Analyzing the CFL Fan Base

cfl affinio fan base

The CFL officially kicked off their 60th season on June 22nd, but the coming out party happened back on May 5th when the league launched a new marketing campaign. “Bring It In” is a call for inclusiveness that aims to build on momentum the CFL has established with two important demographics – women and millennials.

According to brand analytics firm IMI International, the number of millennials (18-34 year olds) identifying as CFL fans jumped 41 to 46 per cent as of January 2017, the largest jump among North American pro leagues. In addition, CFL TV ratings among 18-49 year olds increased 8 per cent in 2016 compared to the previous year, with a 7 per cent increase in viewership among women.

These are good signs when it comes to growing the league’s fan base. But do these trends correlate with what’s happening on social media? We were curious. So with help from our friends at Affinio, we analyzed the CFL’s fan base on Twitter. Here are some of the key insights we discovered.

cfl affinio

Millennials flock to @CFL

Millennials are social media power users and they follow @CFL in a big way. 57.9% of the league’s followers are between the ages of 18-34, and 83.6% are between the ages of 18-44. The CFL has made great strides recently to accommodate this segment of active users, announcing live streaming deals with Yare Media and Twitter Canada.

57.9% of @CFL followers are between the ages of 18-34.

Student discount

While only 9.3% of CFL followers are between the ages of 18-24, it is likely that the CFL is connecting with this demographic more frequently in emerging channels such as Instagram and Snapchat. Nevertheless, “Students” emerged as a segment in the analysis. This could be thanks to the popularity of university football across the country, and efforts by most CFL teams to cater to college students. For example, the Edmonton Eskimos have a College Corner where they offer discounted tickets to student attending post secondary.

More female football fans south of the border

35.7% of CFL followers are female which, to put it in perspective, is less than the NFL (45.2%) by a pretty significant margin. So while the CFL is attracting more female viewers year-over-year, they have more catching up to do. That said, this number is not overly surprising given the NFL is more ingrained in American pop culture than the CFL is here in Canada. For example, non-CFL fans likely have no idea who Anthony Calvillo (no disrespect, Anthony!), but it’s a safe bet that non-NFL fans have heard of Tom Brady (and non-CFL fans for that matter).

35.7% @CFL followers are female which is less than @NFL (45.2%).

Roughrider Nation

Saskatchewanians love their Roughriders as indicated by the cluster of “Saskatchewan Roughriders Fans”, but it’s not just the boys. “Saskatchewan Females” was the only CFL city specific female dominated segment to appear in the analysis. This suggests that the Roughriders over index when it comes to female fans compared to other CFL teams, and speaks to the widespread popularity of the team in the province.

Mom knows best

“Female Sports Fans” was the largest female dominated segment to appear in the analysis and the top bio keyword for this group was “mom”. This suggests that the CFL is appealing to families looking for a fun day out, but also represents an opportunity for the CFL to use moms as a way to connect with daughters. Their interests include Air Canada, WestJet, Adele, Taylor Swift, and JLo, so maybe we’ll see a Mother’s Day concert trip promo in the CFL’s future.

cfl moms
“Female Sports Fans” interests include Air Canada, WestJet, Adele, Taylor Swift, and JLo.


Oh Canada!

Unlike the Raptors (International Basketball Fans, South American), Blue Jays (Latin America Fans), and TFC (Premier League Fans, Worldwide TFC Fans), the analysis suggests that CFL fans primarily live within the Canadian borders.

Clusters of international fans follow the Toronto Raptors.

Overall, looking at the CFL’s 225,000 followers, we see a lot of very similar, and interconnected segments. Male or female, Gen X or millennial, there’s a lot of shared interests among CFL fans. But with the CFL ramping up efforts to attract new fans to the sport and league with #BringItIn, the emergence of new interest groups might be just around the corner.

Adam Puddicombe

Adam Puddicombe is a digital marketing professional who, by day, works in the ad agency world, and by night, covers the intersection of Canadian sports, media, and technology. Adam holds a degree in commerce, with a focus in marketing, and previously worked for Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! and the St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL. Follow him on Twitter @adampuddicombe.