Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans, having waited 21 years (and counting) to host a Grey Cup, will need to show some patience when it comes to CFL Week as well.
The second annual event was held in Winnipeg over the weekend and the league says attendance surpassed the numbers set by Regina last year. While there’s still room for improvement – the evening events saw less than stellar crowds – the off-season showcase clearly has some momentum.
Multiple teams are said to be preparing bids to host the 2019 edition, but Hamilton won’t be one of them says Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell.
“There’s no question, we’d love to be a potential host for CFL Week. I think the CFL and the cities involved have done a great job and set a really high bar for it,” he said. “But like many things related to a number of great opportunities for Hamilton, we need to get some things behind us, including our current litigation.”
The city, stadium contractor Ontario Sports Solutions and Infrastructure Ontario have been locked in a lawsuit over delays and deficiencies at the $145-million stadium and that litigation – which is also holding up a possible Grey Cup bid – needs resolution.
“CFL Week has turned into an event that requires a lot of cooperation between the municipality and the team and what we’ve been told is that it’s going to be hard for the city to do that until the litigation is resolved,” Mitchell said.
While the city clearly has the facilities to host the non-football events like the Canadian Football Hall of Fame gala and the Fan Fest, finding a suitable spot for the CFL combine could be a challenge.
The venue needs to be indoors and have a suitable playing surface for the testing and one-on-one drills while also having space for spectators, team personnel and media.
The Ticats use the Players Paradise Sports Complex in Stoney Creek on occasion but its location, a 30 km drive from downtown, makes it less than ideal. In both Regina and Winnpeg, most of the CFL Week events were held in a centralized location.
Mitchell says the team has a solution but says it, too, is being held up by the lawsuit.
Last January, city council said it wouldn’t consider the a team-funded plan to erect a massive air-supported dome over the playing surface at Tim Hortons Field which would make it usable by the Ticats and community year-round.
“The dome would be a difference-maker and would be a huge advantage if we bid for a CFL Week,” Mitchell said. “That was one of the premises of us being willing to invest in the dome … The challenge is that cities will bring full turn-key solutions to CFL Week and there’s not a facility that would meet the standards for a bid.”
With Hamilton out of the running, one of the early front-runners is the Edmonton Eskimos. Team president Len Rhodes took to Twitter Sunday afternoon to stake a claim for next year.
“We have expressed interest to bring CFL Week to Edmonton in 2019,” Rhodes wrote. “Our market would love to host this hot new CFL property.”
Ottawa, who hosted the Grey Cup last November, is also said to be interested and Halifax would become an instant contender if the city is awarded a franchise this summer.
Given the success of the first two years, commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league is “very committed” to CFL Week and will be establishing a framework for potential host cities.
“What are the criteria we would use to evaluate bids? Should we, like we do at Grey Cup, have an implied rotation?” he said. “This is just another step forward in making the CFL a 12-month league. You can’t be out of touch with your fans.”
Mitchell said he remains optimistic the lawsuit can be resolved and that the team will be able to move forward in bidding for both the Grey Cup and CFL Week.
“Everybody is doing what they can but we still need to make some progress. I think we’re at a critical juncture where it’s either going to be resolved or it has to move the courts. Let’s hope we can resolve it before it gets to that,” he said. “Hamilton fans have expressed an appetite for CFL and Grey Cup and we’re very confident they could be successful in Hamilton.”