Or­ga­niz­ers look to re­store lus­tre to Vanier Cup

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

Vanier Cup or­ga­niz­ers hope that an ear­lier start and a fo­cused “alumni” theme will re­store some of the lus­tre the na­tional univer­sity foot­ball cham­pi­onship lost in Hamil­ton last year with the se­cond-worst at­ten­dance in its 52year his­tory.

The Cup game and fes­ti­val re­turn to Tim Hor­tons Field in late Novem­ber, in the se­cond year of a two-year deal with the city.

“To me, it’s about put­ting the event back on its feet,” says Gra­ham Brown, the CEO of U Sports, which runs in­ter-univer­sity sports in Canada and is op­er­at­ing the Vanier Cup it­self, af­ter years of leas­ing it out to var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“We’ve sort of put last year be­hind us, and got our learn­ings from it. We didn’t put any­where enough peo­ple in the sta­dium, which I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for.”

On the field, last year’s Vanier Cup of­fered the same level of mem­o­rable play that char­ac­ter­ized most ma­jor 2016 cham­pi­onship fi­nals across the con­ti­nent, with Laval win­ning its record ninth ti­tle, 31-26 over the Cal­gary Di­nos.

But the game was played in an echo cham­ber, with only 5,600 tick­ets sold. This is the first time U Sports has of­fi­cially an­nounced the of­fi­cial at­ten­dance, and it was lower than all but the first Vanier Cup (3,488), when it was still an in­vi­ta­tional fundrais­ing event, and then called the Cana­dian Col­lege Bowl.

Only two other Vanier Cup crowds, at Var­sity Sta­dium in 1969 and at the then-Sky­dome in 1997, have not been into five fig­ures. The three pre­vi­ous (2004, ’05, ’08) in Hamil­ton, all at the old Ivor Wynne Sta­dium, drew be­tween

13,000 and 17,000 fans.

“We were late to the game, we were late to the mar­ket­ing,” Brown said of the 2016 Vanier Cup fes­ti­val. “And we were tak­ing the game back in house. Would it have been bet­ter to leave it at Laval one more year? I can’t ar­gue with that.

“We’ll have a much higher level of pres­ence this year.”

Last year, Brown took over as CEO of Cana­dian In­teruni­ver­sity Sports in early Septem­ber, and the very next month the or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on re­brand­ing it­self as U Sports. Just a few weeks af­ter that, they had to stage their show­case game of the year in a mar­ket they hadn’t worked in eight years, han­dling the de­tails they’d sold to out­side pro­mot­ers for sev­eral Novem­bers.

It was, as many ob­servers sug­gested at the time, too much, too soon.

But Brown says that this year’s mar­ket­ing and tick­et­ing strate­gies have al­ready been set, and con­tracts for the 2017 event have al­ready been signed with the city, the sta­dium and ti­tle spon­sor ArcelorMit­tal Do­fasco.

“And we’re meet­ing with the Ti­cats soon,” Brown said. “We didn’t get to the Ti­cats early enough last year.”

Brown said his or­ga­ni­za­tion prob­a­bly un­der­es­ti­mated “the so­phis­ti­ca­tion” of the Hamil­ton foot­ball mar­ket. The Ti­cats, who have a depthfinder into the lo­cal foot­ball com­mu­nity, can pro­vide spe­cific mar­ket­ing ad­vice and ac­cess to sub­scribers who are al­ready in­ter­ested in the sport.

“We have a col­lec­tion of mar­ket­ing as­sets to help drive ticket sales,” said Matt Afinec, the Tiger-Cats’ ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of busi­ness op­er­a­tions cit­ing, among other things, the pro­mo­tion of Vanier Cup ticket sales at Tiger-Cat games. “Every­thing that hap­pens at Tim Hor­tons Field we want to be suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially with foot­ball.”

Brown says that some of the mar­ket­ing has been changed and the so­cial me­dia cam­paign will fo­cus on the “alumni” theme. More tick­ets, for in­stance, will be in­cluded in ArcelorMit­tal Do­fasco’s spon­sor­ship pack­age in the hopes that their em­ploy­ees, and vast ‘alumni’, will sup­port the game.

All past win­ners of the game have been in­vited to this year’s Cup and most of the mem­bers of the all-Cana­dian teams from 1971 — the first year na­tional all-stars were named — have been con­tacted and about 15 are al­ready com­mit­ted. Other branches of Cana­dian univer­sity alumni will also likely be in­volved.

“What will put peo­ple in the sta­dium?” Brown mused rhetor­i­cally. “We’re try­ing to turn it around.”

CATHIE COWARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Laval ’s Eti­enne Moisan and Jean-Si­mon Roy head to the podium to ac­cept the Vanier Cup af­ter the game at Tim Hor­tons Field.

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