I am not Canadian, but Canada is one of my favourite countries by far! Soccer is also my favourite Sport! That’s why, I was thinking the other day on whether the sport is actually popular in Canada or not …
… I’ve made a ton of research to address this topic and decided to put together this short article!
Hope you’ll find it useful!
So, is Soccer popular in Canada?
Although not regarded as one of the traditional main sports in there, soccer is actually popular and growing in the country.
And, in terms of participation and the numbers playing it, soccer actually leads the way, with more than 2.7 million people playing it regularly at more than 1450 clubs in the 12 different regions in Canada.
Many parents prefer their children to play soccer than a sport like ice hockey, in part on cost grounds. It costs less than CAD $700 a year to pay for a child’s soccer equipment, lessons, league, and ground fees compared to the annual cost of CAD $1,200 a year needed to support somebody who wants to follow ice hockey.
That also makes it much more accessible to people from lower income backgrounds!
Soccer also is seen as fun and open to children of all ages, sexes, and levels of ability. That is compared to traditional Canadian sports like ice hockey, again, or lacrosse, which are regarded as ultra-competitive and where the syndrome of pushy parents is not unknown.
It is also regarded as safer – there is less likelihood of a child getting hurt than if they play one of the “collision” sports.
Soccer is fast-growing as a spectator sport as well, in part due to the waves of immigrants into the country, who have brought their love of soccer with them.
At the same time, advances in technology and the proliferation of satellite broadcasters means that the average Canadian has access to more soccer on television than ever before, not just from local leagues but also from across Europe and South America.
Now all the major European teams will have Canadian branches of supporters’ clubs.
Is Soccer growing actually in Canada?
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Already popular in terms of the numbers playing, there is also growing interest in the sport at a professional level…
… Indeed, all three of the country’s three MLS teams have reported growing attendances at games, with Vancouver Whitecaps, the best supported of the three, recording an increase in annual attendance between 2011 and 2018 of 5% a year.
That growing success and interest in the game convinced the organisers of the sport that the time was right to launch their own top league, and an eight-team CPL (Canada Premier League) was launched in 2019.
A major contributory factor to the game’s growth has been the strength of women’s soccer in Canada. The country hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and all the games were well attended. More than 54,000 people watched the hosts play England kin the quarter-finals.
Helping the rise is the fact that Canada is now starting to produce its own new generation of soccer stars. Alphonso Davies may only be 19, but he is already a Champions League winner and has won league and cup titles with his club side Bayern Munich. He is also a household name in his homeland.
He is not the only one. Already Ballou Tabla is beginning to make a name for himself with Barcelona, and their example is bound to make more youngsters want to follow in their footsteps.
Is Soccer more popular than hockey in there?
In terms of armchair fans, ice hockey is the number one sport in Canada, particularly the NHL (National Hockey League) where there are seven competing Canadian teams, with the Edmonton Oilers, the Toronto Maple Leaf’s, and the Calgary Flames amongst the best known.
The 2018 NHL play-offs were watched by 68% of the Canadian population.
There is also the men’s national team which has won eight Winter Olympic gold medals, more than any other nation, and which always attracts millions of viewers whenever they play a match.
TV viewership for soccer is growing in the country, but it cannot compete with those sorts of numbers yet.
However, where soccer does have the edge is in numbers playing the sport. In the 2018/2019 season there were 621,000 registered hockey players in Canada. That compares to the 2.7 million who play soccer on a regular basis.
When did Soccer start in Canada – A Quick Glance?
The earliest recorded example of a soccer game in Canada took place in 1859 between a team of Irishmen and St. George’s Society.
Games were played in New Westminster in 1862 and 1865 in Victoria, and in 1877, the Dominion Football Association became the first to be formed anywhere in the world outside the homeland of the game, the British Isles.
Two years later the first local book about the game was published.
The game slowly spread across the provinces, each of whom began to form their local associations – the Western Football Association in 1880, Manitoba in 1896m Ontario in 1901, and Saskatchewan in 1905.
Five years later the first professional game was played between the Callies and Rovers.
Has Canada ever won any Competitions?
The Canadian men’s team do not have a great record of success in global competitions, only reaching the World Cup finals once in 1986, when they went out at the group stage.
