Southern Ontario remains a challenge for the Canadian Football League, but commissioner Mark Cohon says the league will provide financial assistance to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next season while their new stadium is built.
Cohon said Friday during his annual state-of-the-league address three-quarters of the CFL's teams (six of eight) are breaking even or making money. Cohon didn't provide specifics but said Hamilton and the Toronto Argonauts remain works in progress.
"We know we have work here in southern Ontario," he said. "But I'm confident as we look to the future for a new television deal, the new stadium in Hamilton and the progress we're making here in Toronto that I'd say in a few years that number will increase."
Last year, Toronto and Hamilton split $1 million from the CFL to grow grassroots football in southern Ontario.
Next month, venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium will be demolished and replaced with a 24,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility. The Ticats have reached an agreement to play most of next year's "home" games at the University of Guelph before moving into the new venue in 2014.
The yet-unnamed new stadium will stage the 2015 Pam An Games soccer competition. Cohon said CFL officials haven't decided how much they'll ante up but have agreed to help Hamilton owner Bob Young cover his costs in 2013.
"What we see now is a bright light at the end of what was once a long tunnel," Cohon said. "It's really coming to fruition with that new stadium … and new infrastructure and we want to support him in that effort."
Cohon said staging the 100th Grey Cup has helped Toronto boost attendance, ticket revenue and its season-ticket base, the last by a whopping 50 per cent.
No stadium plans for T.O.
There's no new stadium on the horizon in Toronto, but the Argos have certainly created a buzz by reaching the historic 100th Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders. Now the trick remains capitalizing on that momentum after Sunday's big game.
"I think they have a real opportunity to do that," Cohon said. "I know in the last week they've already sold hundreds of new season tickets for next year and have the opportunity to become a strong fixture on the sports landscape in Toronto."
The new Hamilton stadium is following a trend in the CFL. New facilities have been built or planned for Winnipeg, Regina and Ottawa, while existing venues in B.C., Edmonton and Montreal have been refurbished.
A common complaint among Argos fans is Rogers Centre, which seats about 46,000 for football, is too big and lacks atmosphere, especially with the roof closed. Cohon said ideally a 24,000-seat facility would work best in Toronto.
"They're trying to make the Rogers Centre work and you will see Sunday when that stadium is full it's exciting," Cohon said. "But longterm I think in terms of looking at professional sports teams you're looking at the size of the Ticats stadium, the size of the stadium in Ottawa, all around 24,000, that's perfect for CFL football … and I've talked about a strategy around potentially a new stadium around the Toronto region."
The Tiger-Cats did see business grow for a third straight season, reporting double digit growth in partnership revenue, merchandise sales and tickets.
As well, the regional television audience for Ticat games was up 11 per cent, while the Argos' ratings increased by 20 per cent. League-wide, TV ratings were up six per cent on The Sports Network.
Overall, more than two million Canadians attended a regular-season game, a 1.5 per cent increase from a year ago and four per cent jump from 2010, the league noted in a news release.
"A year ago," Cohon said, " I said we would work to seize our opportunities here in southern Ontario. And today, I can tell you that, while there remains work to do, our franchises here are aggressively moving in the right direction."
The commissioner added the CFL is poised for a bright future.
"When I look at the size of our audiences, the quality of our game, the emergence of young star players, the transformation of our stadiums … [and] the passion of our fans, I can say with confidence [that] the state of the CFL is strong."
Cohon cited the following as a demonstration of the league's ability to grow and prosper in the coming years:
- The outreach to Atlantic Canada.
- Full implementation of an effective salary cap.
- Introduction of random testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
- Development of a leading concussion protocol.
- Improvements to the league's combine and Canadian draft.
- A 50 per cent increase in partnership revenue and a 400 per cent improvement in licensing revenue, all in the past five years.