Ticats have right touch

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

HAMILTON -- Flowers in a bathroom?

Can that explain the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' resurrection in the Canadian Football League?

A few delicate petals in a concrete bathroom in a blue-collar town where steel is churned out by the hour under the pall of towering smokestacks?

The CFL's doormat a year ago with a 1-17 record, the Ticats are in a position to eliminate the Renegades tonight from the CFL playoff picture with nothing more than a tie at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Flowers?

Is that all it takes?

Is that all it takes to go from also-rans to playoff contenders in the CFL?

Who knew?

It takes more than that, of course, but the Ticats have proved the little touches can make a difference.

The Ticats, who are expected to play tonight in front of another sold-out crowd of close to 29,000, are the feel-good story of the CFL this year, rebounding from oblivion to become a playoff team with nothing more than that tie tonight on their oh-so-Canadian-home field.

If you look up the stands at Ivor Wynne Stadium, you see a slice of CFL Canadiana.

Smokestacks at the steel mills in the distance.

A Canadian flag painted on the seats on one side.

The names of CFL greats up on the press box on the other.

Does it get better than this?

The Renegades could take a lesson.

Solid ownership.

A clear direction.

Millionaire Bob Young bought the Ticats last year and has spent money to make money this year.

The sales staff was expanded from six to 26 (the Renegades, meanwhile, fired six. You see a trend there?)

The sales team was divided into four different groups. They've bounced back with a 60% renewal rate among their season-ticket holders. Most of them with a three-year commitment.

90% RENEWAL RATE

Corporate sales have resulted in a 90% renewal for 3-5 years.

Group sales have been a success, too, using the Internet to target potential customers. Instead of setting up in the lobby of a business --which might have resulted in the sale of 60 seats in the old economy -- an e-mail entry and the ease of buying and printing out a ticket over the Internet has resulted in a much more lucrative return.

"It's not one thing," said Christopher Dean, executive vice-president and GM of business operations for the Ticats. "It's not just the scoreboard, the flowers in the bathroom or the cyber cafe we put in. It's so many things. We listen to the fans, attentively.

The difference has been noticed by the players.

"The ownership and the business side are taking care of business, and the football side is taking care of football. They've kept the two separated," said Hamilton quarterback Danny McManus.

"They've done their job and the football side is doing the best job they can do."

It's making an impact in Steeltown.

Consider this: The Tiger-Cats, under rookie coach Greg Marshall, are on pace to increase their average attendance from about 13,500 to 26,700 this year.

You got that?

Something like doubled?

The Ticats have done an impressive job of reconnecting with the community and drawing in a lost generation.

"I couldn't care less about the Ticats until the Labour Day Classic," said Joanna Ranieri, a 24-year-old who was pleasantly surprised by her CFL experience.

"Now, I've jumped on the bandwagon. I wore this big yellow- and black-striped hat and fit right in," she said. "There's always something to look at. Whether it's the brand new scoreboard or they're shooting stuff in the stands, or the cheerleaders or the crazy people sitting in the audience.

"I love the fact that it's three downs and the game moves quickly."

Things like flowers in the bathroom, a retro-fitted corporate suite and cyber cafe have all been added to improve the fans' experience.

'IT'S THE DETAILS'

"It's the details that matter. Women notice these things. I have never had to wait to go the washroom" said Ranieri.

"There's no smoking in the stands, too, which is nice. I've lived in Hamilton for six years. I've never, ever cared about the Tiger-Cats and now a lot of people are talking about them."

The Renegades could hope for as much.


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