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CFL doubles up, awarding 2020, ’21 Grey Cups to Regina and Hamilton

The Canadian Football League went for two on Thursday — awarding the 2020 Grey Cup to Regina and the 2021 game to Hamilton — and in so doing, scored points for creativity and practicality.

CFL said it believes the awarding of two Grey Cups at one time had never been done. And it may well never be done, again.

“We were highly suspicious that (commissioner Randy Ambrosie) was going to pull a trick like this,” said Ticats owner Bob Young. “But we were quite genuine, as was Randy, that it was his pleasure to announce a double win.

“The discussion that Randy sort of had given away, that this was a possibility to us, he said by announcing two Grey Cups he now gets a year ahead. So this time next year, he gets to work with whoever has the winning bid for 2022, and the bidder on 2022 now has an extra year to plan their Grey Cup.

“That was the attraction to Randy and he mentioned that in passing, so we were suspicious that he might do something like this and we were certainly thrilled when he did it.”

Montreal was the only bid city to come away empty-handed this time. That city apparently had a solid bid for 2020, but wasn’t in the running for 2021 because of expected renovations coming to Olympic Stadium.

Saskatchewan previously hosted the Grey Cup in 2013 at Taylor Field, Hamilton in 1996 at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Riders have since moved into Mosaic Stadium, the Ticats into Tim Hortons Field. Each franchise then gets to show off its digs to the rest of the country during Canada’s biggest party. And they will do so a week earlier than usual, as the game moves to the second last Sunday in November. Regina’s date is Nov. 22, 2020 and Hamilton’s is Nov. 21, 2021.

The 2019 Grey Cup is set for Calgary on Nov. 24.

Young said he would have preferred to host the 2020 game, but understands the rationale for choosing Regina.“They were ready to go,” he said. “Again, the CFL’s model these days isn’t to make decisions emotionally, it’s to make decisions with as much economic benefit to our league and to our fans by extension, as we can. And the CFL knows Saskatchewan can put on a great event. Every time it’s been in Saskatchewan, it’s been very successful both as an event but also financially.”

Young said the 1996 game in Hamilton was a great spectacle, but not a financial win, so the CFL needed convincing.

“The league was not going to award a Grey Cup to Hamilton if we could not put on a financially successful event and that’s why this is the culmination of a lot of work to get ourselves to the point where we can convince the league that we can put on as successful an event, if not a better one, than our friends out in Saskatchewan can do.”

So, under Ambrosie’s urging, they went for two. The quirky little league that has always carved a unique path — be it forward, backward, south or sideways — continues to do things differently and make its various voices heard in the coldest months of the off-season, a time that has traditionally been dominated wire-to-wire by the game-playing national leagues of hockey, football and basketball.

Thursday’s unveiling went live on TSN’s various platforms, while Rider and Ticat fans also gathered at viewing parties in Regina and Hamilton. A simple announcement was transformed into a more newsworthy and celebratory happening.The driving force behind the league’s increasing exposure is Ambrosie, who simply will not accept the notion that the CFL is too small to expect or produce big things. And the departure from the norm, awarding two games at once, fits with other Ambrosie-led or created initiatives.

There is none bigger than his pet international project, CFL 2.0, which has led to working agreements with football leagues and federations in Mexico, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and will surely include Japan and Brazil in time. It’s incredibly ambitious and will be judged most notably and fairly on its ability to generate revenue-producing broadcast and streaming agreements, and also for whatever international football talent is uncovered.

And Ambrosie has done much more than that in his 20 months on the job. On his watch, all CFL teams moved to unveil 10 players on their 45-man negotiation lists, an annual initiative that sparks conversation. The league also now releases its schedule prior to Christmas. It’s an off-season talking point that also allows fans to get an early jump on tickets and travel plans.Ambrosie is currently in the middle of the second annual Randy’s Road Trip, which takes him to each CFL city where he hosts town halls and makes media appearances, generating more exposure for the league.

Next month, he’ll be involved in negotiations with the CFL Players Association aimed at producing a new collective bargaining agreement. There are serious issues to address, player safety and compensation chief among them.

If the CFL is to maintain this off-season’s positive and consistent presence in the media, an expeditious agreement would do the trick. That, too, would be a pleasant departure.

dbarnes@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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