The Curious Case of CFL Sunday Games

cfl sunday games

CFL Sunday games have a curious role in Canada. They just do not belong in the Great White North. South of the border, Sunday and football is synonymous, but in Canada, football is for any other day of the weekend. In past years, the CFL scheduled many Sunday games, even conflicting with NFL games. The league is slowly starting to schedule less games on Sundays, which is a positive if Canadians do not want CFL Sunday games.

The Curious Case of CFL Sunday Games

Face it: the CFL will always play second-fiddle to the NFL. There is no denying that. The NFL is a superior league, no matter what some die-hard CFL fans say. Maybe fans prefer the Canadian game because its unique set of rules and the pace to it. But that does not mean the talent level or overall game appeal is greater than that in the United States of America.

The NFL has also done a fantastic job marketing its game on a global level. Fans across the world tune in to catch their favourite team play on Sundays – including Canadians. Football fans across Canada have access to American football from 1 p.m. until almost midnight when the Sunday night game ends. Many football fans across the nation are both CFL and NFL fans, and ideally would have the opportunity to watch the two leagues on separate days.

However, when there’s CFL Sunday games, fans turn their attention to the NFL. Viewers take a major dip for CFL games played on Sundays.

Thanks to Chris Zelkovich and his Great Canadian Ratings Reports on Yahoo SportsLast Word on Canadian Football has easy access to viewer ratings for NFL and CFL games.

A prime example against CFL Sunday games is a Sunday match-up between the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes two years ago. They had played a Saturday night contest a few weeks prior, drawing 591,000 viewers. On Sunday, November 2nd, they battled it out with playoff implications on the line in the penultimate week of the regular season. A mere 463,000 viewers tuned in, and the CFL lost over 125,000 viewers all because the game started at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. The three afternoon NFL games on CTV  that day had 532,000 people watch.

The drop in viewers from the Saturday to Sunday games might attribute to the fact that it was the Argos and Als playing. They aren’t exactly fan-favourites in their big-city home. For a team like the Saskatchewan Roughriders, ratings aren’t an issue… Or are they?

Two years ago, the Riders hosted the Edmonton Eskimos in a Sunday game at 4 p.m. EDT. It was one of the most-watched sports games across the country that week, with 732,000 fans watching. The Riders often draw the biggest audiences in front of the television.

However, last season, the Riders travelled to Montreal for a matinee Sunday game, and 394,000 viewers watched. A big drop from 2014, and even less viewers than the Argos-Alouettes Sunday game two years prior. The NFL games at the same time drew 731,000 fans. Goes to show that fans do want to turn to the NFL. Even Riders fans.

From 2011 to 2013, the CFL scheduled 10 Sunday regular season games, and six of them were after Labour Day (seven in 2011). That’s a small amount, and Sunday games represented 13.7% of the entire schedule.

However, in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, CFL Sunday games increased to 12 and 13 regular season games respectively. Seven Sunday games were scheduled after Labour Day the past two seasons. Out of all 81 games in those two seasons, 16% of games were played on a Sunday, a significant increase from past seasons.

Here are the viewer ratings from CFL Sunday games in comparison to the NFL games at the same time last season. Also included is the most-viewed CFL game of that week. Ratings from Week 13 are not available.

CFL Week Most viewed game (day) Sunday Game (start time) NFL Week Viewers at same time as CFL Game
12 702,000 (Saturday) 464,000 (4 p.m.) 1 817,000
14 639,000 (Friday) 473,000 (4 p.m.) 3 507,000
17 543,000 (Saturday) 287,000 (1 p.m.) 6 799,000
19 509,000 (Sunday) 448,000 (1 p.m.) 8 611,000
19 509,000 (Sunday) 509,000 (4 p.m.) 8 923,000
20 634,000 (Saturday) 394,000 (1 p.m.) 9 731,000


The only week that had the most viewers for a game as the Sunday game was Week 19. The Eskimos hosted the Alouettes, and clinched their first division title sine 2003 with the win.

The CFL clearly learned from these numbers. In fact, they decreased the number of games on Sunday in almost half this year.

CFL Sunday Games on Decline

Only seven games this year were played on a Sunday, four of which were after Labour Day. That represents about 8.6% of total games, nearly slashing the total Sunday games in half.

Still, some CFL fans are not happy about games played on Sunday. Last Word on CFL took to Reddit to find out what fans think about CFL Sunday games.

Obviously, there were some users who don’t mind CFL Sunday games.

This user did get a lot of heat, check out the full comments thread.

There you have it. Most fans on the forum agree that CFL Sundays games are a risky venture for the league. One fan said, “Yeah. Let’s do something not even the MLB would do. Go up against the NFL,” perfectly summing up the debate.

Where does the CFL schedule games? Friday and Saturday. As many Reddit users said, two on each day is ideal, and gives fans a chance to travel to games, or not worry about being sleep deprived for work the following morning. The league is too inconsistent with its scheduling. Some teams could have a five-day week, then 12-day week, which could wear down their habits, and bodies. The CFL needs to have a consistent schedule for both players and fans.

Sunday is meant for football. Is it meant for Canadian football and the CFL? Probably not.

Do you like Sunday games? Leave your opinion in the comments below!

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