Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League is the top level of competition for Canadian football, a similar sport to the more widely known American football.

Canadian football is the second-most popular sport in Canada, though it has to be said it is a vast distance behind ice-hockey, which is a national obsession.

That said, Canadian football fans are loyal and noisy, and the championship game for the Grey Cup in late November is one of the most watched events of the sporting year.

Useful CFL pages:

Where is Canadian football played?

There are nine teams in the CFL and they are located in nine separate cities in Canada, with the teams divided into the East and West divisions.

The four teams in the East Division are: Montreal Alouettes (in the province of Quebec), Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa Redblacks and Toronto Argonauts (all Ontario).

The five teams in the West Division are: BC Lions (Vancouver, British Columbia), Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos (both Alberta), Saskatchewan Roughriders (Regina, Saskatchewan), Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Manitoba).

Brief history of Canadian football

Canadian football, as with so many other oval-ball sports, evolved from rugby which was played in the country from the 1860s. By the time the Grey Cup was donated by governor-general Earl Grey in 1909 to be awarded to the champion amateur team of Canada, it had adopted many similarities with American football.

The early game was controlled by the Canadian Rugby Union, and its two main leagues, the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) led the push towards professional play by the 1950s.

Though 1954 is seen as the start of the modern era of Canadian football, the CFL was founded in January 1958, with the merger of the IRFU and the WIFU, leaving the CRU to control the amateur game. The IRFU soon after became the Eastern Conference and the WIFU the Western Conference, a status that has remained largely the same.

The league between 1993 and 1996 dabbled with expansion into the United States, with the Baltimore Stallions in 1995 becoming the only non-Canadian Grey Cup champions.

Types of bets on the CFL

The sportsbooks we recommend for Canada-based players will all offer extensive markets on the CFL. Here is a brief description of the main betting types you will encounter, though many more markets will be available, especially at Grey Cup time.

Point spread (Handicap): Probably the most popular type of bet. The sportsbook will give the favourites a negative handicap and the outsider a positive handicap. For example, Calgary may be -5.5 points against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (+5.5). This means the Stampeders must win by 6 points or more for your bet to be a winner, or alternatively if you back the Bombers, the must win or lose by points or fewer for your bet to come in.

Moneyline (head to head): Simply bet on the winner or loser of a game, though be warned that hot favourites can be extremely short in this format.

Over/Under: Bet on whether the teams’ combined total will be over or under where the sportsbook has set the line. This is a good bet for a neutral or on a game where you are really unsure of who will win but still want a wagering interest.

Race to 10 points: Bet on which team you think will get off to a flyer.

First team to score: As the name suggests, which team will score first points. This seems to us more of a novelty bet than something you can seriously predict.
First scoring play: Usually six options to choose from in this bet: home team touchdown, field goal or any other score or away team touchdown, field goal or any other score.

Half-time/Full-time: Select who will lead at half-time and at full-time. The options here are: home team/home team; home team/away team; away team/away team; away team/home team; draw/home team; draw/away team.

Winning margin: Select the team you want to win plus a points range they must win by. They vary greatly at different bookies but could be something like: 1-6; 7-12; 13-18; 19-24; 25-30; 31-36; 37-42; 43+

How do the CFL season and finals work?

Each team plays 18 games in the regular season, which begins in mid-June. Six of the teams compete in the divisional play-offs which start in November and precede the all-important Grey Cup.

The CFL finals

The tops teams in the West and East divisions after the regular season go through to the division championships in the second week of the play-offs.

Week 1: Division semi-finals*: West Division 2nd team v West Division 3rd team; East Division 2nd team v East Division 3rd team. *Crossover rule: If a fourth-placed team from either division has a better regular-season record than the third-placed team in the other division it replaces that team in the division semi-finals. In theory it means two teams from the same division can play for the Grey Cup.

Week 2: Division championships: West Division 1st team v winner of West Division semi-final; East Division 1st team v winner of East Division semi-final.

Week 3: Grey Cup: West Division champions v East Division champions.

This is the big one in Canadian football and is played on the last Sunday in November at a host stadium chosen two years in advance. The TV numbers are huge as teams square off for the second-oldest trophy in North American pro sport (ice-hockey’s Stanley Cup is the oldest).

