In the midst of what Hamilton Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell calls a period of “great stability” within the organization, there is still one more challenge for the team — and the league — to conquer: changing the demographics of the fan base.
The Ticats held their annual season-preview conference call Wednesday, and Mitchell painted a rosy picture of the team’s fan support. They expect to continue their string of sellouts, currently at 27, through the 2017 season. Corporate sponsorships around Tim Hortons Field are also completely sold out.
But the CFL has traditionally struggled in attracting younger fans. A 2015 study from the University of Lethbridge found that the league’s top demographic was men 55 and over, with 47 per cent of respondents saying they followed the league. That dropped to 39 per cent for males those between the ages of 35 and 54, and to 26 per cent for those at 18 to 34.
However, the team and the CFL has made a strong push to attract a younger audience over the past couple of years, and Mitchell says that’s starting to pay dividends.
“We’re very excited in the trends we’re seeing in new season seat holders and our renewals of our first- and second-year season seat holders,” he said. “It’s allowed us to change the demographics within our fan base, combining that younger demographic with our hardcore fans.”
According to Matt Afinec, the executive vice-president business operations, the team has added a number of new season ticket holders since moving into Tim Hortons Field mid-way through 2014. Many of those are young families and millennials attracted to affordable season ticket packages and “out of seat” viewing areas like end zones and concourses, as well as the branded spaces like Coors Light Patio and the Pioneer Energy Zone.
“Keeping this segment engaged in the brand via purchasing season seats is crucial to our business,” Afinec said, adding, “the premium inventory at Tim Hortons Field such as the club level and suites has been a transformational part of our business.”
After struggling financially for years, Mitchell says the Ticats have achieved economic stability since moving into the new facility. While the stadium is still mired in legal disputes that are preventing the team from hosting a Grey Cup — Mitchell had little to offer by way of an update on that front — Mitchell said the focus is now clearly on the on-field product.
“We’ve accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish.” he said. “With the sole exception of winning a Grey Cup.”