Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The great Canadian football weather dilemma

Slight cold keeps fans away in droves

The Eskimos and Roughriders play a bad weather game Nov. 4, 2017.
    When it gets cold, they won’t go.
    If you’re a football team at any level in Canada, you fear cold weather of any type, because it keeps the fans away. If fans don’t come to games, they don’t spend money on concessions, merchandise or donate to scholarship programs in the case of university and junior teams.
    There was a time cold and snow didn’t keep fans away in Canada. During the past two seasons, it is apparent the social media age has played a part in changing this dynamic.
    People would prefer to sit in the comforts of home and see a quick hit of a football highlight on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat versus watching a game live for three hours in the cold. If you add in you pay anywhere from $15 to $27 to see a post-secondary game and $100 for a prime seat at a CFL game, you ask yourself why would you pay that type of money to go sit in the cold and snow for three hours and be uncomfortable.
Fans enjoy the CFL West final in 2013 in Calgary.
    These days, cold weather doesn’t have to be that cold. It seems like ticket buyers in Canada for outdoor sports are looking for the weather to be 20 C with sun and no wind. You are basically looking to be seen in nice weather at a sporting event, and you have prime conditions to use your mobile phone.
    If the weather is around even 10 C and still sunny, but you can feel the cold, ticket buyers in Canada won’t go to a football game. The efficiency of the mobile phone is hampered the colder it gets too.
    Unfortunately, that is the reality football teams in Canada are dealing with these days. Judging by crowds on televised NFL and National Collegiate Athletic Association football contests, the football culture in the United States isn’t deterred by bad weather games.
    For some early season football games in the United States, weather can go too far the other way where it is 40 C and sunny and spectators have to worry about health problems related to the heat.
The Roughriders Cheer Team is ready for the cold in 2017.
    With all that said, football teams Canada, where the citizens seem really addicted to social media, face a current country trend that any type of cold keeps people away.
    The Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are the CFL’s most popular team, even feel the effects of colder temperatures hurting attendance. Their last sellout at Mosaic Stadium of 33,350 spectators came on Sept. 15, when they fell 30-25 to the Ottawa Redbacks. The daytime temperature in Regina was 19 C.
    Saskatchewan’s last two regular season home games were played in October and they hosted a CFL West Division semifinal game in November.
    On Oct. 8, the Roughriders downed the Edmonton Eskimos 19-12 and 31,335 was the announced attendance at Mosaic Stadium, and the daytime temperature in Regina was 9 C. On Oct. 27, the Roughriders beat the British Columbia Lions 35-16 with an announced attendance at Mosaic Stadium was 30,091, and the daytime temperature was 13 C in Regina.
    On Nov. 11, the Roughriders fell 23-18 in the West Division Semifinal to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with an announced attendance of 30,609 spectators and the daytime temperature is Regina was 4 C.
    In the week leading up to each of those games, I was looking to possibly impulse purchase a ticket, if my busy schedule lightened up to allow for a drive from Saskatoon to Regina for one of those contests. My schedule didn’t lighten up, so I didn’t go.
Christion Jones heads upfield for the Roughriders on Nov. 4, 2017.
    When I was looking for tickets, I couldn’t believe how easy it would have been to purchase a good seat even on the day before the game, if I was able to go.
    This was for a Roughriders team that went 12-6 during the regular season. In the past when the Roughriders had that strong of a regular season record, it was almost impossible to get tickets to games.
    On a side note, the Grey Cup in Edmonton, Alta., held last Sunday that saw the Calgary Stampeders down the Redblacks 27-16 was deemed a sellout at 55,819 spectators in cold conditions at Commonwealth Stadium.
    At the university level in the U Sports ranks, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team, who have had average attendances around 6,000 in some recent seasons, saw their crowds at Griffiths Stadium shrink, when it got cold.
    The Huskies best attendance of 5,114 came when they fell 37-28 to the U of Calgary Dinos on Sept. 14. Weather at game time in Saskatoon was reported at 7 C and cloudy, but attendance was boosted by the fact Huskies honoured legendary retired head coach Brian Towriss before the contest.
Huskies DE Riley Pickett ready for a cold game on Sept. 21.
    When the archrival U of Regina Rams paid a visit on Sept. 21, it was a different story. The Huskies won 33-20, but the game drew 2,715 spectators in conditions that were -1 C and lightly snowing at game time. It snowed for maybe a quarter of that contest.
    For the Huskies final home game Oct. 20, they downed the visiting U of Manitoba Bisons 27-4 and drew 2,440 spectators to Griffiths Stadium. Temperature at kickoff was 3 C and sunny.
    On the Canadian Junior Football League front, the Saskatoon Hilltops hosted the league championship game – the Canadian Bowl – and elected to keep tickets prices the same as their regular playoff games at $20 per adult for the Nov. 17 league title contest.
    In the Canadian Bowl, the venerable Hilltops, who relish playing in cold weather games, drew their biggest crowd of the season of 1,465 spectators to Saskatoon Minor Football Field as they claimed a fifth straight CJFL title thumping the Langley Rams 58-21. The temperature in Saskatoon that day was -7 C and sunny. They likely would have drawn a lot more fans had it been warmer.
    There are no easy fixes when it comes to drawing fans in adverse weather to football games in Canada. By nature, football is an outdoor game made to be played in the elements, which adds to the challenge of the sport.
Fans at Griffiths Stadium are bundled up for a cold clash on Sept. 21.
    In Canada, cold weather and even snow can strike in summer months. You could move up the schedule, but that might not be practical in some leagues, and you will still get bad weather.
    You could give discounted ticket prices for games that will be played in months when the weather is cold. The Roughriders tried that out with walk up tickets in 2017 for games played in October and November.
    You could spend hundreds of millions of dollars collected from taxpayers to build domed football stadiums for everyone. That wouldn’t go over well with a sizable portion of the public, especially when you see the ongoing talks in Calgary about getting a new NHL rink and CFL stadium.
    Unfortunately in Canada, there aren’t that many good-hearted deep pocketed good Samaritans out there willing to build multiple domed football facilities.
    It has to become cool again in Canada to head out to bad weather football games. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers teams led by iconic head coach and general manager Cal Murphy were seen as “bad ass,” because they played in the snow and cold in the same gear they used in summer.
The family of Hilltops LB Bobby Ehman enjoys a cold Canadian Bowl win.
    The Ron Lancaster, George Reed and Ron Atchison era of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 1960s excelled in bad weather games and were deemed cool.
    When you went out to see cold weather games to see those teams play, you viewed yourself as being as tough as the players you watched.
    Unless heading out to cold weather football games becomes cool again, a large number of fans will remain plugged into their mobile phones and stay at home when conditions become slightly adverse.
    Unfortunately, there is no answer for how to bring back the feeling that it is cool to go to bad weather football games.

