It’s apparently Fashion Statement Month around Tim Hortons Field.
Last week, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unveiled the new uniforms the team will wear twice a year. This week, they unveiled the new threads the stadium will wear every football game.
Fans who Saturday night’s 2022 season opener and Hall of Fame game against the Calgary Stampeders will encounter a marked difference in the way the eight-year-old stadium presents itself.
It has become a sea of gold.
All the visible signage in the upper and lower decks has been changed from mostly-black background to a bright gold, with team and sponsors’ names and logos in distinct, contrasting black. Stylized versions of the iconic Tiger-Cat stripes are on every fabric panel on the stadium’s “head walls,” which separate the field from the stands, and “fascia,” the facing on the decks above the field. With a bulk of the fans usually dressed in black, the optical effect should be significant.
And, strikingly, two more standing-room decks have been added to the “social viewing” platform — now called Stelco North End, with room for 500 fans — beneath the main scoreboard, raising its height to 24 feet above field level, and creating more of a closed-bowl effect.
“This is an enhancement of the overarching social viewing experience,” says Ticats’ president Matt Afinec. “We’re six seasons into this stadium and are applying our learnings and evolving to make sure the in-stadium experience is fresh and new. You’re innovating or you’re dying.”
Several other changes have been made as Tim Hortons Field enters its eighth year and seventh CFL season. The Caretaker’s Club, located just a few meters from the field, has gone in the other color direction and is mostly black and features a massive new video screen. The hallway leading to the Ticats’ locker-room was also painted deep black this week.
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame will reopen to the public soon and the CFL is already rotating memorabilia displays in the Gate 3 lobby, and in the fourth-floor Hall itself, to reflect the Ticats and whatever team they’re playing that week.
An entire lower section of stands adjacent to the south-east corner of the end zone will soon be taken over by BetRegal, the Ticats’ new wagering partner. The flags which used to fly in the north-west corner of the stadium honoring the retired numbers 10 and 68 of, respectively, Bernie Faloney and Angelo Mosca have been removed, partly because they were constantly being torn by the wind. Now their names and numbers appear — “much higher profile and more visible,” Afinec explains — on the fascia of the west side stands, right beside the years commemorating the 15 times a Hamilton team has won the Gray Cup. All of those are backed by vibrant gold with black lettering.
The Wall of Honor, celebrating the greatest Ticat legends, is also in the process of being changed from primarily-black to gold, and will be moved down one level, but not in time for Saturday’s home opener.
The standing-room social viewing section above the south end zone is still called The Stipley, and is open to anyone with a ticket to the game, but there is also a row of rail seats, open only to fans who purchase them. Tickets for that area only are $33, the second-lowest in the building, but anyone who has a ticket for anywhere in the stadium may also stand there for socializing.
That’s a lot of stadium cosmetology and much of it is geared toward broadening the appeal to new, and particularly younger fans.
The Stelco North End is particularly eye-catching and offers what the team characterizes as “entry-level” tickets, costing $27, the lowest on a pricing grid which stretches up to $130 for box-seat levels. Only people with tickets to that section will be allowed to use it. Stelco bought 40 per cent of the team last December, but the patio area is part of a sponsor’s, not owner’s, relationship.
The Ticats Audio Network will broadcast from an open-air studio in the Stelco North End, featuring well-known former players such as Luke Tasker, Andy Fantuz and Mike Morreale.
The team has also decided to dispense with anthem singers and are asking fans to sing along with the players. The team will also hit the field in a more dramatic fashion prior to the opening kickoff, akin to a basketball game.
“We’re trying to make the bigger moments of the game bigger,” Afinec said. “The player entrance, touchdowns, turnovers. You’ll have pyrotechnics, music, and a lot of other things.”
Linebacker Simoni Lawrence, the longest-serving Ticat, has been watching the transformation gradually take place.
“It’s just a beautiful sight,” he says. “The gold looks good. The signs are a little brighter so I bet the sponsors will be happy about it.”
That is part of the makeover, Afinec agrees, but adds that “It’s more about a level of sophistication. It’s a professional sports venue, and we think it’s important that it looks and feels like you’re coming into our environment.”