The air is getting cool and crisp. The jerseys and foam fingers are out in full force. Sundays have been booked off for the foreseeable future. It can only mean one thing: the 2022-2023 football season is set to begin.

How does Rivalry, a global leader in regulated online sports and esports betting and the licensed sportsbook of choice for Ontarians, plan to kick off the season’s start?

How else? By pairing their exclusive watch and bet football experience – live streams hosted on their site – with hosting a series of tailgate parties in and around Toronto which can be accessed here.

Tailgating is a time-honoured and revered sporting tradition, of course. To create something decidedly distinctive in sports, it combines the characteristics of a carnival and feeling of a festival, coupled with the routines of a ritual.

Rivalry’s own take on the tailgate party includes partnering with local restaurants and sports bars, alongside comedian and Rivalry ambassador Neema Naz, to offer free, 19+ events where attendees can sample complimentary food and drink, listen to music, collect some pieces of swag, learn a little about the brand, and more. No need to sign up to Rivalry.

Comedian Neema Naz poses for a headshot
Comedian and Rivalry Ambassador Neema Naz

Though seen as a critical part of the sports experience in the United States, tailgating is fast transforming into a Canadian staple, which is fitting. American football itself is an export currently thriving in Canada with viewership increasing in 2020 by double-digit percentages almost by the week, it’s among the most-watched sports in the country.

It’s also one of the most bet-on.

According to Steven Salz, Rivalry’s co-founder and CEO, sports betting in Canada transcends its obvious convenience, entertainment value, and opportunity to make cash. He thinks it initiates a more personal investment in sports viewing; a vested interest that contributes to the sports viewing experience as a whole.

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“People are wired to have skin in the game, or more simply: to put their money where their mouth is. The fandom and passion for sports is tightly coupled with people’s own competitive nature.”

A long-range shot of a stadium field, floodlights and seating. A green field, with painted white lines, is visible in the foreground. On the foreground a group of fans is celebrating a goal. In the background are diffuse out-of-focus stadium seats. Large, bright floodlights are in the top-left and top-right corners of the image.

Putting a few bucks behind your preferred team or player? It’s an extension of that belief, he holds.

“When your favourite player is going for a run, or your team winning or losing, the closer you can connect emotionally to that experience, the thrill or the pain, the more engaging the viewing experience becomes.

Salz calls it a major reason betting and watching sports have been so closely linked across nearly all cultures – for decades, at that.

As for how American football has been able to keep flourishing in Canada, both as such a popular pastime and sought-after stake, without any home teams for us to call our own, he credits the power of US sports culture and fandom — and the media environment which wraps around it.

“It has long seeped north of the border. It has become an important part of our sports culture,” Salz says. “If you consider just the intersection of media, influencers, and sports in the US, it’s significant. The same can be said up here.

He further attributes the Great White North’s American football fandom to the impact of gaming over the last few years, something that Rivalry has particular expertise in. Rivalry’s largest segment is esports betting, after all, which has proven especially popular with the younger Millennial and Gen Z demographic. 

“You have a number of the biggest gaming influencers [in Canada] that have direct partnerships with football teams, pushing that next generation audience to engage,” Salz contends, a passionate gamer himself. “It all passes through the border and is now an organic part of our Canadian culture as well.”

And while Salz and Rivalry can appreciate the surge of football fandom that comes by way of US culture, their efforts this fall aren’t merely a mission to adopt that culture but rather establish a distinct Canadian identity north of the border defined by a love of the game and the festivities surrounding it.

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