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Opinion  

Survey: Soccer interest growing but still not a priority for most Canadian sports fans

Soccer has work to do here

There are still four matches left in what has been one of the strangest FIFA World Cups.

The selection of Qatar as host ultimately led to many changes, from the physical locations where beer could be sold to the months in which the soccer tournament would take place.

This year, and for the first time since 1986, Canadians had the opportunity to see the national team in action. In 2026, Canada will host the global event, along with the United States and Mexico. BC Place Stadium in Vancouver and an expanded BMO Field in Toronto will welcome teams and fans. With this in mind, Research Co. and Glacier Media looked at the current state of soccer fandom in Canada.

In our survey, just over two in five Canadians (41 per cent) say they do not really care for soccer – a proportion that rises to 50 per cent among both women and Canadians aged 55 and over. Canada may not reach the extraordinary heights of soccer fervour that are observed in other countries, but there is certainly room for growth.

In Canada, 15 per cent of residents describe themselves as soccer fans who truly enjoy watching the game. There are some regional nuances, with Ontario leading the way with 22 per cent, followed by British Columbia at 16 per cent, Alberta and Quebec at 13 per cent each, Atlantic Canada at eight per cent and Saskatchewan and Manitoba at seven per cent.

A FIFA World Cup in November and December, when people are working and getting ready for the holidays, made it tougher to build an audience around soccer in Canada. Only 14 per cent of Canadians say they are following Qatar 2022 “very closely,” while about one in four (24 per cent) are paying “moderate” attention to matches and developments. Men (20 per cent), Ontarians (also 20 per cent) and Canadians aged 18 to 34 (19 per cent) are more likely to be waking up early and taking time to follow the event.

Canada’s presence in the tournament certainly helped. More than a third of Canadians (35 per cent) say they watched at least some parts of the match Canada played against Belgium on Wednesday, November 23. The rating is the same (35 per cent) for Canada’s second game against Croatia on Sunday, November 27, but dropped to 29 per cent for the final contest against Morocco on Thursday, December 1, when Canada was already eliminated from the playoffs.

Big soccer fans were particularly keen on watching these matches, with more than three in four catching all or parts of the contests against Belgium (81 per cent), Croatia (80 per cent) and Morocco (76 per cent). But even some casual fans were enthralled, with more than a third catching the Belgium and Croatia matches (37 per cent each) and 26 per cent tuning in for the Morocco game.

In spite of Canada’s elimination after three losses in the World cup group stage – mirroring the performance in Mexico 1986 – the squad managed to establish a connection with the public. One in four Canadians (24 per cent) say they are more interested in Canada’s national team than before Qatar 2022, including 18 per cent of women, 32 per cent of moderate soccer fans and 30 per cent of casual soccer fans.

There are still many unresolved questions about the 2026 FIFA World Cup. There has not been a final decision on the format and the number of group matches, making it difficult to predict if Canada will play in Vancouver or Toronto. Previous FIFA experiences in North America suggest that the matches will take place in the summer and in the late morning early afternoon to ensure that European audiences can watch in the evening.

Aside from where and when Canada will play in 2026, other challenges lie ahead. Building momentum around a national team is easier when it works to earn its spot in the qualifying rounds, as Canada did for 2022. As a host country, Canada will have to find suitable teams to spar with in friendly matches. There will be no shortage of national squads willing to test their players in future World Cup venues, but Canada will compete with Mexico and the United States to secure rivals and, potentially, fill stadiums. This will not be easy in a world where leagues and clubs call the shots. Marketing a “friendly” is more complex than a match with meaningful consequences.

At this point, interest in soccer appears to be generational in Canada. Half of the country’s residents aged 55 and over do not care for the sport and may have difficulties becoming engaged, even if matches are played in the country. The Qatar 2022 experience, while dejecting for Canada in the final standings, provides an opportunity to explore how to make soccer more attractive to residents of all ages and regions. It would be very disappointing to co-host the FIFA World Cup in a country where two in five residents do not care about the sport. We will see where the numbers sit in three and a half years.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on December 6 and December 7, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.



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