They have also only reached the Olympics twice in the modern era, in 1976 on home soil, and again in 1984, although they were gold medal winners in 1904.
They have had better luck at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, winning it twice in 1984 and 2000, and twice being semi-finalists.
The women’s team, by contrast, have always enjoyed more success on the global stage than their male equivalents.
They have reached the World Cup finals every year since 1995, with their best result coming in 2015 when, as hosts, they reached the quarter-finals.
They were also bronze medallists at both the London and the Rio Olympics.
In addition, they won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games in 2011, and not only have won the CONCACAF Championship twice, but also been runners-up on four separate occasions.
How much does a Soccer player make in Canada?
There is no standard average salary – the amounts earned vary widely based on ability, the level at which they play, and also where in the football pyramid their teams sit.
In 2017 Sebastian Govinco, who is actually Italian, but played for MLS winners Toronto that year, drew an estimated salary of CAD $7.12 million, but he was amongst the highest paid players in the league that year.
Their captain Michael Bradley, who was captain of the US men’s national team at the time, earned CAD $6.5 million, whilst forward Jozy Altidore took home CAD $4.8 million that year.
The salaries in the other two MLS teams were more modest – Fredy Montero was the top-earner at Vancouver with a salary of CAD 1.4 million, whilst at Montreal, Matteo Mancuso led the way with a CAD 700,000 salary.
The highest earners at the Ottawa Fury, who play in the second tier of professional soccer in the US are estimated to receive salaries in the high five-figures a year.
At this stage mention should also be made of probably the best-known Canadian player in the world right now, Alphonso Davies, the former Whitecaps player who moved to Bayern Munich in 2018.
In April this year, he agreed a two year extension to his existing contract with the Champions League winners which will keep him at Munich until 2014 and which is estimated to be worth £10 million a year for the 19-year old.
Why do Canadian teams play in the MLS?
There are currently three Canadian teams that play in the MLS – Toronto FC, Montreal Impact (now managed by former Arsenal great Thierry Henry), and Vancouver Whitecaps.
Toronto (who have won the MLS Cup in 2017 and have twice been beaten finalists) were the first to join the league in 2007, followed by the Whitecaps in 2011, and Montreal a year later.
The reason that they joined a league in “another country” is because, at the time, there was no professional league available in Canada for them to join.
The Canadian Premier League was only launched in 2019, and, whilst it may eventually grow, does not yet offer the same level of competition that the three teams regularly face in the MLS.
Do they say Soccer in Canada?
Although often thought of as an Americanism, the term soccer originated in England in the late 19th century and was used to distinguish somebody who played Association Football from rugby, which was also called football at the time.
Generally, soccer is used where there is already an existing game called football, like in the US or Australia.
Canada though was different. The game was known as football in the early years and the term soccer only became common when the game of Canadian football – similar in concept if not the rules to American football – became popular.
The final of their main competition, the Grey Cup, attracts a huge television audience in the country – typically 40% of the population will watch at least part of the match.
Of course, amongst immigrants and many first-generation Canadians, the game is still known as football.
By the way, you can learn how soccer has grown in popularity in the last few years! You will find this article really helpful!
Final Thoughts: How does the future look like?
For soccer, the future is bright, not least because the country will be one of the co-hosts, along with the USA and Mexico, of the 2026 World Cup.
Traditionally the men’s team in Canada has not enjoyed the same level of success as the women. They have only qualified for the World Cup finals once, in 1986, and only made the Olympics twice.
However, all that will change in five years’ time, and the sport will undoubtedly get the boost in popularity traditionally enjoyed by all World Cup hosts.
Nor is that likely to be a flash in the pan.
All the fundamentals are in place for the game to experience sustained growth into the future.
Already the most popular sport in terms of numbers playing the game, it is especially strong among children, both boys and girls. Viewing figures both for local matches and overseas leagues continue to rise, and the role of immigration cannot be ignored.
Canada has practiced an open-door policy with regard to immigration in recent years, and many of the new Canadian citizens have brought their level of soccer with them.
Lastly, I highly invite you to learn about the popularity of soccer in Europe! I think you will find this article really useful!