The Canadian Football League. With its big fat field and its kitschy rules, the CFL has been entertaining Canadians and Americans alike since the 1800's. This predominately summer league has helped produce some greats who have achieved success and glory in the NFL. In somewhat recent years names like Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Cameron Wake and Warren Moon have all received their start in the CFL.
The CFL is all about tradition. With the ability to draw on over 100 years of history, teams are able to draw the most fervent following. However, the history of the CFL is not all rosy. On more than one occasion the entire league came close to going under. Franchises have started and failed. Franchises with decades of history have disappeared. Expansion to the United States was a colossal failure. Players leave for greener pastures. Coaches find better opportunities. More money found in leagues for doing less (see third-string quarterback). Inadequate ownership. Put it all together and you must come away with a respect for the staying power of the CFL.
Located less than 100 km from Toronto, Hamilton, Ontario has become more famous for failed attempts to land an NHL franchise by the CEO of RIM than any of its current sports inhabitants. A city in transition from Steeltown North to whatever the future holds, the Hammer offers residents a few outlets for their sporting dollars, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats being the most prestigious. The Tiger-Cats' history dates back to 1869 with the creation of the Hamilton Tigers football club. In 1950 the Tigers and the Hamilton Wildcats merged to form the current incarnation of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Tiger-Cats have shared in this roller coaster history with the CFL. Challenged with questionable ownership at times, the Tiger-Cats were on the brink of extinction when saved by current owner and self-proclaimed Caretaker of the Franchise, Bob Young. The Tiger-Cats have boasted 15 Grey Cup championships and claim a unique distinction along with minor league baseball's Rochester Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens as the only sports franchises to win a championship in every decade of the 20th century.
Bob Young's current challenge is to improve the home life for the Tiger-Cats. Their current home is Ivor Wynne Stadium, a neighborhood stadium in every sense of the word that has been home since 1930. The stadium is named after Ivor Wynne, a local civil servant responsible for some of the renovations at the stadium in the early seventies and many programs and buildings at Hamilton's McMaster University. Most recently Hamilton was home to the great debate about the future of Ivor Wynne and home of the Tiger-Cats. With the Pan-Am Games coming to Toronto and Hamilton, the opportunity for a new stadium arose. The City and Bob Young battled and debated for months about where a new stadium would be best built. At the 11th hour the decision was made that Ivor Wynne would remain the site, with a massive renovation to take place. In the meantime, life goes on for the Tiger-Cats and Ivor Wynne...
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You will find the staples here. Hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, popcorn, soda, chicken, and beer are available at Ivor Wynne. Prices are acceptable, but not spectacular. Pepsi products in 500 ml bottles are available. Combos are available at many stands.
If you are a fan of draft beer then you are out of luck. The only beer available is in cans. Molson Canadian and Coors Light tallboys are $8.75 and Carling is $6.
The Smokin' Pete's stand has Cheesesteaks and Chili Cheese dogs for something a little different. Overall the menu is not a big shocker, but what bumps up the score for Ivor Wynne is the Sweet Roasted Corn. For $4 a fantastic cob of corn grilled on the BBQ and dipped in butter is yours. Heaven!
Ivor Wynne is a modified horseshoe with the North and South grandstands carrying the bulk of the attendance. There is no spectacular entrance or gates. In fact, Ivor Wynne is not an aesthetically pleasing place. However, the sightlines are good from pretty much everywhere. The Tiger-Cats do what they can to make the experience enjoyable for all.
The Fan Zone was fully functional on the soccer field adjacent to the stadium. There were giant inflatable structures offering a variety of activities for all ages. Concessions, fan merchandise, cheerleaders and space to run around were all part of the Fan Zone. The game I attended was MMA day and picture opportunities were available in a real MMA ring with MMA fighters present to sign autographs.
Inside the stadium, the Tiger-Cat Drumline is there to greet you. In the northeast corner of the stadium a live band plays music in the bar area. Before entering, make sure you see the Tiger-Cat Walk of Fame featuring the legends of Tiger-Cat football. Make sure you don't miss it as it is ten feet up on the stadium walls on Beechwood Ave.
On the south grandstand press box is the 17 member Tiger-Cat Wall of Honour. The 15 Grey Cup Championships are marked by flags around the stadium. I'm not a fan of this as it is difficult at best to see them. I prefer a banner or some sort of other fixed monument.
