Cup runneth over: why Hamilton hosting the Grey Cup again in 2023 makes sense

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In a bold move the CFL announced in mid-October that in addition to this December’s Grey Cup, the 2023 edition of Canadian football’s biggest week would also be held in Hamilton.

There has been a little divisiveness in regards to this announcement, with some lamenting the fact that Hamilton will host the Grey Cup twice in a three-year span, and how that is unfair to some of the other CFL cities — namely Montreal — who have not had the chance to host the festivities in a long time.

For starters, you will find it hard to gain sympathy from Hamiltonians about length of a Grey Cup hosting drought as December’s game will be the first held in the Steel City in over 25 years. But beyond that, with COVID-19 still a thing, this year’s game and festival will be a lot more subdued than what fans are used to.

We have already heard about numerous fans who usually make the trek to wherever the Grey Cup is held choosing not to attend this year’s event, and with health restrictions still in place across Ontario, Hamilton will not get to enjoy the full hosting experience. Giving Hamilton a second bite at the apple, and to get a full bite instead of just a nibble, doesn’t seem too unfair.

There has also been concern raised over Hamilton getting Grey Cup fatigue, like we saw in Vancouver and Toronto recently. Both major cities hosted the Grey Cup twice in a short span, with Vancouver being hosts in 2011 and 2014, and Toronto hosting the 100th Grey Cup in 2012 and hosting again in 2016. The concerns are not unfounded, as the 2011 and 2012 editions saw much more enthusiastic support compared to their 2014 and 2016 counterparts.

However, there are a couple of reasons I think those concerns will likely be unfounded. As I have already mentioned, this year’s game is the first in Hamilton since 1996 and Ticats fans have been eager to host the CFL’s title game since it became a legitimate possibility following the construction of Tim Hortons Field in 2014.

Secondly, Hamilton is not Toronto or Vancouver, two places where the CFL has a hard time finding a foothold. Outside of Saskatchewan you will probably not find a more rabid CFL fanbase than the one in Hamilton.

There are other great CFL cities, Winnipeg and Ottawa spring to mind immediately, but with scant few other professional sporting options — the Hamilton Bulldogs don’t have a huge reach and the CPL and CEBL teams, albeit popular, are too new to have captured the public interest in the same way the Ticats have — Hamilton is a Ticats town. I think fans will fully embrace the chance to get to host the full festival despite it coming less than two years after the last hosting gig.

That last point is probably the biggest reason why I think the 2023 edition won’t experience the apathy in the city like the 2014 and 2016 editions did Vancouver and Toronto, respectively. This December won’t be the full festival, with everything being scaled down due to COVID-19, including capacity at Tim Hortons Field for the game.

The plan to add temporary stands for this year’s game have been scrapped with capacity at the stadium now set at just 24,000 people. That is far off the number they hoped for when Hamilton’s hosting was announced back in early 2019.

The festival itself will be done on a smaller scale, too, with some potential events already being cancelled and some regular events likely to feature much smaller capacities or not happen at all. This year’s Grey Cup festivities won’t match the ones we have seen in the past when health restrictions due to a pandemic were obviously not in place.

Hopefully all of these measures will be things of the past once the 2022 Grey Cup in Saskatchewan is held, let alone when the 2023 game comes back to Hamilton. For those reason, I don’t expect Hamiltonians to have less enthusiasm the second time around like Vancouver and Toronto did.

Given what has gone on over the past two years, and with COVID-19 still being a part of our lives, the CFL pivoting to allow Hamilton a chance to host a true Grey Cup Festival was the right call. Other places will get their chance in the future, but given all the obstacles that have come with putting together this year’s version, it seems only right to give the city a chance to host the entire country in the way it was meant to be.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.