“The fans have been doing their bit and the idiot owner hasn’t been doing his. The passion is absolutely there and my commitment is we will get this fixed, sooner or later … Scott Mitchell is the final piece of that puzzle that will help us get there.”
— Ticats owner Bob Young, Jan. 13, 2007.
This season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will accomplish something they haven’t managed to do in four decades: make money. And that means it’s finally time to give Scott Mitchell some credit.
Lots of it, actually.
Since taking over as team president eight-plus years ago — his title is now chief executive officer — all Mitchell has done is a) help get a new stadium built b) turn a perennially money-losing franchise into a profitable enterprise and c) make the playoffs five of the last six seasons, including back-to-back Grey Cup appearances.
Bob Young may have saved the Ticats but Scott Mitchell is the guy who has insured their long-term survival.
“Coming off back-to-back East Division championships, combined with a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Tim Hortons Field, I’m not sure there’s been a better or brighter point in this franchise in the last half century,” Mitchell told members of the CFL media during the team’s annual season-preview conference call.
He’s not wrong.
That may be difficult to swallow for some people, particularly those who see Mitchell as exclusively one-dimensional: an egotistical, hot-tempered bully, a dark knight doing the dirty work for the affable, awe-shucks Caretaker. This is Mitchell’s reputation in many circles and, to be fair, it’s tough to find anyone in the Ticat sphere of influence who hasn’t been on the wrong side of a diabolical Mitchell tirade (present company included.)
It’s also an oversimplification that ignores Mitchell’s humour and charm, and his ability to earn a fierce loyalty from many within the Ticat organization. And it casts aside the thing that matters most in business and sports: results.
The stadium debate was certainly divisive — something Mitchell acknowledges his role in — but the end result is a state-of-the-art facility that Ticats fans have quickly grown to love. It was sold out for every game last season and Mitchell said Monday that he expects it will be full for every game in 2015. There’s a waiting list for club seats, luxury suites as well as the elite Caretaker’s Club; advertising opportunities inside the stadium are sold out.
“It’s all about the performance of the football team,” he said. “We’ve raised the expectations around this franchise to the point where all we’re about is competing for and winning championships.”
Imagine saying that in 2007, when the team was 3-15 and mired in a five-season stretch that would see them win 17 total games. It was Mitchell who hired Bob O’Billovich to run football operations, the catalyst behind the on-field turnaround. It was Mitchell who hired Kent Austin, who has taken the team to greater heights.
Of course, Mitchell’s had some good fortune as well. The CFL has experienced something of a renaissance during his tenure, capped by the signing of a lucrative TV deal with TSN before last season. The Pan Am Games provided a last, best chance to replace the aging Ivor Wynne (that the city and the team almost squandered.)
But Mitchell has ultimately taken advantage of all these opportunities and now the Ticats are better positioned than ever to be a successful and, more importantly, sustainable franchise.
That’s was Bob Young dream. But it took Scott Mitchell to make it a reality.