Four named all-Canadians for Huskies

Huskies OG Mattland Riley (#55) was a second team all-Canadian all-star.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team received some final nods for a fantastic year with four players being named U Sports all-Canadians all-stars.
    Last Thursday at an awards gala in Quebec City, Que., Huskies fifth-year running back Tyler Chow was a first team all-Canadian on offence and fourth-year defensive lineman Evan Machibroda was a first team all-Canadian on defence.
    Third-year offensive guard Mattland Riley was a second team all-Canadian on offence and fifth-year defensive end Tristian Koronkiewicz was a second team all-Canadian on defence.
    During the Huskies eight regular season games, Chow carried the ball 100 times for 640 yards and scored two touchdowns. During his regular season career with the Huskies, Chow carried the ball 385 times for 2,372 yards and scored 13 touchdowns to finish as the third all-time leading rusher in the program’s history.
    Machibroda had 14 total tackles, three sacks, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble for the Huskies in regular season action.
    Riley helped power a strong offensive line that allowed the Huskies to top the Canada West Conference with 1,376 yards rushing and place third with 2,565 yards passing as a team in the regular campaign.
Tristian Koronkiewicz (#90) was a first team all-Canadian all-star.
    Koronkiewicz topped Canada West with seven sacks to go along with 24 total tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for the Huskies in regular season play.
    The Huskies finished third in Canada West with a 5-3 regular season record. In a Canada West semifinal contest on Nov. 3 in Vancouver, B.C., the Huskies upset the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 31-28 in overtime. That win ended an eight-game post-season losing streak for the Huskies.
    On Nov. 10, the Huskies upset the U of Calgary Dinos 43-18 in the Canada West final in Calgary, Alta., to capture the Hardy Cup. That marked the first time the Huskies had won the Canada West title since 2006.
    The Huskies post-season game to an end in a U Sports semifinal contest on Nov. 17 in London, Ont., when they fell 47-24 to the U of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl.
    Last Saturday, the Mustangs fell in the Vanier Cup in Quebec City, Que., 34-20 to the host Universite Laval Rouge et Or.

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