Four days remain until this weekend’s Grey Cup in Edmonton, but hundreds of tickets are still up for grabs to the big game on Ticketmaster.
More than 300 tickets are still available for Sunday’s CFL championship game. This is a far cry from the 2010 Grey Cup, the last year Edmonton hosted the event, which sold out in six days.
On June 11, the Eskimos reported only 4,000 tickets remained from the 55,819 seats available at Commonwealth Stadium’s Grey Cup, after six days of ticket sales. But a full sellout like in 2010 hasn’t been achieved in Edmonton just yet, despite tickets being available since June.
University of Alberta sport and recreation professor Daniel Mason said many Edmonton football fans might have been waiting to see if their team qualified for the game, and lost interest once Edmonton fell short of making the playoffs.
But he added there are a lot of factors that could impact Grey Cup attendance. Even in the week leading up to the game, where he said the Grey Cup has been very present in its host city, other sports stories have taken prominence over the CFL.
“Building up to their big weekend, the Oilers go and fire their coach. So if you go and open up the newspaper now, there’s other clutter that’s distracting. That’s not something that’s in the control of the CFL or the Eskimos,” Mason said.
“Those are the kinds of things that can influence the kinds of prominence the media gives to something.”
When they hosted last year’s Grey Cup, Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium added more than 10,000 temporary seats to meet the demand. Even with the increased supply, the game still sold out around a month before the game.
But with a stadium that typically holds less than 30,000 fans in the first place, Ottawa’s low number of seats compared to Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium made Grey Cup tickets a hotter commodity out East.
“They were just trying to get even close to what Edmonton has for capacity,” Mason said.
The Grey Cup’s flagging ticket sales come after a down year in attendance for the Canadian Football League overall. According to the league’s official statistics, average attendance this year across the country was 23,890 people per game, slightly down from 24,644 the previous year. Overall average attendance in the league hasn’t exceeded 25,000 fans per game since 2014.
But Mason is quick to point out that with so many different ways to consume sports, many leagues across North America are also struggling to stay relevant to maintain viewership.
“A lot of this cyclical. There are times where Major League Baseball was the most popular sport in the U.S., and then it was overtaken by the NFL, and then the NBA has caught up. Now Major League Baseball’s caught back up again,” Mason said.
“If we have expectations that the CFL is going to be as popular as it was at one given point in time, we could only be disappointed.”
Average attendance in the CFL has been steadily falling since 2012. But Edmonton remains one of the league’s strongest markets. Commonwealth Stadium averaged the second-most attendants per game in 2018 at 31,107.
The Calgary Stampeders’ attendance, meanwhile, has been steadily declining since 2015, despite the team’s current three-year streak of reaching the Grey Cup. The team averaged more than 26,000 fans per game this year, just slightly less than three-quarters of McMahon Stadium’s capacity.
The Stampeders have hovered between averages of 25,000 and 30,000 fans for years, after the team consistently averaged more than this up until 2012. A spike in attendance in 2015 was quickly followed by a steep drop in the Stamps’ average rate the next year.
Whether it’s fans growing disinterested in football because of the sport’s constant issues with concussion injuries, or simply competition for fans’ attention from other forms of entertainment, Mason said the CFL is in a crowded marketplace, both in Calgary and across the league.
“It depends on the style of play, on other entertainment options, support from management or for specific players. There are a lot of things that can factor into this,” Mason said.
“It’s a very popular niche sport. It tends to be better supported in cities where it’s the alpha sport. It does well in cities where it’s the big game in town.”