Despite the announcement that the Canadian Premier League had been approved by the Canadian Soccer Association and had begun in earnest to accept clubs into the fold, very little is known about the league aside from rumours and occasional interviews with league officials. Part of the reason for this may be that the league is still getting its ducks in a row, or perhaps that they see the careful release of information as crucial to the way the new league will be perceived by mainstream sports fans. Regardless, this gap in information has left fans ruminating on minutiae and endless speculation. After all, with so few facts available, fans are free to create an idealized league in their mind and hope to see it come to fruition.
So, instead of writing another opinion piece on what we think the league should look like, we here at NSXI wanted to see what our readers thought. So we asked: Who is following this story? What are your hopes and expectations for the league? How interested are you?
What did we do?
In brief, links to this survey were distributed online where people interested in domestic Canadian soccer tend to congregate, such as subreddits focused on Canadian soccer and MLS, the Voyageurs Facebook group and forum, Twitter, a CFL fan forum, and the various websites and twitter pages of the supporters groups for the three Canadian MLS franchises.
The survey was left open for 30 days, and was only open to be answered once per device. Unique links were created to and distributed to each source, in order to track where our responses were coming from. Of 757 total responses, 160 were from links distributed to MLS supporter group forums, 171 came from the Voyageurs forum and Facebook group, 178 came from Reddit, 8 came from CFL forums, and 240 came from twitter.
Now, no one should be under the impression that this is a scientifically rigorous survey. Online polls are inherently fraught with bias, most notably selection bias, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt and as a bit of fun for those following the league. Still, efforts were made to collect voices from the all of the different “camps” in Canadian soccer, and it is not unreasonable to draw some cautious conclusions from the data, as long as we recognize that this might not show the whole picture.
Who are ya?
A. Which market do you live in/live close enough to drive to games?
Aside from a few understandable situations, such as Hamilton being over represented and Alberta looking under represented, the sample would appear to represent Canadian soccer fans coast to coast in proportion to each market’s population fairly well. Certain markets with ownership that is publicly acknowledging the project, such as Hamilton, have been able to consolidate a disproportionately large core of dedicated fans. I have little doubt that this survey would have a much stronger presence from Saskatchewan had it not closed prior to their team’s meet and greet.
*As a disclaimer, Vancouver was erroneously added as an option late. Any subgroup analysis for the BC market will consider Burnaby, Surrey, and Vancouver as one.
B. What is your age?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that an online poll spread primarily via Twitter, Facebook, and online messaging boards is skewed towards the under 40 crowd. The numbers in this sample may even indicate that the current CPL fanbase is slightly older than one might anticipate, given available data from the Pew Research Center on the demographics of Twitter that showed a somewhat larger skew towards younger demographics than the one seen in our sample. However, as Sportsnet’s contribution to The Canada Project showed that soccer is the second most common primary sport among Canadian millennials, it is clear that this demographic may make or break the Canadian Premier League.
That being said, this information is more useful for breaking down how different age groups answered later questions than as a stand-alone.
C. What leagues do you follow?
Okay, this is an ugly chart, but including the full distribution of answers allows us to see a little bit of nuance in these answers. Major League Soccer and the English Premier League reign supreme among respondents, with weighted averages of 4.52 and 3.91 respectively (assigning 1 to “Not at all” and 6 to “I consider myself a hardcore fan”), with the NHL a close third at 3.44.
While it isn’t exactly a shocking revelation to see that most respondents follow several soccer leagues and usually follow soccer over other sports (with the frequent exception of hockey), a couple useful points can be pulled from this. First, while it might seem like a bad thing to have limited crossover in interest with established local sports, it can be argued that soccer represents an untapped and neglected market in many cities.
For example, let’s look at respondents from Hamilton.
Nearly 70% of Hamiltonian respondents do not follow the CFL regularly. For an ownership group like the Hamilton TiCats, it is a small indicator that they won’t be cannibalizing too many sales.
A second tidbit to draw from the data is the low levels of engagement with Division II and developmental leagues. While this can be partially explained by the fragmentation of the pro soccer scene in Canada (how many Montrealers are tuning into NASL when their only Canadian team is FC Edmonton?), it serves a cautionary tale for the way CPL positions itself in its marketing.
D. How did you hear about the Canadian Premier League?
Perhaps it is unsurprising that people answering an online survey first heard about CPL online, but it does go to show that the mainstream media has quite a lot of catch-up work to do on this story. With over half of respondents saying that they heard of CPL by social media or word of mouth, it is clear that support for the league is very much in its early grassroots stage.
The majority of “other” responses involved specific individuals, such as the Two Solitudes podcast co-hosts Duane Rollins and Kevin Laramée, Red Card host Anthony Totera, Hamilton Spectator reporter Steve Milton, Facebook friends, or personal connections within the soccer community.
What do you want see in CPL?
A. What platform would you prefer to watch games, if possible?
Following a recent Paul Beirne interview on the Vocal Minority Podcast, in which it was indicated that the league is taking a hard look at streaming options as the way of the future, some fans may finding the league heading down a less preferable path. Obviously, in an ideal world, the league would be able to immediately secure a large TV contract to support the league, but with rapidly declining cable subscriptions, it may be unrealistic to hope that major networks take the risk on an unproven product instead of consolidating what they have.
