There was a nostalgia fest Monday about the Labour Day experience at ancient Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. The memories of the bandbox field. The decrepit stands, the cramped dressing rooms, the hardscrabble neighbourhood that will be history in a few short years. Some voiced the sentiment that the Tiger Cats' new stadium - if there is to be a new stadium in Hamilton - should replicate the gritty 1950s ambience of ol' I Never Wynne.
For them, tough news from a report by the Consumer Electronics Association this year that says 35 per cent of American fans now prefer watching football on a high-definition television than attend in person. (The numbers hare higher when 3D is added to the question.) Reasons for choosing Hi-Def in the den over low comedy at the park include cost, time expenditure, convenience, improvements in TV technology and the je ne sais quoi of a fellow traveller puking on your shoes while asking your girlfriend to flash what her momma gave her.
For the NFL, NBA and MLB, this development is bracing, but not fatal. The motherlode from TV that floats the NFL team budgets (each gets $95.8-million from network TV, $45.8-million for non-network TV) gives them some insulation from the vagaries of box office. But for the gate-driven NHL and CFL, a movement away from the bleachers to the couch is potentially devastating. If the game-day experience means fans parking their tails on the Barcalounger instead of tail-gating at the stadium then the financial equation for hockey and Canadian football will fail.
We're not there yet, of course. People have been trying to kill live theatre for 2000 years. Radio, movies, TV were all supposed to doom the live experience. Not gonna' happen. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon agrees. "Nothing takes the place of coming to the stadium, getting together with your fans and experience it." True.
But a 60-inch plasma and a bar fridge can change a lot of minds on a cool October afternoon. Cohon admits the future lies in getting rid of tumbledown parks such as Ivor Wynne so fans can enjoy a more comfortable experience. "Part of the process we've been working on (to address the concern) is new stadiums," he said Monday in Calgary. "If you look at what's happening in Winnipeg, in B.C., Ottawa, in Hamilton it's all about creating an environment where fans want to come to the stadiums, and that's what we're going to try to do."
Translation: Bye-bye Ivor Wynne.
Blackout Blues: Game-day experience in the NFL is being cited, in part, for the possibility that as many as 11 clubs may have local TV blackouts. Unless home teams sell out 72 hours prior to game time, a blackout is applied in the local market. According to USA Today, the five clubs that experienced blackouts last year (Detroit, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Kansas City and Oakland) could be joined by six more teams-- including three 2009 playoff teams in Arizona, Cincinnati and San Diego.
The No Fun League is trying hard to create the home experience at the park with stadia such as Dallas' $ 1.2-billion. Cowboys Stadium. Six party decks, interactivity at seats and a scoreboard the size of Delaware seek to change the game-day paradigm for (rich) fans. But too often rivers of beer, vomit and profanity flowing down the grandstands keep families and couples in front of the TV and away from the $200 seats at an NFL contest.
Early Risers: Speaking of game day at Ivor Wynne, inquiring minds wanted to know why the Tiger Cats/Argos contest was played earlier in the day as opposed to in prime time - as has happened previously to excellent ratings. The move probably dampened Monday's PPM numbers and pushed Calgary's game back to a 4 p.m. local start and meant less than a full house. "Talking to our partners, (it was) Hamilton not wanting to go too late," explained Cohon. "They wanted their fans to enjoy the day... Talking to team officials in (Calgary) they like to start a little earlier, too. It's something we're going to look at in the off-season. We'll do big numbers on this show. With RDS (in Quebec), we'll do 900,000, and we're very pleased with the way things are going."
Cohon admitted reading our advice to Keith Pelley, new president of Rogers Communications, about Rogers' dumping its NFL pretensions and embracing his league. Asked if he endorsed our thoughts, Cohon demurred. "Keith and I are friends. We talk to everyone. We have a solid partner with TSN. We know out property is a very valuable property." Translation: Not going to go there.
King Coal: Having fumbled their credibility like Leon McQuay with a wet football, radical environmentalists are now turning their steely gaze upon...Nike. According to AP, Nike said that its ad for West Virginia University's new black-and-white Pro Combat uniform was "designed to honour the heritage of coal mining and 29 men killed in the April explosion at Upper Big Branch mine."
Environmentalists were not fooled. They saw a "a tacit endorsement of the controversial form of strip mining" in the "depiction of a mountaintop removal mine behind the image of a player, complete with flat, treeless mountaintop, the sound of an explosion and the image of falling rock." WVU told AP in an e-mail, "The intent was for the player on the field to be surrounded by coal and not as an endorsement of any one form of mining technology." Nike says it will adjust the ad to avoid inflaming the tender sensibilities of the complainants.
What A Racket: Finally, many thanks to Caroline Wozniacki for eliminating Maria Sharapova, the human vuvuzela, from the U.S. Open. Sharapova's ululations each time she hits the ball make the South African noisemakers sound like sweet music. Tennis folk need to tell Sharapova that her When Harry Met Sally impersonation has gone on long enough. On the other hand, we love the dresses, Maria.