is to let our fans down south see their college athletes play meaningful football.

  11. Great article Justin but…To be clear, 2014 wasn’t the first year ESPN broadcast games. I used to watch the CFL religiously back in the 1980’s on ESPN.

  12. As someone who first watched the CFL during the NFL strike of ’82, I am so stoked at the ESPN deal. I am faithfully watching every game and will do so even when the NFL starts up. The NFL is so joyless, smug, and serious. On top of that, I love the intricacies of the Canadian game (thanks to Glen Suitor for explaining how the waggle before the snap disrupts coverage) and the way the three-downs and clock stoppage means that most games are still up for grabs in the waning minutes.

    I love the CFL.

  13. As long as the CFL does not jump back into the American market with a franchaise or two. Look after our own fan base . ie. Nova Scotia or Quebec City.

  14. I’m a huge CFL fan and would love to see the league gain interest and viewers in the US and beyond. I strongly recommend that the CFL and TSN recognize how much more exposure the CFL would get if you rolled out an online subscription model that does not link to cable, much like what the other pro leagues are doing. Then see the interest and dollars flow in!

  15. With only nine teams, you can watch all CFL games and gain an understanding of the entire league. (you have to live in Canada to do this). It’s impossible to do this with the NFL. I love the NFL, the best weekend of the year is wild card weekend. What the NFL,has over the CFL is the level of unpredictability. The NFL with it’s two leagues (six divisions) means not every team plays every team every year, so going to a live game means more. Talking to Americans the comments are, we get more fans to our high school games, I don’t like the motion in the back field, fields to big, end zones too deep. The NFL is a more defensive game. They need four downs. The NFL is a simpler game .

  16. Love the CFL…used to live in NY,and would visit my sister in Hamilton…TI-CAT’s fans,always embraced me,and couldn’t have been friendlier…go CFL,you have friends,here in Florida.

  17. honestly i could care less whether USA notices our football or not. for some reason (inferiority complex) we canadians bend over backwards hoping for USA validation, “oh do you really like our little league???” who cares. we don’t need american attention. there’s already too much USA in canada as it is. budweiser is the #1 selling beer in canada for goodness sake. enough.

    1. I hated it when I would travel from Ohio to Hamilton for a game and they changed their beer from Labatts to Bud. I had to pay import price for a beer that was local in Ohio. But I always loved the games and the fans.

  18. As an American born former high school and college football player and for the last 35 years a high school football coach; as well as an avid fan of the college and NFL game;
    I can say I really like the CFL game. The last 3 years I’ve followed it closely. I will say the differences from the US game are precisely what makes it attractive and interesting to me. I will watch CFL games on TV or computer frequently. I’ve watched the last 3 Grey Cup games live, not on replay. I have CFL hats and t-shirts that I will wear to work and people will ask: “What’s the deal with the CFL?” I tell them it’s different, fun to watch, and has many former college players playing there. You have a great game up there!

  19. I would like to see the NFL players play CFL football. I would also like to see the CFL adopt an NFL-style overtime, as opposed to the U.S. college football-style of no game clock, no kickoffs, no punts.

  20. I too have been a fan of the CFL since ESPN first started showing it in the early ’80s. I’ve been a B.C. Lions fan for years, have been to a number of games, including the 75th Grey Cup in 1987. Great game and I talk it up all the time. Every once in a while some comments on my Lions cap or shirt and it’s fun to meet a fellow fan here in Oregon (go Travis Lulay!).

  21. Americans invented football, of course we like the CFL. The problem has always been getting to see the games. They should work out a deal where we get at least one game per week.

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