CFL merchandising in Ontario

Around this time last year, I started a thread after I visited one of those calendar stores that pops up every year just before Christmas. I noticed there was no calender there for the CFL (or Canadian football in general), but they did have one for lacrosse, whose following is minor in comparison to the CFL’s, as well as for the usual suspects, such as the NHL, NFL, etc. and their teams. I happened across one of those stores again a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t notice anything from lacrosse this year (didn’t look), but I did see one from rugby, another sport whose following is relatively minor in comparison to the CFL’s, but again, there was nothing to represent Canadian football.

I have to think, if there’s a market for calendars of smaller sports like rugby and lacrosse, then there should be a market for something to do with Canadian football as well. Maybe not the CFL specifically, but perhaps the CFL and CIS could get together and publish one together, or maybe Football Canada could produce one.

The lack of a calendar is not a huge deal to me, in and of itself. (I probably wouldn’t buy one if it were there, since I get enough free calendars from elsewhere that I don’t need to buy more.) This is just a special case of what I think is a more general problem, namely that there seems to be so little merchandising in Ontario outside of Hamilton and Toronto (though I haven’t shopped enough in Toronto to know what the situation is really like there). I can find a CFL ball, but almost nothing else anywhere.

There’s a store called Lids that sells nothing but baseball caps, representing all sorts of teams from all sorts of sports. The must sell hundreds of different hats but nothing from the CFL. Even SportChek, partly owned by CFL guys (up until recently, at least. I think it got bought by Canadian Tire), has nothing from the CFL other than CFL balls (I once struck up a conversation with a friend of the TiCats’ Matt Kirk while checking them out). Of course, SportChek’s gig is sporting equipment more than merch, but they do have stuff from other sports including a bunch from TFC and a small handful of stuff from Montreal Impact, both of MLS. So why not some stuff from the CFL? There’s only one store that carried any CFL merchandise beyond balls in recent memory, but they were those old-school leather helmets, which I don’t imagine are huge sellers anywhere. That store sells toques, scarves, mugs, glasses, etc. for other teams. I imagine they could sell CFL versions of those better than the leather helmets, if they bothered to carry them.

Has anyone else here from Ontario noticed similar things where they live, especially those outside of Toronto or Hamilton? Why does the CFL merchandising seem so weak outside of certain cities? Does this represent a missed opportunity, or is it something that’s been tried but failed? I.e. is the problem the CFL for failing to try or the fans for failing to buy?

To me, it feels like a missed opportunity, but I don’t know enough about the business to know for sure.

Its tough to know what sales numbers would be when there's nothing to sell. No one is going to buy something that isn't there, so I agree, it's probably a missed opportunity.

Just how big that missed opportunity is, I don't know. The only way to find out would be sales figures. See circular problem above.

It's funny you mention Lids. They've a store in Masonville Mall. About a year or so ago they did have a couple CFL hats, BC, Sask, Toronto, and I think Winnipeg. I wanted to buy them, but I didn't have the money at the time. Since then I haven't seen any CFL hats there. I think it'd be great if more CFL merch was sold in Ontario. It'd probably help the league expand in this area. Probably 80% of the CFL gear I have was purchased either online or in Hamilton when I attended the games in 2009. The only thing I bought in London was my Eskimos t-shirt, and it was the only one in the store. I'm pretty sure it was in a store at White Oaks Mall, the same place I bought my Peyton jersey. Logo Sports or something?

But I'd want the league to represent all teams in Ontario. One thing that annoys me about the NHL merch in this province is it's all Leafs, Senators, and Canadiens. Finding Oilers gear is next to impossible. I know it's because merch is sold regionally, but still, it'd be nice if I could buy some Eskimos/Oilers merch in this province instead of always having to go online.

I hear ya, Chief!

A couple of years ago, my wife went into Jersey City here in BC to get me a replica Riders helmet for christmas. The manager LAUGHED at her, and told her to order CFL stuff online. This was after the very helmet she wanted was in that store's flyer for the week!

I complained to the Jersey City head office, and I have seen CFL stuff in the store since, but only Riders and Lions. No Alta teams, and nothing at all from the east.

As an aside, I have not bought anything from that store since that episode, due to the rudeness of the staff. I eventually got my helmet at the Rider Store. But still.... it is annoying when a store advertises and then won't carry CFL items. (Now that I think of it, I don't think that manager is still there, either. I don't know if he got fired or it was just regular turnover.)

Do people think the league hasn't tried to get its merchandise into stores? If there isn't CFL stuff in stores, it's because the stores have decided the stuff won't sell in sufficient numbers to warrant stocking it. And I bet they made that decision based on how well CFL stuff has sold in the past.

I purchased Argo hats in the Lids store in the downtown Toronto Eaton Centre sevl years ago, so at one time Lids stocked CFL stuff. Natl Sports stores in southern Ont had tons of CFL merchandise two-three years ago, but ended up selling it all off at huge discounts. I got an autographed Ricky Williams jersey at National in Oakville -- the full replica, with sewn-on numbers and the correct letter font on the nameplate -- for $100. A year later or a year earlier (can't remember which) I got Bishop and Avery jerseys, cheaper replicas with hot-pressed numbers and wrong letter font -- for $20 each, also at Natl Sports. At the same time, hoodies, sweats, etc., were all being sold off at huge discounts against the original price. So Natl Sports and Lids, at least, have tried to sell CFL stuff in the past few years. It's a shame that a lot of stores don't choose to carry CFL merch, but that's how business works -- stores carry stuff they expect to sell and make a profit on.

New question then: why are Ontario CFL fans so cheap?

I honestly find it hard to believe that there are fewer CFL fans around (in Kingston specifically, but in general too) than Montreal Impact or Toronto FC fans, especially when (the?) Impact hasn’t even played a season in MLS yet.

In the Hamilton area there are a lot of places to buy Ticats Merchandise. Every Zellers Store has Ticats merchandise, Pioneer Gas Stations sells merchandise. Tiger Town has a store at the head office at 1 Jarvis St. Limeridge Mall has a Tiger Town Store that sells CFL merchandise.

In addition, the Ticats have a on line store, click below

Sports Obsession Store in Burlington and St. Catherines has a lot of CFL merchandise, they also have a on line store, click below.

Yes, in the Hamilton area, there are lots of places. In fact, everything I own from the TiCats was bought there, not here.

My concern is what happens once you leave Hamilton. The stuff can be bought online, but that isn't the best option for a few reasons. First, there's a $10 shipping fee for purchases of less than $100.00, which is prohibitive. Second, a lot of the stuff they sell is clothing, which I am extremely reluctant to buy without trying on first. I doubt that I'm alone in this regard. Also, one has to go out of their way to go to the online store. Nobody's going to stumble upon the TiCats online store like they would physical merchandise at a bricks and mortar store, like they can for NFL, NHL, MLB, etc. merchandise.

The CFL is the number 2 sport in Canada after the NHL, not just in terms of attendance but in terms of total number of fans. It's a shame that that's not reflected in merchandising (Roughriders excepted), regardless of whether that's because nobody's ever tried or because they tried but it failed.