Mayor Fred Eisenberger ‘certainly open’ to CFL hub in Hamilton

Mayor Fred Eisenberger would entertain the possibility of Hamilton hosting the Canadian Football League in a hub city model for the 2020 season.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been in discussions with Ontario Minister of Sport, Lisa MacLeod regarding the idea. However, Eisenberger has not yet had conversations with the three-down league.

“I’m glad to hear that’s in discussion. I know they’re looking for a primary location, either East or West, and we’re certainly open to that. No direct discussions with me or my staff that I’m aware of, in terms of that hub option, but certainly open to that discussion for sure,” Eisenberger said.

As of Friday, July 3, Hamilton has recorded 835 positive COVID-19 cases with 752 or 89 percent resolved while 44 people have passed away from the coronavirus. It’s the lowest amount of the three cities which house CFL teams in Ontario, Toronto and Ottawa being the other two. Projecting where the numbers could be in the future is nearly impossible, but Hamilton is attractive to the CFL because of the recent downward trend.

“I don’t have that level of detail in terms of what they’re proposing to do as yet, obviously it’s not going to allow for a big crowd, if it happens. With the amount of people that it might attract, it certainly would be good for the economy, but all of it has to be done under the guise of whatever level we’re at in terms of opening up the economy in Ontario,” Eisenberger said.

“Right now we’re in phase two, there was some discussion about phase three that the premier kicked off, he didn’t set a timeline, but started to talk about what phase three might look like. It could be possible in that scenario and if it happens in September, October, November we could be in a wholly different situation at that point. Time will tell whether or not it’s going to be doable based on the caseloads that we have locally and what we want to prevent.”

The Tiger-Cats have been cleared to train and prepare for a potential season at Tim Hortons Field. Players must adhere to the medical and health guidelines such as wearing masks going in and out of the facility, and maintain physical distance while working out. Eisenberger was part of that process, however, he has not discussed the hub city concept with Ticats officials, yet.

“I have no doubt the Tiger-Cats are engaged in this, it would be something that they’d be very keen on in our facility. It’s something I trust they’re heavily in discussions with. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for them and I’ll certainly be keen on participating in the discussion whenever they’re open to having that next level of dialogue,” Eisenberger said.

“I had a conversation with Bob Young a number of weeks ago and one of their challenges is that one of their primary revenue sources is actually people in the seats, unlike the NFL which is largely television revenue based, the CFL isn’t in that luxurious position. They very much need an audience of some sort to be able to get the revenue that they’re going to need.”

It’s plausible the CFL could start playing games without fans in the stands and move to opening up the gates to spectators should the virus continue to subside. If medical experts feel safe to do so, the league could regain a piece of their major revenue generator. Ticats chief operating officer Scott Mitchell has stated 4,000 people would be able to watch live games at Tim Hortons Field while adhering to social distance six-feet stipulations.

“It all depends on when it happens. If we’re opening into phase three and our caseload is down, and we can do it in a physically distanced, safe way, and we are now already talking about mandatory masking in public spaces, it may be possible,” Eisenberger said.

There are lots of steps to go through, such as the CFL and players’ association coming together on a COVID-19 collective bargaining agreement. Then the league and province would have to reach agreement on a return to play plan. If deemed doable by both sides, Hamilton and other interested cities would be included in the discussions. That’s when it would reach Eisenberger and his office.

“The moment they decide that, local locations start to become a priority. I would say there’s probably a logical progression to this, if there’s a determination that’s made by the CFL and the province that it’s doable in Ontario, then we’d be very much in the running for a location and seeing how that can work in Hamilton,” Eisenberger said.

“I appreciate that you don’t want to put the cart before the horse, so I think the province has to come to terms with the CFL in terms of whether it’s doable, and if it is, then how does it work in Hamilton thereafter and that discussion we look forward to.”

The CFL hubbub in Hamilton could work well, although there are many logistics to sort through prior to the league even making a final decision on whether it can play at all amid the pandemic.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.