Dr. Reginald Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, conducted online surveys in Canada and the U.S. last February in partnership with Vision Critical. The Canadian poll found the league's top demographic domestically was 55 and over, with 33 per cent of respondents saying they followed it closely.
In the U.S. survey, 22 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 said they followed the CFL, compared to seven per cent in the 35-to-54 category and three per cent for those 55 and over.
"The thing that's the eye-catcher is CFL interest among people in the U.S. under the age of 35," Bibby said. "What I wanted to do initially was just look at the whole idea that Americans tend to be far more caught up in following sports than Canadians are.
"I obviously wanted to include the CFL but I did that with a lot of apprehension simply because I thought this was going to be masochistic and the U.S. figures were going to be terrible for the CFL."
Of the 4,022 Canadians surveyed, 26 per cent said they followed the CFL, second only to the NHL (46 per cent) and slightly ahead of the NFL (23 per cent) and Major League Baseball (22 per cent). That figure dropped to 10 per cent in the U.S., leaving the league tied with curling for last among 17 listed sports.
The U.S. survey suggests that the CFL is most popular with those in the 18-to-34 demographic who also follow NCAA football, with 45 per cent saying they followed the league.
Not surprisingly, the NFL rules in the U.S., ranking first among the 4,079 Americans surveyed at 53 per cent. Baseball was next at 40 per cent, followed by NCAA football (37), NBA (33) and NCAA basketball (32). The NHL was tied with NASCAR for sixth with 24 per cent or respondents saying they follow hockey.
Bibby said a big reason for CFL interest in the U.S. is that fans can easily follow NCAA stars playing in Canada online.
"Before, people in the U.S. really wouldn't have a clue about what happened to players in their area once their college careers were over," he said. "The net has dramatically changed all that . . . I think it's dramatic news to find there's this opportunity and people seem to be taking advantage of it.
"These findings show the CFL continues to know considerable vitality. Given the Internet is giving it unprecedented visibility, the league is now on the verge of an unexpected and extraordinary opportunity to increase its brand exposure beyond Canada — beginning with the U.S."
Predictably, CFL interest in Canada varies by province. Saskatchewan (64 per cent) boasts the highest ahead of Manitoba (51 per cent) and Alberta (42 per cent). B.C. was fourth (29 per cent) followed by Ontario and Quebec (both 21 per cent). Atlantic Canada, which doesn't have a league franchise, was the lowest at 14 per cent.
In fact, the survey shows that football in Saskatchewan is more popular than the NHL (38 per cent) and curling (36 per cent).
According to the survey, the CFL's best demographic is men 55 and over, with 47 per cent of respondents saying they follow the league. That drops to 39 per cent for males those between the ages of 35 and 54 and to 26 per cent for those at 18 to 34.
The respondents for each survey were selected from separate panels of 150,000 in Canada and the U.S.
The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error as they are not a random sample and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.