Back in 2018, a youth sports survey by Solutions Research Group showed that soccer is now the most popular participatory team sport in Canada. It is played by 767,000 under-17s, compared with ice hockey, where the number stands at 531,000. Three years on, soccer’s popularity continues to grow, both at grass roots level and as a spectator sport among Canadian fans.
A global sport
It is worth remembering that outside North America, soccer’s position at the top is something that is taken for granted. It is a sport that is truly global. Events like the FIFA World Cup attract viewing figures in the billions, while the European leagues that represent the pinnacle of the game are followed worldwide. Fans can not only watch but they can even bet on Premier League odds with Betsson. Likewise, the belated European Cup that will now take place in 2021 will attract viewers and punters from North America in record numbers.
That grass roots enthusiasm has made it easier for professional soccer within Canada to develop and mature. The official launch of the Canadian Premier League in 2019 represented a giant evolutionary step in raising both the profile of Canadian soccer and the quality.
Then, of course, we have the Montreal Impact among three Canadian clubs that participate in Major League Soccer (MLS). Naturally, the past year has represented an outlier, but up until then, the year-on-year attendance figures demonstrate the strength of the fanbase and the depth of support for Canadian soccer. When Montreal joined the league in 2012, average attendance stood at 18,000. Six years later, it had increased to 22,000.
The local rivalry between the Impact and Toronto FC has sparked public imagination in a way that echoes some of the great rivalries in the English Premier League. This was exemplified in the classic tussle for the Eastern Conference Championship in 2016, when more than 61,000 showed up at Saputo Stadium. The 36,000 turnout for the return leg in Toronto seems modest by comparison, but it also represented a record attendance for BMO Field. The battle will be remembered as one of the great playoffs in MLS history, and it was a Canada-only affair.
Soccer for all
One of the most exciting things about soccer’s rise up the sporting ranks in Canada is that it does not exclude 50 percent of the population. Canadian Women’s soccer is stronger on the international stage than the men’s game, and the team has participated in every World Cup, including a run to the quarter finals as the tournament hosts in 2015.
There could be no better way to inspire support for and participation in women’s soccer. It provided the perfect launchpad for the soaring popularity of the sport among both sexes and all ages that we see today. It also provides some extra impetus for the men to show that they too can become a powerhouse on the international stage.