What’s More Impressive? Canada’s NHL Passion vs America’s NFL Fervor

Last night my roommate told of the similarities between being in an American bar on an autumn Sunday afternoon and being in a Canadian bar for Hockey Night. Football has long overtaken baseball as the most popular sport in the United States, in a general sense1, and imagining Canada without hockey is like imagining 2014 without the Internet–life would be terrible without it.

Which is more impressive: Canada’s love for hockey, or America’s love for football?

Money

The most recent NHL deal for Canadian broadcast rights comes from Rogers Communications, which will pay $4.765 billion (U.S. dollars) over 12 years beginning with the 2014-2015 season.2 The most recent NFL deal with networks Fox, CBS, and NBC for American broadcast totals $27.9 billion over nine years, beginning in 2014.3 The Canadian-broadcast NHL deal averages $0.397 billion a season, while the American-broadcast NFL deal averages $3.1 billion a season. With 1,230 NHL regular season games and approximately 78 playoff games4, and 267 NFL regular season and playoff games, that averages to $303,582 per Canadian-broadcast NHL game and $11,610,487 per American-broadcast NFL game.

These figures are not perfectly accurate; there is inflation to consider, and the potential growth/decline of the Canadian/American dollar, as the Canadian deal is actually in Canadian dollars ($5.232 billion of them). But the contracts begin in the same year and are for similar lengths of time, and honestly no one knows too much about the potential currency changes a decade from now. Certainly, there is a lot more money in the NFL. However…

It’s All Relative

The 2010 U.S. census recorded 308,745,906 people living in the United States.5 The 2011 Canadian census recorded 33,476,688 people living in Canada.6 With only one year of separation, there is no need to get too technical. Canada’s population is about 11 percent of the United States’ population. Though more precise actual Canadian viewership ratings are hard to find, raw numbers are available.

Game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks, is the most watched NHL game in Canadian history, with 8.96 million Canadians tuning in.7 Super Bowl XLVI, between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants in 2012, was at the time the most watched NFL game in American history with 111.3 million American viewers.8 In 2011, 26.8 percent of Canada watched the effective NHL championship game; in 2012, 36 percent of the United States watched the Super Bowl. Point to the NFL.

Is football more popular in America than hockey in Canada? There are two other things to consider.

The 32 NFL teams all reside in the United States; the Buffalo Bills do play a game in Toronto every season, and there are a couple of games in London every year, but at the moment it is still a wholly American league. Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 23 reside in the states, leaving Canada with the other seven. Loving hockey as they do, and with Canadian players spread throughout the league, Canadians presumably still have some interest in the American teams, but it is not the same.

Quant Hockey has broken down the NHL’s various player nationalities for many years. Their data reveals that since the mid 1990s, the NHL has been a little more than 50 percent Canadian. Call it 50 percent, as the NFL is not 100% full of American players. In 2010, the most-watched, American-teams-only Stanley Cup Finals game drew 4.077 million Canadian viewers9, roughly 12% of the country. Yet doubling that to adjust for the significant non-Canadian portion of the league still only yields 24%, while the Super Bowl regularly attracts a third of the United States or more.

Those few Stanley Cup Finals games and Super Bowls are just that: few. Nonetheless it would hardly be surprising to discover that more Americans watch television, per capita or not, and certainly NFL games attract bigger crowds. But in addition to the context of population, there is a context of economy.

Those broadcast deals net the NHL $0.397 billion each year and the NFL $3.1 billion each year, from the Canadian and American television markets, respectively. In 2012, Canada’s gross domestic product totaled $1.821 trillion (U.S. dollars); America’s totaled $15.68 trillion. More or less, Canada’s NHL deal shakes out to 0.02 percent of its economy, which hardly seems like much. But the United States’ NFL deal amounts to 0.008 percent of the American economy. The NHL accounts for more of Canada’s economic pie than the NFL does of America’s, but hey–being American and all–our pie is much, much bigger (as, incidentally, are NFL players).

Bottom Line

The NFL’s popularity in the United States is more impressive than the NHL’s in Canada. The NFL’s numbers are absolutely superior, relatively comparable, and the NFL also competes with several other professional sports. Nonetheless, Canada’s love of hockey is probably more impressive, or at least more instinctual, than America’s passion for football. Call it a draw? But then, if a draw it is, Canada certainly takes it in overtime; the NFL’s post-regulation rules are ridiculous.


  1. The NFL draws higher attendance per game, and while there are only 16 in a team’s season, they still rake in the most in broadcast rights, the Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event, etc. 
  2.  Click here for source. 
  3.  Click here for source. 
  4. Assuming an average NHL playoff series length of 5.2 games, multiplied by the 15 playoff series every postseason. 
  5.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_United_States_Census 
  6.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_of_Canada 
  7.  Click here for source. 
  8.  Click here for source. Super Bowl XLVI’s viewership record withstood the Blackout Bowl featuring San Francisco and Baltimore in 2013 but was just slightly bested by Seattle and Denver this year. See an earlier post which details why that is not actually impressive, as the American television audience grows every year. 
  9.  Click here for source. 
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