Tiger Cats fans face long drive to small stadium

Click here for an interactive look at the University of Guelph's Alumni Stadium. The Tiger Cats announced Tuesday they will be playing their home games in Guelph next season.

University of Guelph officials are well aware that the Tiger Cats' move to their facility isn't a perfect solution for the people of Hamilton.

Ideally, the TiCats would be playing in a rebuilt Pan Am stadium in Hamilton next year, says Tom Kendall, athletics director at the University of Guelph.

"That would be the perfect scenario — but that's not going to happen," Kendall said. "This is the best alternative given the predicament."

The TiCats said Tuesday that the University of Guelph's Alumni Stadium will be the team's temporary home for the next CFL season. Kendall says that will mean about six games in Guelph, plus any playoff games.

While the CFL club and the university have a memorandum of understanding, a statement released by the TiCats said there are still unspecified 'logistical issues' that need to be resolved before a final agreement can be signed.

The two sides hope to work out those issues over the next couple of weeks.

Ivor Wynne Stadium, the team's former home, is scheduled for demolition in December to make way for a new facility.

Making the trip

Hordes of TiCat fans will need to drive around 45 minutes north up Highway 6 to Alumni stadium for games.

Alumni stadium is much smaller than what TiCat fans will be used to. Capacity is listed at 7,600 — 4,100 seats in the stadium bleachers, and 3,500 on the hill. 

Kendall says the biggest crowd the stadium has seen is around 10,000 for a Yates Cup game four years ago. Officials hope to expand that capacity by another few thousand.

"We have an architectural company looking at what's feasible right now," Kendall said.

Alumni stadium is an outdoor facility, built in 1970. It got a major facelift this summer when the school pumped in $4.5 million worth of renovations.

Crews replaced the field, the track and installed a new video board. New lights are currently being erected to allow for night games and TV broadcasts.

'Plenty of parking'

Then there's parking. Though the details are still being hammered out, Kendall says there should be plenty of room.

"Our campus is a little more wide open and accessible. Compared to Hamilton, we're kind of out in the country," he said. "The plan is to seal off a number of our parking lots at game time."

That could mean anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 spaces set aside for fans, he said.

GO Transit may add extra buses to shuttle fans to and from games.

"In the new year, we will review the needs in light of the TiCats' plan to play at the University of Guelph next season and determine if additional service is required," said Malon Edwards, media relations officer for Metrolinx.

So why not Mac?

Many fans are no doubt still scratching their heads as to why a deal between the TiCats and McMaster couldn't be hammered out.

It all comes down to space, says Gord Arbeau, McMaster's director of public and community relations.

"We're a landlocked campus," Arbeau said. "When the TiCats approached us last spring, there were a number of challenges that were McMaster specific."

One is capacity. Arbeau says it just wouldn't be possible to expand Ron Joyce Stadium's 5,500 seats to the 15,000 needed for TiCats games without causing major disruptions on campus. Guelph just has more room.

The other is McMaster's on-site hospital. "We have to ensure easy access to the hospital," Arbeau says — something that would become almost impossible on game days.

Excitement builds

Understandably, Guelph is buzzing about the team heading there next season.

"Something this big isn't usual for us," Kendall said. "People are really excited all through the community."

Though the details of a deal between the team and the university aren't totally certain, Kendall is sure of one thing.

"I don't think TiCat's fans will care where their team is playing as long as they're winning," he laughed.

"Hamilton fans don't need to be concerned. We're nice people here in Guelph."