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Incredible fan resurgence sparked by Young's marketing
"If they can sell out Montreal in a cynical big city place like that,we 've got to be able to do that in Hamilton where we 're the only big
league sport in town." -- Hamilton Tiger-
Cats owner Bob Young,Feb.3,2004.
When Young made that comment to The Hamilton Spectator just two years ago,his club was coming off a 1-17 season,had a season ticket base of 7,500 and was averaging just 13,000 fans.
Sell-outs?In Hamilton?You have to be joking.Two years later,no one is laughing at club projections of selling more than 18,000 season tickets before the 2006 home opener.Less than five years ago,if the Ticats drew
17,000 to aging,dumpy Ivor Wynne Stadium,that was considered a decent crowd.
Just ask Larry Oleskiw.He was there.The lifelong Ticat fan and season ticket holder since 1974 has missed just one Ticat game since 1967.
"That was for my sister 's wedding.I haven't forgiven her either."
The point is Oleskiw has plenty of company at Ticat contests these days.
Since Young plucked the franchise off the shoals of bankruptcy two and half years ago, the season ticket base has increased by 68 per cent.These days 17,000 is the club 's season ticket base.These days if the Cats can't
attract 27,000-plus to the Balsam Avenue North stadium,the front office staff frown.
The Tabbies were terrible last season, winning just five contests.But still the crowds came.The club 's average attendance was 28,002,up 500 per game from the season before.
The club lifted the local blackout on every home contest last season.People tuned in.The Cats were No.1 one in the league in home television viewing on TSN last season, attracting 452,000 average viewers.
The numbers show no sign of abating this season.The club expects to sell more than 18,000 season tickets,up from the 17,206 sold last season.
The release of an early CFL schedule,the acquisition of star quarterback Jason Maas, the re-signing of Canadian receiver Brock Ralph and the hiring of new offensive co-ordinator Joe Paopao have all helped sales.
But remember,this franchise went bankrupt in 2003.With just a few months before the start of the 2006 campaign,Young 's club appears to be on the verge of selling out every single game in 29,600-seat Ivor Wynne,which in turn is falling apart,re-quiring some $15 million in repairs.
Young suggests he is not surprised that success has come so fast.
"It was certainly do-able.We had done our homework.We couldn 't see any reason why we couldn 't get there.Having said that, we 're absolutely thrilled with the progress that we 're making and we 're thrilled with the reception we 've had in the community." Young said the Cats will prove a hotter ticket this summer for one key reason;the club will field a much more talented squad than the 5-13 team from 2005.
Oleskiw thinks he knows why the Cats have become a hot ticket that 's getting hotter by the day.
"When Bob Young took over he came in and he didn 't blame the fans for not attending.I think that was a big key.He said if they don't go,it 's not their fault,it 's my fault,"
Bob Irving has seen a lot in his 32 years of covering the Canadian Football League.But the veteran play-by-play announcer of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers admits he has never witnessed such a phenomenon as the Hamilton football turnaround.
Irving said his lasting memory of travelling to Hamilton to call Bomber games was a crowd of anywhere from 13,000 to 18,000. "I thought the market was dead.And what Bob Young has done is stunning.It 's absolutely stunning that he could get that many people to come back that fast.To me that 's just shocking," Irving said."It 's astonishing that he could get that many people back in and not necessarily through a dramatically improved product or an exciting player like a Doug Flutie.Just by marketing,relating better to the fans ... ..he 's a bloody genius," Irving said yesterday.
Marvin Ryder,a lecturer of marketing and entrepreneurship at McMaster University, doesn 't call Young a genius.But he believes the multi-millionaire computer software entrepreneur has done a brilliant job of re-connecting with Hamilton football fans.
"He isn't here a lot but when he is here he is like a political candidate.He has a whole series of speeches and luncheons and dinners and kissing babies and shaking hands.I 'm sure he instills it in his staff to take that same
kind of diligence to make sure fans are enjoying themselves,they feel like they are getting value for their dollars,"Ryder said. "This becomes a positive momentum. Fans enjoy it,they talk it up,it 's easier to get sponsors who create more enjoyable things, who attract corporations ..."