There is a financial windfall for the host city as fans from across the nation descend for the game and the week-long build-up. The festivities include the selection of the All-Star CFL team and award presentations for Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player. After the Grey Cup, a Grey Cup MVP and Grey Cup Most Valuable Canadian are chosen. Certain sportsbooks will frame markets on these outcomes.

How to watch the CFL from Canada and overseas

The good news is that you can watch CFL matches from pretty much anywhere in the world.

If you are in Canada you can watch the games on cable network TSN. In Quebec you can get French-language coverage of Montreal Alouettes games on TSN’s RDS network.

In the United States and many other countries including Australia you can turn to the ESPN Network, which has been associated with the CFL since as far back as 1980. It reaches into some 74 countries. In Britain and Ireland, BT Sport has the rights to broadcast the CFL.

If that fails, international live streaming is available in more than 100 countries through Yare Media by purchasing a package through the CFL website for about $C80.

Quick guide to the CFL’s nine teams

East Division

MONTREAL ALOUETTES
Nickname: Als, Larks.
Founded: 1946.
Home stadium: Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, Montreal, Quebec.
Grey Cups: 7.
Most recent: 2010.
Not many teams can claim to be named after a work song, Alouette, and especially one about plucking the feathers from a skylark. The great survivors of the CFL as they have folded and been revived at least twice.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS
Nickname: Cats, Ticats.
Founded: 1950.
Home stadium: Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, Ontario.
Grey Cups: 8.
Most recent: 1999.
The first team to win the Grey Cup at their home ground, in 1972. The Cats have had a long run of lean times but seem to be heading in the right direction in recent seasons.

OTTAWA REDBLACKS
Nickname: Redblacks.
Founded: 2010.
Home stadium: TD Place Stadium, Ottawa, Ontario.
Grey Cups: 1.
Most recent: 2016.
The new boys of the league and did not take long to find the ultimate success winning the Grey Cup in a big upset over the Calgary Stampeders 39-33 in extra time. They wanted to revive the Rough Riders name from a long-standing Ottawa franchise that fell by the wayside in 1996. But the Saskatchewan Roughriders would have none of it.

TORONTO ARGONAUTS
Nickname: Argos, Boatmen, Double Blue, Scullers.
Founded: 1873.
Home stadium: BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario.
Grey Cups: 17.
Most recent: 2017.
The oldest professional sports franchise in North America still using its original name. The team was owned by the Argonaut Rowing Club for the first 80-odd years of its existence.

West Division

BC LIONS
Nickname: Leos.
Founded: 1954.
Home stadium: BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Grey Cups: 6.
Most recent: 2011.
Missed the play-offs in 2017 for the first time since 1997, ending their streak at 20. They get the Lions nickname from a pair of mountain peaks that are said to resemble a couple of lions guarding the city of Vancouver. Boast the second-biggest stadium in the league behind that of Edmonton.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS
Nickname: Horsemen, Stamps.
Founded: 1945.
Home stadium: McMahon Stadium, Calgary, Alberta.
Grey Cups: 7.
Most recent: 2014.
Always a contender and fans can hang their hats on the 1948, the only perfect season in league history when the Stamps when 12-0 and then won the Grey Cup in Toronto.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS
Nickname: Eskies, Esks.
Founded: 1949.
Home stadium: Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Alberta.
Grey Cups: 14.
Most recent: 2015. A massively successful franchise in the “City of Champions’’ which draws huge crowds. The relative newcomers have sparked a fair degree of jealousy with their feats which include making the play-offs every year from 1972-2005.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS
Nickname: Riders, the Green and White.
Founded: 1910.
Home stadium: Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Grey Cups: 4.
Most recent: 2013.
The only professional sports franchise in Saskatchewan and their loyal fans are known as the Rider nation. They have stood the test of time as one of the oldest pro sports franchises in North America. A great rivalry against the Blue Bombers and tickets to those matches are hard to come by.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Nickname: Bombers, Big Blue, True Blue, Blue and Gold.
Founded: 1930.
Home stadium: Investors Group Field, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Grey Cups: 10.
Most recent: 1990.
It’s been a while between drinks for the Bombers in the Grey Cup, but they have a rich history of success, becoming the first team from the west to win the coveted trophy in 1935. They have a rusted-on band of fans and most of their games are sellout despite their recent lack of success. Arch rivals are the Roughriders.