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Early on in Stop 4 of his cross-country town-hall meetings to interact with CFL devotees, commissioner Randy Ambrosie generously took time for a chat with Stampeders.com before dashing off to the Saddledome to talk football with Calgary Stampeders season-ticket holders.
STAMPEDERS.com: On your travels, what have been the most recurring themes so far among the league’s fan base.
AMBROSIE: There are always questions about officiating. I’ve come to the conclusion I couldn’t find a more thankless job in the world. But everyone wants to talk about it.
I’m finding lots of interest in a possible season shift. I’m asking. It was one of the things I wanted to accomplish, get some feedback from the fans on that issue, build an understanding of what the fans are thinking.
The most common thread, actually, is how much they love the CFL game. They’re passionate fans. They want us to be successful. In every stop, there’s been a new idea, how we can help them further engage. In Toronto (Monday), one fan asked me; ‘What can we do more to help the CFL?’ That’s incredibly cool.
STAMPEDERS.com: You mentioned the issue of moving the seasonal-start date up earlier. There seems to be that romanticized ‘Oh, it’s snowing. The weather’s awful. This is what the CFL is all about’ as opposed to, in outdoor Grey Cups, ‘Why on earth are they playing this late?’ What’s the read you’re getting from fans on that?
AMBROSIE: I think for some it is almost nostalgic. It is how they characterize their own experiences with the game, those super-cold memorable moments. I still talk about the ’93 Western Final here in Calgary. Minus-26, snowing like crazy. We talk about it because it’s a frame of reference for a lot of us.
I do think the word nostalgic fits into it. What I keep reminding myself and telling the fans that I speak with is that we need to find the next generation of CFL fans. We need to get into the hearts and minds of this wonderful millennial generation and others who aren’t currently part of our fan eco-system. We need to ask them what they’re looking for. We might find they’re not nearly so nostalgic and they’re interested in a great game-day experience. There’s a significant weather expectation you’d have around the second, third or fourth of November as opposed to the 24th, 25th or 26th. And that’s why we have to have the conversation.
The best thing when you’re in any business is ensuring you have a strong, active dialogue with your customers and that what this tour is giving us a chance to do.
STAMPEDERS.com: You mention the milennials, young fans. That’s the demographic that will push popularity forward.
AMBROSIE: Honestly, we’re seeing it. I’ll use Ottawa as an example. You go to a game there and they really have captured that community’s … I’ll call them millennials. In my day, standing-room-only were the worst seats imaginable, arena or stadium. Now they’re the best seats in the house. They’re where the kids are hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. In Ottawa, it’s like they were having a party and a football game broke out. It’s a whole different thing.
What we’ve got to do is build game-day experiences that appeal to every fan. We’ve gotta have places for families where the kids come, have fun and keep them engaged, involved. You want to have a section for the more boisterous crowd, you want to have the more traditional fans. Businesses spend a lot of time on segmentation, understanding all their fans. We don’t have one type of fan. We have many.
Look at Winnipeg and the Rum Hut. That’s fantastic. The Pil Zone in Saskatchewan.
I saw Wade Miller dealing with their egress problem – fans exiting the stadium – by inviting fans on the field. People having fun. And it made for a smoother exit from the stadium.
STAMPEDERS.com: So it’s a balancing act, keeping the old-school fan while enticing a younger crowd.
AMBROSIE: What I’m heartened by is that for the old-school fan, we’re going to give him or her a great football game. You can never forget that at the end of the day we’re a professional football league and our game has to be world-class because that’s the glue. That’s what brings everybody together. Now we give our new fans new and different experiences. Then before you know it, we’re rocking and rolling in every stadium in the CFL.
STAMPEDERS.com: Can you share any upcoming initiatives along the ‘new experiences’ line?
AMBROSIE: We have a very large initiative underway for national game-day strategy. We’re looking at the possibility of a National Kids Day, where we do a whole bunch of fun things in our stadiums – every CFL team will host one – to create a kid-friendly atmosphere. I was teasing Huf today that he might have to learn how to make balloon animals.
STAMPEDERS.com: That I’d pay to see.
AMBROSIE: I gotta tell you, I’ll be back in Calgary for that day, too.
We’re also looking at our Diversity is Strength campaign. Our locker rooms for decades have been a bastion for diversity. What I love about our players is they don’t care where you’re from, they just want to win. That brotherhood is so welcoming of inclusion. And let’s make sure that our stadiums are a reflection of exactly that same idea. We want everyone to fans of the CFL so we’re talking about that kind of programming, as well,
STAMPEDERS.com: To close, thoughts on the need for a new stadium?
AMBROSIE: I have such a great respect for the Stampeders/Flames organization. Of course I’m going to be supportive. I’ll always be able to lean in whenever I’m asked to attend a meeting, to provide encouragement or information. This has been the most successful franchise in our league for the last 20 years. I think this franchise, this city, these fans, deserve a world-class facility that can address some of these initiatives built for the modern-fan experience.
But for now, you know what? we’re just gonna support the Stampeders any way they can and encourage the community to find a way to create a new McMahon that will give fans here another 20, 30, 40 years of enjoyment, the way this place has.