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How Popular Is Soccer In Canada? A Lot More Than You Might Think

Hockey might still be the national game in Canada, but soccer is firmly becoming one of the nation's most popular sports.

Most people would think of ice hockey as the most popular sport in Canada, and in a sense, you wouldn't be wrong. Hockey is among the most common Canadian stereotypes, along with maple syrup, Tim Hortons and those great Candian accents (oh yah?).

At the professional sports level, this assumption holds true as well. Canada has seven teams in the NHL versus a combined five teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and MLS.

How Popular Is Soccer In Canada?

But in terms of participation, soccer ranks well ahead of hockey. There are nearly one million registered soccer players in the country, per the latest report from Canada Soccer, versus just 606,000 registered hockey players in 2019-20 (the International Ice Hockey Federation reported 345,000 registered hockey players in Canada in 2021, a temporary drop likely caused by the pandemic). 

Compared to the United States, Canada has a quarter of the number of soccer players of the U.S. with one eighth of the population of its neighbor to the south, meaning that Canadians play soccer at twice the rate as Americans do.

Soccer is also the most popular team sport among Canadian youth according to a 2014 survey by the Canadian Youth Sports Report. The study found 767,000 youth soccer players in Canada, making it the most popular sport among boys and the third-most-popular among girls (technically swimming was the most popular sport with 1.1 million participants, but the stats for swimming participation included swimming lessons, which I have a tough time defining as a sport).

In terms of attendance, soccer stacks up strongly against other sports in Canada:

Average Attendance of Canadian Professional Sports Teams (Per Game)

MLS ('19) Canadian MNT ('21) NHL ('19) NHL ('21) CFL ('19) CFL ('21) NBA ('21) MLB ('19)
19,925 29,877 17,860 14,870 22,920 19,058 18,333 21,607

(A few notes on this chart: Canadian MLS teams only played 17 of 51 home games with fans in 2021 while the Toronto Blue Jays played around two-thirds of their 2021 home games in Dunedin, Florida, making attendances for these leagues in 2021 essentially meaningless. CFL is Canadian Football, which is what would happen if you asked someone to explain NFL rules after watching their first game ever.)

Canada's MLS teams rank middle of the pack in terms of attendance, while the men's national team had the highest attendance of any sports team in Canada in 2021.

The only area where soccer pales in comparison is viewership. 

A 2017 survey by Canadian sports channel SportsNet found that soccer is the fourth most popular among Canadians when they were asked what their most-watched sport was. Just seven percent of respondents chose soccer, trailing hockey (40 percent), football (10 percent) and baseball (eight percent).

When broken down by generation, soccer ranked second among Millenials and third among Gen X.

More in-depth viewership stats are a bit trickier to find, but an estimated 1.15 million Canadians tuned in to watch their side's World Cup qualifying victory over Mexico in November 2021 — the largest viewership on record for a live soccer broadcast of a Canadian match.

But perhaps the most notable sign of soccer's increasing popularity in Canada came on the women's side of the game.

A total of 4.4 million people watched Canada defeat Sweden in the women's gold medal game during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — the most-watched event in Canada across the entire competition.

How Popular Is Soccer In Canada

Canada players celebrate their win over Sweden in the gold-medal match at the 2020 Olympics. Photo: Getty Images.

Culturally, hockey might still be the most important sport in Canada, but soccer's growing presence up north is becoming increasingly strong, and I would even argue that it is the second-most popular sport in the country.

The USMNT travels to Hamilton to face the Canucks on Sunday, Jan. 30, at what should be a sold-out Tim Hortons Field.

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