By Doug Hallett
After months of squelched rumours, it’s almost a done deal that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will play their home games next year at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium.
“I don’t anticipate any difficulty with the details, we just haven’t finalized them yet,” Brenda Whiteside, a top U of G official, said Tuesday after it was announced the Ti-Cats and the university had signed a memorandum of understanding.
Whiteside, who oversees the athletics department as the university’s associate vice-president (student affairs), said she doesn’t see any obstacles potentially standing in the way of a final contract with the Ti-Cats. “No, I don’t see any,” she told the Trib, noting it’s just details that need to be worked out over the next few weeks, such as “where things will go and how you hook up electricity, and things like that.”
Whiteside said the main concern of the Ti-Cats had been how many seats could go into Alumni Stadium, and discussions about parking also took up quite a bit of time.
She said having the Ti-Cats play all or most of their home games at the U of G while a new stadium is built for the team in Hamilton next year is a big plus for Guelph.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the university and the city and to bring lots of excitement and business to the community,” Whiteside said in an interview.
U of G athletics director Tom Kendall said there was no specific breakthrough leading to the deal, after so many months of rumours. “As we had more meetings, it just seemed to be more feasible than it was six months ago,” he said Tuesday.
Kendall also didn’t see any obstacles remaining to a deal being signed. “It’s more a question of paying attention to detail,” he said in an interview.
Alumni Stadium has more than 4,000 permanent seats and a capacity of close to 10,000 for homecoming games. The Tiger-Cats and the university will work together to “maximize the capacity of the facility while respecting the constraints of the site,” Whiteside said in a U of G news release Tuesday.
This will include making “temporary premium hosting areas” available around the field and erecting temporary spectator stands on the stadium’s east side for Tiger-Cat games, she said.
Tiger-Cat games will be scheduled around U of G athletics and other events, she said.
This year’s improvements to Alumni Stadium included installation of new artificial turf, an eight-lane International Athletic Federation-certified track, new lighting and a state-of-the-art video scoreboard.
“We are delighted that Guelph was chosen,” U of G president Alastair Summerlee said in the news release.
“It reflects the quality of the upgrades that we’ve made to Alumni Stadium and speaks to the reputation of the university and the City of Guelph,” Summerlee said. “It will also help raise our profile, support the continuing expansion of our athletic facilities and bring business to Guelph.”
Proceeds from the university’s agreement with the Ti-Cats will support the Gryphon athletics fundraising campaign, which is expected to help fund a new fitness and recreation complex, the release said.
Kendall told the Trib a price tag for the deal can’t be specified yet.
“I am excited that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have chosen Guelph as its home for the team’s 2013 season,” Mayor Karen Farbridge said in the release. “We are happy to host them and welcome all the fans to our beautiful city”
Lloyd Longfield, president of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, called it wonderful news for the city. “The spinoff benefits for business and tourism will be enormous,” he said in the release.
The planned move to Guelph will help the Tiger-Cats campaign to market the team on a more regional basis, Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell said in the release.
“With the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium located just 17 minutes from the City of Hamilton’s northern border, combined with its gorgeous setting, we think our fans will love this solution,” Mitchell said. “It’s also a perfect fit for our very successful regional marketing campaign, and we look forward to working with the university to make this happen.”
Demolition of the Ti-Cats’ longtime home, Ivor Wynne Stadium, is set to start this month, and a new facility is to open in Hamilton in 2014.
Speculation that the Ti-Cats might be interested in Alumni Stadium grew in June in the wake of newspaper reports that McMaster University had told Ti-Cats that they couldn’t play any of their 2013 season at McMaster’s football stadium in Hamilton.
The Ti-Cats looked at a number of options before finally reaching an agreement in principle with the U of G.
“We wanted to be thorough and careful with all options, but our commitment from day one was to keep our games as close to Hamilton as possible so our phenomenal fans and season seat holders could enjoy their beloved Tiger-Cats in 2013,” Mitchell said in a Ti-Cats news release Tuesday.
“We are very happy with the opportunities this facility (Alumni Stadium) presents and have been working with the university on the feasibility of the expansion,” Mitchell said. “Clearly it will allow us to provide a solution for our season seat holders as well as our current and new fans in Guelph to enjoy an exciting 2013 Tiger-Cat season.”
The Tiger-Cats team has won 15 Grey Cup championships in its 143-year history, the release said.