Let’s keep this TiCats love going

December 10, 2013

I went to a rainstorm the other day and a football game broke out.

Our adopted Canadian Football League team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played their last game in Guelph earlier this month in conditions that were perfectly, and awfully, fitting for late-season Canadian football.

Thirteen thousand fans were greeted by screaming winds, driving rain, freezing temperatures and stinging hail. Even the cheerleaders were wearing parkas. But to be in the sold-out stands, witnessing professional football in Guelph, was a special thing.

If you were there, you might have noticed the Ticats pull off one nail-biter of a win past Montreal through the icicles that had glued themselves to your eyelids. I would have been clapping louder if my hands weren’t frozen into pink lumps of flesh.

But as we mourn the end of the Ticats one-season fling in Guelph, albeit with one small matter of the Grey Cup to be played in Saskatchewan Sunday, we ought to be thinking about next year.

Local fans should start a movement to bring the Ticats back for one pre-season game every year in Guelph, at Alumni Stadium. If it can’t be done in time for next year, do it for 2015, and every year beyond that. Not to get all Casablanca on you, but I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful Guelph-Hamilton friendship.

If the Ticats are serious about continuing to grow their fan base north of Highway 401, there’s an opportunity here to extend those good vibes well past 2013. The team’s marketing director, Steve Lowe, is a University of Guelph graduate, and he probably knows a good marketing opportunity when he sees one.

There would undoubtedly be some bellyaching, understandably, from fans in Hamilton who had to spend their entire season driving up and down Highway 6. But asking for one pre-season game, on a smaller scale than the huge regular-season makeover required for Alumni Stadium, is an idea worth exploring.

Converting the University of Guelph field into a CFL-ready stadium was a massive undertaking, with a small army of staff, thousands of temporary seats and long days of set-up and takedown.

Guelph has shown it can pull off CFL calibre games, but a pre-season game doesn’t need to be that big of an operation. And not to worry that Alumni Stadium has already dismantled those extra temporary seats, either, since limited seating for a venue for a once-a-year game can often spark a greater demand for tickets. Heck, let people bring a lawn chair and sit in the grass if we have to.

Another tricky part would be convincing the Ticats to forgo any extra revenue after just finishing their new $148-million state-of-the-art Tim Hortons Field, set to open next June 30.

But what 2013 may have taught the Ticats is there is a Guelph audience for their historic franchise — almost a third of the 130,000 tickets sold to the 10 home games this year went to Guelph-area residents.

Television ratings for Ticats games spiked, too, suggesting there’s some momentum behind the team that can only be helped by a wider regional outlook. I’m not a marketing expert, so I can’t predict if an extended Guelph strategy will work — but it seems worth a try.

My guess is the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and other business groups would happily back a once-a-year Ticats return to the Royal City, too. So no better time than now to get the ball rolling, and let Tabbies know you’d like them back.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. He can reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord.

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