Like the fans who went to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, folks attending this year’s Grey Cup in Toronto will also get to soar above Nathan Phillips Square on a zip line.
In fact, this year’s Grey Cup festivities will feature more than 50 events, from team parties and galas to concerts, cultural events and a film festival — even Santa will make an appearance during the nine-day, 10-night event. It’s a celebration that newly appointed president and COO Lou Ragagnin hopes will recapture the excitement the Grey Cup used to bring to the city when people rode horses through the lobby of the Royal York Hotel and the Toronto Argonauts and the CFL, for that matter, were very big deals.
And oh yes, the Nov. 25 Grey Cup game, which is well on its way to being sold out, in some ways is almost incidental to the success of the party being planned.
“Certainly, it’s a celebration (of Canadian culture and sport) culminating in the game,? said Ragagnin, who served as COO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “When we first looked at this, we started from the premise that getting the chance to host the 100th Grey Cup was a pretty special opportunity for Toronto. So we asked ourselves, what it would take for us to create that festival atmosphere of the days gone by?
“We knew we had to change things up. Grey Cup week festivities have traditionally been a three- or four-day event. We knew that we had to create that Olympic feeling in this city, so we extended the week to bring this city to life over two weekends.?
Ragagnin expects the planned events to be attended not only by die-hard football fans but also by people who aren’t even into sports.
“We want to engage people to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on in the city? Let’s go check out this great event,’ in the same way the people of Vancouver just poured out onto the streets of that city because the Olympics were on,? Ragagnin said. “A city can be brought alive by a great event. The Grey Cup is a great event.?
Ragagnin said people lined up for seven hours to ride the zip line at the Vancouver Games and he expects it to be a big hit in Toronto.
With such a mix of nationalities in the GTA, some festival events will cater to people who haven’t grown up with football, Ragagnin said.
“New Canadians may not necessarily have been exposed to football but those are the fans that we need to engage for the CFL and this marketplace to be successful,? he said.
The festival will be spread out into four different zones: the “Family Zone? at Yonge-Dundas Square; the “Adrenalin Zone? at Nathan Phillips Square; the street festival around the Rogers Centre; and the “Fan Zone? at the Metro Convention Centre.
Ragagnin hopes the festival will also involve Toronto’s Cavalcade of Lights event during the first weekend and the Santa Claus Parade as part of the kickoff weekend. Santa will actually have the Grey Cup trophy with him in his sleigh.
“We want people who are attending the parade to remain downtown and visit festival events,? Ragagnin said.
As part of the festivities, the CFL will commemorate various Grey Cup milestones such as the first game in 1909 at Rosedale Field and the infamous 1950 Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium. Plans are also underway for an alumni game, perhaps a touch football match involving some of the legends of the game.
The Vanier Cup for Canadian college football supremacy kicks off the week on Friday, Nov. 16.
The public will get the chance to purchase tickets to the game in June. About 70 per cent of the initial 18,000 priority reservations from across the country when the event was announced came from the GTA, Ragagnin said.
“That was a validation to us just how special the 100th Grey Cup game is to Canadians and particularly the people of Toronto,? Ragagnin said. “It would be amazing if the Argos are in it but the reality is the team is in a rebuilding stage and for the club it’s not about one year, it’s about building the team for sustained success. The Argos haven’t won a Grey Cup in Toronto since 1952 — that’s 60 years.?