But, if millennials (and their children – remember that the oldest millennial is now 37) prefer streaming, maybe hitching the wagon to a declining distribution method is not in the league’s favour at all, right? With options like DAZN bringing the ability to watch live sports with a Netflix-like interface to Canada, surely they would all prefer streaming.
Well, maybe not. Without breaking out the ANOVA software, it is pretty clear that the tastes of the under 40 crowd in our sample don’t differ substantially from the overall sample. Neither did the under 30 crowd. And the under 20 crowd? Over 80% preferred television over streaming, substantially more than the rest of the sample.
How do I explain that? Frankly, I don’t know. It is quite possible that the respondents chose the option they thought would be best for the league rather than what they would personally prefer, but I’ll leave this debate up to the comments section.
Lastly, almost all “Other” answers indicated that they either did not have a preference, or that they would like to see a combination of TV and streaming options.
B. What level of support do you anticipate participating in?
Depending on your expectations, this is either a fantastic amount of support for a league that doesn’t yet exist, or a disappointing response from a sample aiming to reflect the hardcore fans of domestic Canadian soccer. To better elucidate that, it is useful to look at our subgroups. While there’s many subgroups we could focus on, for the sake of brevity we will look at those within current MLS markets (Toronto, Montreal, lower mainland BC*), those in rumoured/confirmed CPL markets (Hamilton, Winnipeg, Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Regina/Saskatoon, lower mainland BC*, Calgary, and Victoria), and those outside either category.
I think it comes as a relief to anyone interested in the league’s success that the vast majority of those actually living in rumoured markets generally want to attend in person. Additionally, it appears that a fair number of those within MLS markets are interested in CPL, and those outside either may be split between already be anticipating needing to watch from afar and hoping a CPL team eventually arrives.
Lastly, if only to stir the pot, let’s see how those what those responded from MLS supporter’s groups such as the Red Patch Boys, U-Sector, Curva Collective, and those frequenting Impactsoccer.com replied.
While we must again acknowledge the selection bias inherent to this survey, these are members of the groups that are the most dedicated fans to the MLS franchises you will find. No one can say they are more committed to – and relied upon – than the nutcases at the end of stadium who dedicate their weekends to paint massive banners and practice chants. It has been previously implied by Bill Manning, Toronto FC president, that MLS fans would be uninterested in a CPL franchise next door. I think this survey ought to give at least a small reason to question that assumption.
C. What level of play do you see as adequate?
This is a topic that has been – and will be – debated constantly since the earliest whispers that this league may come about. The large majority of the sample are happy with the league being below MLS in terms of quality, but the sticking point seems to largely hinge on how much of a drop they would be willing to see.
The obvious question then becomes, who wants what? For years MLS has struggled to attract fans of large European leagues, the reasons often given for this are the league’s lower quality and/or a “plastic” culture. Will CPL have the same struggles? Will we, in turn, have “MLS-snobs” who consider CPL below them?
While the differences are slight, those who either consider MLS their main sport or consider themselves “hardcore” MLS fans actually have somewhat lower expectations of the league than the rest of the sample, while those who fit the same category for a Big 4 league (EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Seria A) have slightly higher. The differences are not overly substantial, and I would actually be tempted to believe they are more an effect of each group’s perception of MLS/NASL/USL quality than their actual hopes for CPL.
D. If you are currently an MLS fan, how would a CPL team in your market affect your fandom?
I’m tempted to avoid reading too much into this result. The vast majority of people who answered “I don’t anticipate any changes” also reported that they would be get season tickets or flex tickets…clearly indicating that something would change. As is, I will leave readers to make their own interpretation of this chart.
“Other” responses primarily relayed uncertain answers or restatements that they were not MLS fans.
**Correction** This chart is displaying poorly. For clarification, 26.21% stated that they would support both teams equally, 10.48% would give all of their support to their CPL team and consider their old MLS team a rival, and 6.34% said “Other.”
E. How important are the following factors to your fandom?
Another ugly chart, but an interesting one. Almost all categories had similar weighted averages between “of moderate importance” and “of high importance”, with the exception of bringing big name players to the league, but after looking through the ~750 individual responses to this answer it is clear that most people value one or two items on this list far above others.
With priorities all over the map, one has to wonder if the league can pull off all of these, or if they will have to focus on doing some of these very well.
F. If you could describe what a good fan experience is in one word, what would it be?
This is probably my favourite question on this list. It gives me a lot of hope to see that atmosphere, passion, and community are among the most valuable experiences Canadian soccer fans have had had and hope to bring to CPL. If the dozen or so CPL supporters groups that have popped up in the last year are any indication, I think we are on our way.
Anything other results you would like to see? Curious to see how Torontonians over 60 who only watch EPL answered? While subgroup analysis gets a bit tedious in an article format, I am happy to fill in the blanks for any specific questions. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on twitter.
Finally, I had received some feedback regarding my failure to include some questions that had to be asked. In light of that, I’ll be putting together a short follow-up survey shortly. Keep an eye out for it on twitter, and post a comment if there are any questions you would like to see included.
Thanks for reading!