I grew up about 60 miles south of the Canada-U.S. border and since I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s I've been a huge fan of the CFL. Those were the "before cable" days, and our rooftop antenna picked up a lot of Canadian TV. So our family watched many CFL games.
It also helped that a number of local athletes play then and now in the CFL. I'm so happy that the CFL and ESPN are increasing the number of broadcasts in America.
I grew up in London, Ontario where we received three Detroit stations, three Cleveland stations and three Erie stations with the basic twelve channel cable package in the mid-sixties. The Erie stations were so popular in London that many local merchants bought commercials on the Erie stations, much to the bewilderment of Erie residents I presume! "Huh?! Where's London? They think I'll drive all the way around the lake to buy a refrigerator?"
I have no facts, but I have seen numbers — I forget where — that listed CFL on ESPN as somewhere around 300,000 a game. That doesn't seem like a lot, but given that it's not consistently on the same channel, and that ESPN feels they can actually make money off it this year with a subscription service for roughly half the games, those numbers, if correct, are not all that bad.
But, I've said it before and I'll say it again, ESPN needs to crap or get off the pot. Put it on a channel and leave it there for at least 4 years so it can grow an audience. There is also zero marketing for the CFL (at least in California where I live), so it's not surprising that not many people around here even know it's possible to see the games. Interestingly though, Johnny Football seems to have piqued some interest.
The 300,000 figure would be at the very high end for CFL ESPN2 ratings. I went back and checked one of the TV ratings threads on this board and some sample numbers.
September 2017 weekend (after the NFL had started)
a Friday night game Hamilton @ BC - 182,000
a 4:00PM Sunday game (head to head with NFL) - Calgary @ Saskatchewan - 54,000
And this comparing some late July 2017 to July 2016 CFL ESPN2 ratings.
The week’s three “[b]Canadian Football League[/b]? games on ESPN2 each saw increases from the year-ago comparable telecasts. Ottawa-Toronto on Monday, July 24 (154,000 viewers) was up 4 percent (Montreal-Toronto on July 25, 2016: 148,000 viewers); Montreal-Winnipeg on Thursday, July 27 (235,000 viewers) rose an impressive 99 percent (Winnipeg-Edmonton on July 28, 2016: 127,000 viewers); and, BC-Edmonton on Friday, July 28 (142,000 viewers) grew 53 percent (BC-Calgary on July 29, 2016: 93,000 viewers).
I am a fan living in Florida. There are 3 sports bars close to my house. Each with a few dozen big screen TVs.
In July and August, at least half the screens have ESPN’s CFL game on the screen. The rest are usually Marlins or Rays or replays of college baseball.
These are football diehards, not CFL fans. Lots of “ah-ha’s” when they see a former SEC or ACC player on a CFL field. And hoots and hollers over great plays and what are considered weird rule differences. No team is favored over another.
Once the NFL and NCAA season get going, you’ll get loud groans if you can convince the bartender to switch just 1 screen to the CFL game.