Published on September 9, 2012 6:21 PM by cflwatcher.
With the 100th Grey Cup Train tour leaving Pacific Centre Station today, kicking off its 100+ stop tour of the country culminating with its arrival in Toronto, Vancouver Sun columnist Iain MacIntyre talks to Commissioner Mark Cohon about the league’s state. Despite the excitement over the 100th Grey Cup celebration and repositioning of the league, Cohon tempers the unbridled ideas the CFL is set for explosive growth and expansion.
Attendance is up over last year-to-date, television ratings are up slightly (3%) and the exposure the train, commemorative stamps and coins and other 100th Grey Cup related coverage has been positive. The obvious fear is this will create a small bump this year followed by a drop in interest next season. Others will say Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal still showing their weakness in the stands is an issue.
From my perspective, Toronto is taking the right approach, targeting slow but steady growth over the long term with a lot of initiatives, primarily winning and exciting football. Their attendance has grown each home game this season and their current average is over 2,000 patrons per game over last year-to-date’s number. Hamilton, with a big offseason, a difficult start but anticipation over a new stadium in 2014, also has increased attendance numbers over last year-to-date. Montreal is a disappointment as the Als are an exciting team with a good record and are down substantially in attendance.
Though many westerners feel their is no blemish on their teams, there is room for improvement in these markets as well. BC sits only 1,000 fans above last year-to-date’s average when they were in Empire Field and generally had disappointing crowds. Now they are back at BC Place, with no heat issues, and their average is below 30,000. There are the fans out there (#1 query from Vancouver on Lions game days is about blackouts) but they need to realize there is no free ride.
Calgary also disappointed without a sell-out on Labour Day and Edmonton, since moving their back-to-school ticket promotion to later in the year, misses a big crowd in the return match-up. With new stadiums coming in Winnipeg, Regina, Hamilton and Ottawa these teams may find themselves poor cousins in the league and in the bottom half in terms of revenue generated, which affects football operations.
All in all, things are positive, but Canadians (only football fans?) must shed the attitude the league will prosper if everyone stays home and watches the game on TV. You may love your team, but without someone buying tickets, merchandise, concessions, etc. these teams don’t exist. You don’t know what will happen if you leave it up to someone else. So get on board.
The Conference Board of Canada’s latest report on sports franchises touted six locations that will be able to support CFL franchises in their opinion in the next 25 years. Saskatoon should be ready by 2035 they predict. The Maritimes are touted as candidates now. In reality these reports are thin on facts, examining population trends and the long term outlook of the dollar, but ignoring the critical factors of stadiums and owners.
Mark Cohon correctly points out that this speculation is pointless without stadiums. Today, an appropriate stadium will cost between $200-$250 million. In 10, 15, 25 years how much will that be? And will the governments of the day be willing to commit to such projects, or will the municipalities have growing debt loads and issues dealing with their rapid growth and infrastructure? These are great reports to make these communities feel great, look forward to something but are otherwise pointless except to provide exposure for the Conference Board of Canada.
One team at a time, where the stadium and owner opportunities exist is the right way to go. Even then, I expect it will come down to fans across the country to help contribute in some way to get projects off the ground. The choice may be spending your $10 on a coffee and never seeing a tenth team or helping build a stadium in Quebec City or the Maritimes. With the attitude of today’s fans, I don’t see it happening, but we can dream.