Not-so-friendly persuasion selling tickets in Canada

ON THE CFL

July 23, 1995|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Is it the power of the ultimatum or national pride?

Much more of the former, although both factors probably contributed to season ticket sales increases at all eight Canadian Football League teams north of the border.

The most dramatic increases came in Hamilton and Ottawa, two of the CFL's more unstable franchises. Both went through ownership changes in the off-season, when commissioner Larry Smith threatened to revoke each franchise if it failed to reach a season-ticket sales target by an imposed deadline.

Hamilton came through in the biggest way. The Tiger-Cats have sold 16,679 season tickets this season, nearly tripling their 1994 total of 5,812.

"We had to sell 12,500 tickets and $1 million in corporate sponsorship by Dec. 23, and we passed 12,500 on Dec. 13," Hamilton ticket manager Matthew Moreland said. "We thought it would stop after that, but it only slowed down. People are taking a broader interest in the team."

Ottawa, which hasn't had a winning season since 1979, more than doubled last year's season-ticket holders (6,700), who now number 15,072. The Rough Riders reached their 15,000 target at the end of January. And in its first two home games, Ottawa drew an average of 24,051, a 35 percent increase over last year.

The fans of the Calgary Stampeders, currently being sold by Larry Ryckman, also were threatened. In December, Ryckman said he would move the team to San Antonio -- which has since become the home of the transplanted Sacramento Gold Miners -- if the Stampeders didn't sell 16,000 season tickets by Dec. 31.

The fans complied and have purchased 18,327 this season, more than 5,000 over last year's ticket total.

"This is our 50th anniversary, and I think the idea of this city losing its team sunk in with our fans," said Ron Rooke, the team's vice president of marketing and communications. "It's still a tough place to sell a ticket. Without [quarterback and marquee player] Doug Flutie, it would be even tougher."

Even Edmonton endured a similar threat, although its board of directors never spelled out specific penalties. The Eskimos passed their 22,000 ticket goal two months ago and stand at 25,385, nearly 6,000 above last year's figures.

British Columbia saw an increase of 3,200 from last year's season-ticket figure of 16,000, which team officials say is mainly a result of its Grey Cup victory over Baltimore in November. Winnipeg is up to 15,500, 4,000 over last year. Saskatchewan, the host of this year's Grey Cup, has sold 18,300 season tickets, up from 14,500 last year.

Even Toronto, which had Canada's worst attendance last season and is up for sale, saw a modest increase in season-ticket sales, from 7,300 to 8,000. The Argonauts also drew 18,404 to their home opener two weeks ago, a 40 percent increase over last year's average.

"I think talking to the fans had something to do with it [the $H increases], but I also think we've created new interest by expanding," said Smith, who added that Baltimore's historic run to the Grey Cup game got the additional attention of Canadian fans and their wallets. "Canadians will not stand up until they're in the trenches and the tanks are coming."

Walk-up fever

Home openers don't get much better than this for CFL expansion teams. The Birmingham Barracudas, who sold barely 2,500 season tickets, were counting on heavy game-day ticket sales to make a respectable showing in their first regular-season appearance at Legion Field.

The Barracudas hit it big on the field and at the box office.

Quarterback Matt Dunigan made a triumphant return from a preseason finger injury to throw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, leading Birmingham to a 51-28 victory over Hamilton. And the team sold more than 10,000 tickets on game day to wind up with a crowd of 31,185, the largest attendance of all 1995 CFL home openers.

"We had 16 ticket windows open on one side of the stadium. From an hour before kickoff to the end of the first quarter, people were standing 25 to 30 deep in every line. I've never seen anything like it," said Birmingham ticket manager Arnold Wright. "This is a walk-up town. Hopefully, this will set the tone for the rest of the season."

Iggy -- a hero again

The legend of Iggy lives on.

Kicker Donald Igwebuike, who became a fan favorite in Baltimore last year, is being embraced by the expansion Memphis Mad Dogs after he kicked a 30-yard field goal in the closing seconds Wednesday to lift Memphis to a 23-20 victory at Ottawa.

Igwebuike signed with Memphis on Monday, just after Baltimore transferred the rights to him to the Mad Dogs. Then he went to Washington to get his passport and travel papers in order for his travel to Canada. He rejoined the team in Ottawa on Wednesday.

He strained his groin in pre-game warm-ups, leaving the place-kicking duties to Nick Mystrom, a kickoff specialist. Mystrom missed three field goals, as Memphis blew a 19-10 second-half lead. Finally, Memphis coach Pepper Rodgers called Iggy with the game on the line.

Igwebuike should fill a huge hole in the Mad Dogs' roster. Before his game-winning kick, Memphis had tried three kickers, who had missed 10 of 15 field goals.

Baltimore's next home game is against Memphis on Aug. 12. Do you think Iggy's return will sell a few tickets?

STALLIONS' NEXT GAME

Opponent: Birmingham (3-1)

When: Saturday

Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.

?3 TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

STALLIONS SCHEDULE

Date Opponent, Time/Res., TV/Rec.

6/30 at B.C., L 34-37, 0-1

7/8 San Antonio, W 50-24, 1-1

7/15 at San Antonio, W 28-23, 2-1

7/22 Winnipeg, W 43-7, 3-1

7/29 at Birmingham, 8, ESPN2

8/2 at Edmonton, 9:30, Ch. 54

8/6 at Calgary, 4:30, Ch. 54

8/12 Memphis, 7:30, ESPN2

8/19 at Memphis, 8:30, Ch. 54

8/26 Toronto, 4

9/2 at Hamilton, 8, Ch. 54

9/9 Birmingham, 7:30

9/15 at Shreveport, 8, ESPN2

9/23 Shreveport, 7:30

10/1 at Saskatch., 4, Ch. 54

10/7 Saskatchewan, 2

10/14 Bye

10/21 B.C., 7:30

10/29 Hamilton, 2

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