While hockey may be Canada's most popular spectator sport, football may actually do more to unite the country.
This counterintuitive idea stems from the increasing popularity of Canadian football in the province of Quebec, where university games draw bigger crowds than the National Hockey League does in some U.S. markets — not that anyone should use the Phoenix Coyotes as any sort of spectator-sport yardstick.
As TSN has excitedly pronounced over the past couple of years, TV ratings for Canadian Football League broadcasts are continuing to climb. Both of today's CFL division finals will undoubtedly draw way more fans than any individual Sunday NFL game.
Yet the CFL is a league with just eight teams and only one more on the way, as Ottawa will have a franchise again in 2013 or 2014, when Frank Clair Stadium at Lansdowne Park is supposed to be rebuilt.
The increasing popularity of the three-down game has led my colleagues in the sports department to speculate about where the CFL should go next.
An exhibition game featuring the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos was played in Moncton, N.B., leading some folks to suggest the 29th-largest metropolitan area in Canada should have a CFL franchise.
On one hand, that's not ridiculous, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders play in the 18th-largest population centre in the country. But in terms of market size, there are larger cities the CFL should consider before Moncton, pop. 126,424.
The CFL already plays in Canada's three largest centres -- Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, in that order.
Ottawa-Gatineau, the fourth-largest metropolitan area, is coming back on line. The CFL also exists in Calgary (No. 5), Edmonton (No. 6), Winnipeg (No. 8), Hamilton (No. 9) and relatively tiny Regina (No. 18), which boasted all of 194,971 people the last time Statistics Canada conducted a census.
Obviously, population isn't the only factor when you consider a potential CFL expansion. Fan support and potential corporate support as just as important -- as is the willingness to build a stadium with at least 25,000 seats.
That said, it's still worthwhile to look at the largest agglomerations of people in Canada from a purely statistical standpoint, just to see where the potential markets exist. Here are the largest metropolitan areas in Canada that either don't have a CFL franchise or are not slated to get them, according to Statistics Canada's 2006 census:
RANK: No. 7
CFL PROSPECTS: On paper, Quebec's capital should have a CFL team. Fan support for college ball is off the charts and the potential rivalry with Montreal is tantalizing. There's also enough money in Quebec City to support a CFL club. But without a stadium or the political will to build one, there simply won't be a team.
RANK: No. 10
CFL PROSPECTS: Canada's 10th-largest city tends to be overlooked in any CFL discussion, mainly because Toronto and Hamilton already have teams. But London is big enough and wealthy enough to support a franchise that would become the biggest game in town. But of course, there is no building.
RANK: No. 11
CFL PROSPECTS: Outside of southern Ontario, few Canadians realize how fast Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, Ont. are growing. The same factors that make London viable make this agglomeration an intriguing CFL possibility -- if a stadium ever gets built.
St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont.
RANK: No. 12
CFL PROSPECTS: The population is here, but the market isn't right, as St. Catharines sits halfway between Hamilton and Buffalo, N.Y., two existing football cities.
RANK: No. 13
CFL PROSPECTS: Many Canadians think Halifax is bigger than it actually is, simply because it's the largest centre in the Maritimes. Decades-old talk about the Atlantic Schooners hasn't changed the fact there's still no stadium here to support CFL-sized audiences.
RANK: No. 14
CFL PROSPECTS: Oshawa is way too close to Toronto to support a franchise of its own. You could argue Hamilton is just as close -- but the home of the Tiger-Cats is twice as large.
RANK: No. 15
CFL PROSPECTS: Vancouver Island residents can take a ferry to Vancouver if they want to watch a CFL game. Much smaller Kelowna, B.C. (No. 22, 162,276 people) is a more viable choice.
RANK: No. 16
CFL PROSPECTS: Another non-starter, as the Detroit Lions play across the river.
RANK: No. 17
CFL PROSPECTS: As popular as the CFL is in Saskatchewan, two teams is a tall order.
St. John's, N.L.
RANK: No. 20
CFL PROSPECTS: A team in Newfoundland would make the CFL a coast-to-coast league. But St. John's is not football territory -- they don't even play college ball at Memorial University.