Roughriders soaking up high times< Return to Article
November 19, 2009
REGINA -- Jim Hopson, president and chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, had two meetings and a series of media requests to attend to before lunch. It was another busy day in an incredibly busy week, and it was still four days shy of the climax, when all of Regina will grind to a halt for the grandest football game it has hosted in three decades.
There were plans to be laid, numbers to be crunched. And Hopson, who has helped guide the franchise's return to prominence, was in the middle of a Prairie storm.
"It's a lot of fun, but holy Christ," he said, chuckling yesterday. "It's a good thing I'm the size I am, because everybody wants a piece of me."
Saskatchewan clinched first place in the Canadian Football League's West Division with a season-ending win over the Calgary Stampeders, and will host the Stampeders again on Sunday for the right to advance to the Grey Cup. It will be the first division final held in Regina since 1976, and with the anticipation already bordering on hysteria, there is hope the team could generate revenue into the range of seven figures this weekend.
These were already heady times in Saskatchewan, which is considering a proposal for a $350-million domed stadium, and where fans have made the team profitable. Two years removed from the third Grey Cup win in franchise history, hosting the division final has only added to the high times in the flatlands.
"It took us a while to come off the ceiling, to be honest with you," Hopson said. "I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a real sense of euphoria and accomplishment when we won that game with Calgary. I was much more emotional than I thought I'd be. I think I was more emotional than I was when we won the Grey Cup."
Three decades is a long time to go without hosting a division final, especially for Regina, where football is not consumed so much as it is absorbed. Hopson said the extra pride is derived from the fact that, while it is not unheard of for a mediocre team to catch fire and win the Grey Cup, a first-place finish is the mark of a consistently high-level team.
"You don't want to get cocky, because to stay at that level takes an unbelievable amount of good work and good luck," Hopson said. "But it means a lot to us here. It means a lot to our fans, and to every one of us who bleeds green."
It is also another marker to highlight just how far the Roughriders have progressed from the dark days of franchise-saving telethons and perennial last-place finishes. It has been reported that, out of every dollar spent on CFL merchandise, 54 cents is from somebody buying something green.
It has also been reported the community-owned team generated $28.2-million in revenue last year, an increase on the previous year, and miles ahead of where they were in 2004, when the Roughriders had $11-million in revenue.
The store the team opened in Saskatoon last month is already exceeding expectations, and there are plans to transport a significant cache of merchandise to Calgary next week, even if the Roughriders do not advance. The team reportedly moved more than $6.5-million in merchandise last year, more than any other CFL franchise.
That profitability is envied, and could come up for discussion at the league's next board of governors meeting, when Argos owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski are expected to revive the topic of revenue sharing. The notion was received poorly the last time it was raised, and a repeat could finally sway the duo into officially off-loading their struggling team.
Saskatchewan, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, has become a big market. There are big plans in the works for the team's 100th anniversary season, next year, just as there are big hopes for this weekend.
The Roughriders have never won a Grey Cup within 15 years of a prior championship -- with their three title in 1966, 1989 and 2007 -- and the hope has created at least a little giddiness. And it has made Hopson, already a busy man, a popular man as well.
"Now, of course, all my long-lost friends are calling me going, 'Hoppy, you wouldn't have some extra tickets for the Grey Cup?'" he said. "And we're going, 'No we don't, actually.' But people are getting real excited about the possibility of us being there."