Ticats prowling for fans

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

First, Greg Marshall.

Then, Therese Quigley.

And now?

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The old Hammer used to be all about exporting steel products around the globe.

But the last little while, Hamilton has handed off to London a top-notch football coach and respected university athletic director at Western.

Now, there's more Steeltown gridiron generosity heading this way. The Ticats, trying to capitalize on an improved club and add to the fan base in a tough economy, are reaching out to London with increased access to their Canadian Football League team.

A bye week for the Tiger-Cats meant hello time to London, which made for quite a scene yesterday at The London Club.

There was Marshall, proudly wearing his Mustang colours, back wishing luck to the club from which he was fired as head coach four years ago.

"It's nice to be back at a Tiger-Cat function again," he said, "and to be invited."

There was Glen (Fuzzy) Weir giving a little boost to Angelo Mosca in helping him to his feet after introductions. The two CFL hall of famers wouldn't have been as congenial during a Montreal-Hamilton battle all those years ago.

There was Ticats GM Bob O'Billovich, the old Toronto Argonauts coach, saying when he thinks of London, he can't help but remember John Metras thundering away at fellow Ontario university directors and football coaches when they whined about an unlevel playing field.

And there was Hamilton president Scott Mitchell unveiling the latest ideas to attract fan interest in London, Burlington, Guelph and St. Catharines. The 4-3 Cats have played in TSN's two highest-rated CFL games but the mantra is still about shooting for sellouts at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The club derives 70% of its revenue from ticket sales. They're trying to make their games a day-trip destination.

"We've always looked at London as an important market," Mitchell said, "and we're intent on strengthening the relationship between our team and this city."

The club plans to become regulars. On Sept. 27, they'll stop by the Thames Valley children's centre and a Boston Pizza restaurant. They have already bused kids from the Boys and Girls Club of London to games through lineman Marwan Hage's personal "Hage's Heroes" program.

They're uprooting and moving a practice to TD Waterhouse Stadium on Oct. 6 -- the same day the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers play a pre-season NBA game at the John Labatt Centre.

"That's going to be a great day of professional sports in London," Mitchell said.

There has been initial discussion to bring more practices here in the future, plus a full or part of a training camp (the Ticats used McMaster's Ron Joyce Stadium to get ready for the season).

There are added pressures at play for the London-and-area pro football dollar. In the NFL, the Detroit Lions are emerging from the rubble of last year's 0-16 debacle and Ford Field is still a great venue.

The Buffalo Bills have already put their footprint on Toronto and the Rogers Centre. Is it a threat to Hamilton?

"I don't think them playing one game a year in Toronto makes a difference," O'Billovich said. "Now, if they move the franchise there, then that'll be something."

The Tiger-Cats special London Labour Day (Sept. 7) offers for the game against the Argonauts still stand.

The Travel in Style package includes a platinum ticket to the game, stretch limo for six and access to a Maple Leaf platinum area for $99 a person. There's also a park for free deal ($57 a person for a gold level ticket and parking pass).

On the field, O'Billovich took last season to get a look at what he had on the roster. He dropped a lot of veterans this year and increased his need for speed.

"We had to get faster," he said. "We're not where we have to be yet but we're getting there. This is a resilient group."

And an interesting one not afraid to look around this region.

Leading receiver Chris Davis, an Atlanta native, plans to visit Niagara Falls. He won't, however, take a ride on the Maid of the Mist.

"I'll just look at them," he said, "with two feet on the ground."

Six-foot-three, 270-pound rookie defensive lineman Garrett McIntyre, too small for the Seattle Seahawks, grew up in balmy South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and played four years at Fresno State against college powerhouses like Southern Cal.

He brought his swim trunks with him to Hamilton and finally got to use them this week.

"I went to the beach at Port Dover," he said. "It's a little different than back home but I've really enjoyed my time here. The thing I love about the CFL is they create personalities through TV and the media, which is great. Some leagues, it's just about the teams and you never get to meet the players."

And in some strategic places like London, they'll deliver them right to the doorstep.


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