A basketball in a world full of pucks

The Life and Times of a Basketball Fan in a Hockey Obsessed Country

By Kristoffer Pedlar

ACC in Toronto, Canada | Photo by Kristoffer Pedlar

ACC in Toronto, Canada | Photo by Kristoffer Pedlar

Basketball is rapidly growing in popularity throughout Canada, but ratings still pale in comparison to the NHL, NFL and CFL.   Photo by: Kristoffer Pedlar

Canada is ‘Hockey Country”. Even people who don’t live north of the 49th parallel know this. If we aren’t out at the rink playing hockey ourselves (or cheering on our children) we are watching games on TV, listening to talk radio dissect it extensively or managing our own fantasy teams and office hockey pools. Go into any bar or restaurant across the nation and you will find a hockey game on television. Usually the prime spot in the bar is facing the big TV with the sound. 

But, this is a hockey-obsessed nation and that’s just how it has to be.

Canadian hockey fans | Photo by Robert Scoble (Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian hockey fans | Photo by Robert Scoble (Wikimedia Commons)

Basketball fans in this country have to contend with the rich history hockey plays in Canadian culture.

Or does it? 

CBC recently published an article about the rise of basketball in this country.  The article states that the viewership of NBA games in Canada has more than doubled across all networks since 2012-13 and the Raptors are a huge part of this. “Canada’s team” has seen their audience grow every year over the past five.  

So why can’t we get a little bit of basketball on the big screen TV at the bar every now and then? 

The CBC article also goes on to state that these viewership numbers, though impressive, aren’t enough to make any wave in the ratings game.  Despite the Raptors recent surge in the standings the NHL, NFL and even the CFL each still pull in over 2-10 times the ratings that Raptors games do on a national level.  

And there’s the rub.

Canadian basketball fans | Photo by Shaheen Karolia 

Canadian basketball fans | Photo by Shaheen Karolia 

Despite the recent surge in viewership for the Raptors across Canada, basketball is still significantly behind hockey in terms of popularity. 

No matter how exponentially the audience for basketball grows in this country, it seems like it will never reach the levels of hockey, especially outside of the urban city centers.  Never. 
You could forgive a basketball fan in this country for feeling like an outsider. 
Michael Liebner, a self-professed diehard basketball fan, recently summed up his feelings on the subject. “… For most of my life, it’s always been about hockey first…the front page of the sports section, the lead story on TSN, the conversation at school or work…it almost made you resent the entire sport of hockey, not because you really disliked it but because the reducing of the sport you loved to an afterthought somehow felt like a personal slight.” 

We The North | Photo by Chris Harte (Image Mirrored)

We The North | Photo by Chris Harte (Image Mirrored)

The 'We The North' Campaign has helped emblazon basketball fans all over this country. The success of the raptors hasn't hurt either.

The Raptors award-winning campaign “We The North” was able to tap into this feeling of being an Outsider.  The campaign resonated with fans, the city, and the country.  It spoke to Canadians who feel like outsiders in an American dominated culture, and it awoke a fanbase that felt ignored by the NBA and without much to cheer for in over ten years.  But the campaign was also for all the Michael Liebners of the world. It was for the basketball fan forced to watch games in the corner of a bar without sound, the fan who has no one to talk about basketball with at family dinners, who can’t find a radio station in their city talking about hoops or who miss televised games because they’ve been moved to one of the specialty channels. ‘We The North’ spoke to the fan that feels like the hockey dominant culture in this country had somehow taken away the importance of their favourite game. Like being a basketball fan made them less important in some way, less Canadian even. 

Now, thanks in large part to the Raptors’ recent run of success, basketball fans across Canada aren’t just embracing the “outsider” tag, they’re relishing it. Every time we can’t get the game on at the bar, we’re going to tell you why the basketball game should be on. When our families ignore our basketball conversation starters at Christmas dinner we’ll remind them how many Canadian hockey teams made the playoffs last year and how many playoff games the Raptors won. When the Raptors game is bumped from a national network for curling or a big CHL game, we will flood social media with our outrage. We are invigorated.  We are inspired and we refuse to be ignored.  We have a voice and we’re going to use it.  

Basketball fans in Canada are outsiders. No matter how popular the Raptors get, no matter how far they go in the playoffs, or how many people join the bandwagon we will always be on the outside looking in.  

And maybe that’s how we like it.