Riders’ president Craig Reynolds hopes new CFL schedule, Saturday playoff games can battle high Mosaic Stadium ‘no-show rates’

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/Rattleboxmultimedia.ca/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders finished second in the CFL with an average attendance of 27,431 in 2022, but the number of paying customers that opted not to show up for games continues to be a concern.

“It’s a challenge across the industry and it has been a challenge for years, but it’s certainly accelerated post-pandemic,” Riders’ team president Craig Reynolds said in an extensive interview with Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post this week.

“The no-show rates — and this is not just across the CFL and certainly not just with the Roughriders — are significantly higher post-pandemic than they were pre-pandemic.”

While it has not yet returned to the levels seen prior to the cancelled 2020 season, the CFL saw a 13 percent overall uptick in attendance league-wide this season. However, the numbers declined in Saskatchewan, where a disappointing season resulted in the team falling short of the 28,000 ticket mark for the first time since 2006.

Fewer still appeared to actually be in Mosaic Stadium on gameday, even while the team was still battling for their playoff lives. While an improvement on the field is paramount to reversing that trend, Reynolds notes that many of the reasons for the empty seats were outside of the organization’s control.

“There’s a multitude of factors that go into that. This year there was some economic factors with the high price of gasoline. There were some schedule issues where we had a number of back-to-back games in July,” he explained. “That’s a big ask — especially for our out-of-town fans — to make that trip down to Regina for consistent weekends during the summer.”

A better game-day experience can be used to counter those factors, though several of the structural problems have been rectified in the new CFL schedule.

“We look at seven out of 10 games being on the weekend as a real win,” Reynolds said. “We like that we don’t have a lot of back-to-back games, which we did last year. We also like the consistency of the start times.”

The CFL has made several changes to its schedule in order to better engage with fans, including scheduling playoff games for Saturdays in 2023 rather than the traditional Sundays. That move was announced at commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s Fan State of the League address during Grey Cup week in Regina and has received generally positive reviews. That doesn’t surprise Reynolds, who was one of those pushing for the change.

“I’ve been a big advocate of that for a few reasons,” he explained. “From the division final perspective, it gives another day for the teams participating in the Grey Cup game to get prepared because that turnaround is quite quick. Saturdays are great games from a game-day experience perspective and we saw that when we hosted the West semi-final in 2021.”

“We actually asked fans who had not attended that Sunday game to give us some reasons why they hadn’t attended. One of the biggest reasons was because it was on a Sunday and they had to work the next day. So that was another piece of data that led us to be very supportive of moving the playoffs to Saturday.”

However, there is one date on the CFL calendar that will not be moving to combat recent market trends. Despite some empty seats during the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium, Reynolds doesn’t believe a Saturday championship game will be in the league’s future.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Sunday night at prime time is the biggest window from a television ratings perspective. The Grey Cup game being on Sunday is the right choice for sure.”