The Toronto Grey Cup game is still nine months in the future, but 2000 tickets have already been sold to Hamilton Tiger-Cat subscribers.
Surprised, you say? Who isn't?
It will certainly surprise many of the roughly 200 delegates at the annual CFL Congress to hear from the Toronto Argonauts today just how swimmingly things are going for the first Grey Cup at Rogers Centre (nee Skydome) in 15 years.
"We want to show the league and the rest of the country that the Grey Cup and the Grey Cup Festival can flourish in Toronto," Argo president and CEO Keith Pelley told The Spec here yesterday.
"I keep hearing that the game will get lost here."
Tickets go on sale to the general public on March 1, the same day that the Cup committee, led by former Ottawa Renegades' owner Brad Watters, will announce several major attractions connected to Grey Cup week.
Early indicators are that organizers are on the right track. Except for a one-day window to the public, which resulted in 10,000 tickets moved, Grey Cup 2007 ticket sales have been available only to Argonaut and Ticat season's ticket holders. Double blue boosters have grabbed 10,000 so far and another 2,000 have gone to Hamilton fans.
With sponsor buys, about 30,000 tickets have been moved. And all 60 private boxes available to the Argos have already been sold, at $25,000 each. Pelley says the other 60 boxes have been retained by the Rogers Centre.
"I'm confident we'll sell out," Pelley said.
The Ticats are connected to the Cup committee through MRX, Bob Young's umbrella of sports and entertainment management companies. Pelley said the Ticats, despite promoting tickets to their subscribers, won't get a direct slice of the Cup profits. But MRX will profit by having the rights to the Vanier Cup, which will be a major part of the Grey Cup Festival.
The national university championship will be played on Friday night, two days before the Grey Cup game, and a lower-bowl ticket for the CFL game could not be purchased without buying a Vanier Cup ticket.
"So the lower bowl will be sold for the Vanier Cup," said Ticat vice-president Adam Provost. "But what we'll be working on is getting those ticket-holders to actually go to the game."
It's possible that, from 2009 onward, the Grey Cup and Vanier Cup could always be played in the same city on the same weekend. This year's doubleheader is a first, but before MRX got involved, the 2008 Grey Cup had been awarded to Montreal and the Vanier Cup was already scheduled for Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium (because the Ontario conference is the host of this year's and next year's games).
"The 2007 Cup is a test-drive to see if will work," Provost said.
University football officials will be watching to see if their big game gets lost amid the professional promotions. But Cup organizers have done the right thing in blocking off a core of the city -- Front Street and Bremmer Boulevard near Rogers Centre will be closed to traffic through the four-day weekend -- and keeping non-football activities close to the dome.
Party central will be at the south convention centre and in a nearby outdoor park, both adjacent to the dome. Other events will likely be held at the Air Canada Centre, the Liberty Grand on the CNE grounds and at Roy Thomson Hall.
"You can't just take the Saskatchewan Grey Cup and put it in Toronto," Pelley said. "It's very important that we have the great feel from a Saskatchewan..., but you need to create something else. Toronto is so saturated in terms of entertainment, for it to become the pinnacle of the week it has to captivate everyone.
"We'll have five 'Wows!' to announce on March 1."
While Pelley wouldn't release any details, The Spec has learned that big-time Canadian bands The Barenaked Ladies, Sam Roberts and Great Big Sea will be holding concerts during the weekend.
Pelley says making an impact in a crowded market will be costly. The budget is expected to be about $12 million, most of which will be recovered in gate receipts. The profit will be derived from other events connected to the festival.
And will Air Canada Centre -- meaning Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment Ltd. -- be involved? "I'll tell you March 1," Pelley said.