Canada is sports-mad, perhaps to an even greater extent than its superpower neighbor to the south. The scenes of celebration expressed in the streets of Toronto when the Raptors won the NBA title in 2019 was a joy to behold. But that game’s TV audience of 15.9 million Canadians (44% of the country’s population) was a truer indicator of just how much this country loves its sports.
But what are the most popular sports in Canada? We delved into the numbers to find out. To build our list, we drew on physical attendance records, TV audience figures, and anonymized data provided by the several of the most-used sports betting sites in Canada.
Hockey is Canada’s official winter sport. Although no Canuck team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens have won it the most times, with 24 trophies under their belt. The country currently has 7 teams in the NHL, with the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs placing 2nd and 4th respectively in last season’s attendance figures. Hockey Night in Canada is one of the most-watched shows on TV, although ratings have dropped a little since the firing of Don Cherry.
Lacrosse is Canada’s official summer sport and has a unique place in Canadian society and history. The game was played by First Nations peoples long before the arrival of Europeans, with the first documented report of a lacrosse game dating from 1637. These days, both indoor and outdoor variants of lacrosse draw respectable crowds. In fact, the best attended team in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) in 2019 was none other than Toronto Rock, with an average crowd of almost 10,000.
Canada’s large, soccer-mad immigrant population, the success of Toronto FC in the MLS, plus Alphonso Davies’s integral role in Bayern Munich’s team has seen this sport become a firm favourite in recent years. What’s more, Canada’s women’s team is ranked No. 7 in the world, and the sport is the most popular in the country when it comes to participation rate. What could really give soccer in Canada another huge boost would be qualification for the Men’s World Cup in Qatar in 2022. Recent proposed changes to qualification rules would seem to increase the odds of this happening, and if they make it, we can expect to see soccer become even more popular than it already is – just in time for 2026, when the country will be co-hosts of the tournament.
Football fans in Canada have two varieties to choose from. The domestic version, with 9 CFL teams competing for the Grey Cup at the end of November, reaches peak viewer figures of 4 million. That’s pretty impressive. But the NFL Superbowl is an even bigger draw, with an estimated 51% of the population tuning in at some point to the 2020 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. With the dominance of the NFL over the CFL, it’s hard to see the Canadian version taking top spot in the rankings any time soon.
The Toronto Raptor’s 2019 NBA Championship win clearly boosted the popularity of basketball north of the border, with the team now regularly placing 4th for overall attendance in the league. It’s perhaps a surprise that it took so long for a Canadian team to prevail over the rest of North America, given that the inventor of the sport – James Naismith – hailed from Ontario. Moreover, basketball is clearly a huge grassroots Canadian sport, with the country now supplying no less than 13 players on NBA rosters last season.
As we can see, Canada love its sports, and it’s interesting that it seems to have a wider taste for different sports than the US does. We are fascinated to see how the men’s soccer team performs in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. If they make it, we believe soccer can knock hockey and lacrosse off their respective perches by the end of this decade. And what about basketball? The Toronto Raptors are building into the new powerhouse of the game, and if they can create a lasting dynasty, that too bodes well for basketball to become the next national sport of Canada.