Interest in NHL wanes while Blue Jays creating new followers, survey shows

Chris Zelkovich
Chris Zelkovich
CALGARY, AB - APRIL 7: The Calgary Flames salute the crowd after defeating the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 7, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

As a rule, a team's following generally increases with winning and declines with losing.

According to a new survey, that is the case with Canada's NHL teams and the Toronto Blue Jays. But the Toronto Raptors and Canada's Major League Soccer teams are not benefitting at all from success on the court and on the pitch.

The poll, completed by Project Canada Surveys, shows that NHL interest among Canadians has dropped from to 40 per cent who said they followed it ``very closely" or ``closely" as all seven Canadian-based teams failed to make the playoffs this year. That's down from the level of 46 per cent that has remained steady since the last lockout ended in 2013.

The poll of 1,500 Canadians was conducted by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby on April 1-2.

It also shows:

* Flagging interest in the NHL is most pronounced in Montreal and Vancouver, with fan bases in the other cities not noticeably affected by their teams' poor performance. This mirrors an Angus Reid poll showing that 54 per cent of those polled plan to watch less post-season action this year.

* Interest in Major League Baseball has risen dramatically from 35 to 49 per cent in Toronto thanks to the Blue Jays, but only 25 per cent  of Canadians follow the sport. "Defying the claim that the Jays are 'Canada’s Team,' the interest level in baseball in the rest of the country has not increased from what it was a year ago," Bibby noted.

* Despite their third straight NBA division championship, the Raptors have seen their following in Toronto drop from 29 to 28 per cent. Nationally, they've barely made a dent in the minds of Canadians, with interest static at 12 per cent.

* Interest in the Canadian Football League has dropped slightly, from 26 to 24 per cent, but remains ahead of the NFL (22 per cent), which  saw its following drop by one percentage point.

* Interest in the MLS remains stuck at the 2013 level of 9 per cent nationally. The Vancouver Whitecaps are drawing the most interest (18 per cent) in their home city, while Toronto and Montreal have a following of 13 per cent at home.

* Compared with the NFL, the CFL has similar numbers of fans under the age of 55,  but it has a greater following among adults 55 and older. NBA and MLS fans are disproportionately young, creating hope for more growth in the future.

* Not surprisingly, the CFL has its strongest following in the west (with a high of 47 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba) and weakest in the east (with only 9 per cent in Atlantic Canada, 19 per cent in Quebec and 20 per cent in Ontario.)

The survey's findings jibe with television ratings. Audiences for the NHL are down 16 per cent across the country this season while Blue Jays ratings are breaking records.