The Canadian Football League has experienced a revival in the Golden Horseshoe this year in a way that many thought impossible.
The Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats came back from the brink, if not of extinction, certainly something close to it.
Under the stewardship of new, local owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, the Argos expanded their fan base and managed also to win the Grey Cup. In Hamilton, the transformation under new owner Bob Young may not have reaped a championship but, from a business standpoint, the turnaround might have been even more dramatic.
Young and his vibrant management staff are not about to let the momentum die. Three days after the Grey Cup, the Ticats launched their marketing for the 2005 season on several fronts yesterday.
"As a league, we in the CFL have a long way to go before we can say we've achieved true stability," said Young, who grew up a Ticat fan in Hamilton before he made his fortune in the computer industry in the United States.
"We are trying to drive a stake in that old Crisis Football League reputation."
Having taken over the franchise about this time last year, Young admits he never believed he could have made so much progress in such a short time. Indeed, he hardly has had time to actually pause and digest what has taken place.
"It's like drinking from a fire-hose," he said. "I've been quite fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of smart guys ... (coach) Greg Marshall, (general manager) Ron Lancaster and (president) David Sauve. They make me look like a really smart football guy and I don't have to know a single thing about it.
"And on the business side, Christopher Dean has been brilliant."
That's an understatement. Attendance at Ticat games at Ivor Wynne Stadium this year averaged 27,843, almost twice that of 2003. Of that total, 15,800 were season-ticket holders. And it gets better. About 60% of those season tickets were sold as three-year packages, which means that the ticket drive each winter is not starting from ground zero.
"It's amazing to me how many closet Ticat fans I'm discovering all over the country; people who have managed to retain their allegiance and just needed the right circumstances to come back," Young said.
The right circumstances revolve very much around a strong, local owner who came in ready to listen to the community, instead of trying to sell the same old tired story.
"The reality is that every successful business is based on the same theme: You must care about your customers," he said.
"We're off to a great start but now we're into a challenging stage. We have a goal to make everything about the Tiger-Cats world class. We're trying to build an international brand."
To coincide with the marketing launch, the Ticats have introduced a new/old logo, similar to, but with much cleaner lines, than the old, striped pouncing cat.
"It's a bit nerve-racking to mess around with a logo, especially one to which there are strong allegiances," he said.
It's much the same way with the team's home, venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium. It is not a pretty place but it remains one of the most intimate football parks in the land.
"It's a front-burner issue," Young said. "There are a lot of seats in the stadium that are not at a professional-event standard.
"But on the other hand, it has sort of a Fenway Park feel to it, a place with character."
Young also sees the CFL expanding its influence using the cyberspace tools that have made him a very wealthy man.
"A big part of our future depends upon us reaching out through the Internet, to take our games around the world," he said.
It's a brave new world and now the Ticats are very much in the game.