Randy Ambrosie brings his chatty road show to Hamilton

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie didn’t have much by the way of concrete answers to the questions that mattered most to Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans – namely when the Grey Cup is coming to town and how he’s going to fix officiating – but then again, that wasn’t really the point.

Ambrosie was in Hamilton on Thursday, the penultimate stop of the cross-country tour he began in early February. He has now visited all nine CFL cities and will wrap up on Friday in Halifax where there is momentum building behind the addition of a tenth franchise.

For Ambrosie, who was named commissioner last July, it was an opportunity to interact directly with fans, to make them feel heard on the issues the league is dealing with.

“It’s been fun to ask the fans for their input,” Ambrosie said in a media session before the main event. “People want to be asked. They may disagree with your answer but they’ll disagree with it better if they were part of the narrative, if they have a chance to voice their opinion.”

There were plenty of opinions on display on Thursday. About 200 Ticat season ticket holders showed up to the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre on the Mohawk College campus and after a Q&A with hosts Lesley Stewart and Mike Morreale (a former Ticat) Ambrosie answered queries from the crowd.

So, about that Grey Cup in Hamilton, which hasn’t hosted the game – and the $100 million economic injection that comes with that – since 1996.

“What’s on the record is the city of Hamilton saying that they would not go forward with a partnership on a project like the Grey Cup with the Ticats until this litigation is resolved,” Ambrosie said. “In it’s simplest form, that’s the answer and until that changes into a different reality, we’re not talking about a Grey Cup here.”

On officiating, Ambrosie said there are changes in the works under new Director of Officiating Darren Hackwood, including the use of on-field officials in the command centre where replay decisions are made.

There was also plenty of talk around moving the CFL schedule up anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a month which would see the Grey Cup played earlier in the fall instead of its current date at the end of November.

Ambrosie petitioned the crowd for their opinion and saw about 60 per cent raise their hands in favour. Again, their votes are unlikely to matter one bit – that decision will be made largely with TV partners in mind – but it’s the asking that’s supposed to matter.

There were certainly some interesting tidbits. The CFL will roll out a week-long version of their remarkably successful Diversity is Strength campaign from last season. The commissioner is already meeting with the players’ association to set the stage for next year’s collective bargaining. Ambrosie recently bought a house in nearby Aldershot and paid homage to the Hamilton’s ongoing renaissance.

Ambrosie clearly knows and understands the game on a cellular level and can talk in detail about the issues facing the league. He’s comfortable in front of a crowd, finishing the event with a selfie in front of a crowd more than willing to give him an “Oskee Wee Wee.”

That Ambrosie made it happen on a cold night in February wasn’t an accident.

“We’re living in a competitive world, you have to fight for your space on the shelf, a chance to keep our great league in the conversation,” Ambrosie said.

Words don’t immediately become change no matter how well sculpted but just being heard, well, that’s a start.