During the game the music continues between plays. Promotions are adequate, but not overwhelming. The cheerleaders do their thing. The junior cheerleaders do their thing. The mascots do their thing. Overall, the atmosphere is pretty darn good. My biggest complaint is that the Tiger-Cats have so much going on, and they have not organized it very well. For example, before the game, the drumline is playing, the live band is playing, and the music is playing in the stadium. All are within earshot. During the game, the drumline still plays, but the stadium music plays over them. Personally, I prefer the college atmosphere that highlights the band, and gives them their moment.
Ivor Wynne Stadium is absolutely a neighborhood stadium. There is nothing in the way of bars or restaurants anywhere near the stadium. This does lead for some tailgating opportunities, however it is nowhere near the scale of many other places. If you are looking for the pre or post game meal or drink, try the eclectic spot known as Hess Village. Downtown Hamilton on Hess St is a neat spot littered with bars and restaurants. The patios are plentiful in the summer. We went with the Gown and Gavel, but there are lots of good choices.
Hamilton fans show up for the big games. The Labour Day Classic is annually sold out. The Canada Day kickoff is also well attended. At times, those games in between are a bit more of a challenge. Although this game boasted an attendance of over 22,000, which is about average for the last few years, there was a ton of green jerseys for the visiting Riders in the crowd. The Tiger-Cats gave the fans lots to cheer about, and they complied, but the empty corners of the stadium, along with the vastness of visiting fans leaves something to be desired. Possibly the future is looking better with a more consistently strong team.
Ivor Wynne is not the easiest place to get to. You need to go right through downtown after getting off the highway. The one-way street system of Hamilton helps speed this process along. Once near the stadium parking can be an issue. There is some parking at a school on the baseball diamonds, but at the big games, this fills up fast. Local residents also offer their driveways and front lawns for a price. Transit is an option as Hamilton Street Rail offers free game-day rides with your game ticket.
Washroom facilities are definitely outdated. Also, with a high number of stairs, handicapped accessibility may be an issue. These issues will definitely be addressed during the latest renovation.
Tickets range from $20 - $92 with tickets for the biggest game of the year, the Labour Day Classic, a little bit more. My tickets were $45 and were in the upper part of the North grandstand. A good view of the field and everything, but it was not necessarily worth the full $45. In retrospect, I would have gone with a cheaper option. Parking went for $20, which was very close, but expensive. As mentioned above, concession prices were okay, but not spectacular. Overall, the investment is significant, but not exorbitant. Definitely more affordable than the NFL. It is curious where the price points will be once the "new" Ivor Wynne has been completed.
An extra point for Tiger-Cat icon Pigskin Pete who spends the entire game going from section to section leading the crowd in the quintessential Tiger-Cat cheer: "Oskee Wie Wie, Oskee Wah Wah, Holy Mackinah, Tigers Eat 'em Raw!"
An extra point for the introduction of the rules by Tiger-Cat Hall of Famer, and former pro wrestler Angelo Mosca. The video montage has Mosca as Moses bring down the commandments for fan behaviour.
An extra point for creative chirping of the opposing team. The Tiger-Cats played the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The riders are affectionately known as the "Green Riders" and they entered the stadium to Kermit the Frog singing "It's Not Easy Being Green." The Cats also played a vignette from Sesame Street counting to twelve, showing the Riders from the last Grey Cup with 13 men on the field during a missed Montreal field goal; a play that helped decide a Montreal victory.
An extra point for the fly-over by planes from the Hamilton Heritage Warplane Museum before the national anthem.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cat experience is worth your time and money. It definitely helps break up the summer baseball monotony. The opportunity to soak in over 100 years of football history is a great experience. Rushing out to see the current version of Ivor Wynne Stadium should not be a high priority, but the Tiger-Cats are worth your time and money. Keep an eye on this franchise because when the new version of Ivor Wynne comes on the scene, the Tiger-Cats could be a tough ticket. If the opportunity arises, make the trip to Ivor Wynne, hopefully on Labour Day or against the Toronto Argonauts, and you will come away better for the experience. When Pigskin Pete makes his way to your section, chime in with the words that can be heard around the stadium; OSKEE WIE WIE!
Went to Ticats Montreal game 7/29/2011.
Stadium facilities were filthy, litter everywhere, and you could tell they're not spendng any money until the Pan Games funding comes. One of the light standards above the press box was not working at all. They didn't light the field until half time so there were huge shadows on the field for the first two quarters.
12 oz beer was $6.25 - which isn't bad but not great either. Didn't check out any other vendors.
Half-time and commercial break features were cheezy and annoying. Loud Speakers behind us kept playing 1970's rock and roll over top of the band in the East endzone.
Fortunately, we got our tickets cheap through the Knights of Columbus which is available pretty much to everyone if you look around - if we'd paid full price it would have been worse.
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