After 18 months of humming and hawing, difficult choices and harsh realities, Saskatchewan Roughriders president Craig Reynolds is almost ready to breath a massive sigh of relief.
The man in charge of the CFL’s premier franchise joined The Green Zone on Wednesday to discuss recent announcements surrounding the lifting of pandemic restrictions in his province and he could barely contain himself when asked about the plausibility of the CFL’s projected August 5 start date.
“I’ve never been more optimistic or more confident than I am right now, ” Reynolds told hosts Jamie Nye and Drew Remenda. “Just where we’re at across the country and the bit of optimism around seeing fans returning to hockey arenas and knowing that August is a ways out. Vaccines are rolling in that and that’s really the key, that’s our way out of this pandemic.”
The province of Saskatchewan recently commenced the first step of their three stages of reopening when a 70 percent vaccination rate was achieved for people age 40 and over. The second step will occur when 70 percent of residents age 30 and over are vaccinated and the third step will commence when 70 percent of adults are vaccinated.
The province plans to lift all public health orders three weeks after 70 percent of residents age 12 and over have received one dose of the vaccine, provided this occurs at least three weeks following the implementation of step two. That is projected to happen as early as July 11, which could in theory allow a full Mosaic stadium for the start of the CFL season.
Premier Scott Moe has tempered expectations by saying it is too early to speculate on how many fans could be in house for an August 5 CFL kickoff and the Riders are still in the process of determining how many single-game tickets will be available for sale. However, Reynolds believes the recent announcements virtually guarantee attendance for the team’s most important supporters.
“With the news being relatively new, we haven’t definitively made that decision, but what we do feel really good about is that we’re going to be able to at that minimum accommodate all our season-ticket holders. That was one thing that was giving us a little bit of angst,” Reynolds explained.
“We do have a large season-ticket base with 21,000. They stuck with us through this pandemic. They’ve been absolutely fantastic. With capacity numbers potentially restricted below that, we were going to have to restrict the season-ticket holders on a per game basis and that would have been challenging. We’re quite excited about not having to do that and being able to welcome our entire season-ticket base potentially to the first few games.”
Large amounts off single-game tickets are not out of the realm of possibility either if restrictions are completely removed, but it will take time for things to truly return to normal. The team expects things like staggered entrances and digital ticketing to be requirement and acknowledges it will take time for fans to feel comfortable around crowds again.
“We’ve been conditioned that you need to stay away from folks and so getting back into what was normal — sitting next to next to somebody at the Riders game and high fiving them after a big play — that probably will take some time,” Reynolds admitted. “The good news is we have until August, so I think there’s going to be a gradual sort of coming out of this pandemic, at least here in Saskatchewan.”
The masses better get themselves ready, because CFL football will be back on the prairies this summer. Of that, Reynolds has no doubts.