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It’s like the George Jones song with a couple of minor alterations.
“Well, the race is on.
And here comes Rider Pride up the backstretch.
COVID-19 Heartache is going to the inside.
My Tears are holding back and trying not to fall.
The race is on and it looks like Heartache.
And the winner loses all.”
Last year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the right to play host to the 108th Grey Cup, to officially baptize new Mosaic Stadium and complete a trio of celebrations of Canadiana with our ultimate annual national sports event in the heartland of the nation.
The idea was to try to top the back-to-back successes in Edmonton and Calgary. Regina had accepted the challenge and everything was going great in preparation for the game, scheduled for Nov. 22, 2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The U.S.-Canada border was closed. CFL training camps that were supposed to open this weekend were postponed. Then commissioner Randy Ambrosie went to the federal government looking for a $30-$150 million bailout and made the proclamation: “Our most likely scenario is no season at all.”
So, on the weekend when it was all supposed to begin with the opening of training camps, consider the fans in Saskatchewan.
This is the point of Grey Cup planning where the prototype calls for the big kickoff for general public ticket sales. And they’ve now called a time out on that.
I contacted my longtime trusted temperature-taker from the town that first appeared on a map as Pile O’ Bones.
“The whole province is starting to understand that the 2020 Grey Cup is now a long shot,” he reported. “Hamilton has 2021. Saskatchewan wants 2022.”
At this stage of proceedings, even if the CFL returns for a shortened season, you’d figure with the economy and willingness to travel that Grey Cup 108 can’t be the show it might have been.
Who will be willing and financially able to travel?
And how might the factors involves affect the disposable income problem on the horizon in Hamilton in organizing their first Grey Cup since 1996?
Now this. Farhan Lalji of TSN reports that the CFL is looking at the possibility of opening the season (assuming government financial support is approved) with hub games east and west. And Regina mayor Michael Fougere immediately volunteered the city as hub host.
Who knows? How many words have been written on the NHL finishing the 82-game season, holding a full set of playoff rounds, reducing or eliminating the regular season and allowing 24-teams into the playoffs and moving up the draft? And what do we know for sure 65 days since they last played a game?
Few people can relate to what’s involved in producing a Grey Cup game like chief Grey Cup events officer Duane Vienneau and senior director of strategy, Grey Cup and senior director of events Lauren Farnell.
Together, they produced the ballistic Edmonton 2018 Grey Cup. The CFL created the position for Vienneau coming out of the event and hired Farnell this year.
Now they’re involved in meetings by Zoom just about every day, with both Regina 2020 and Hamilton 2021 and in planning with various CFL entities from head office in Toronto.
This is when, with the template produced by Edmonton, the big Grey Cup ticket push is supposed to begin.
“To this point, you pre-sell to your season seat holders and pre-sell to some of your sponsors. In Edmonton both in 2010 and 2018, we went on sale to the general public on June 1. I said if there was going to be a Grey Cup that would be the first city to break the Edmonton 2010 record of selling out within a couple of days, this would be it,” said Vienneau.
This is when you sell the tickets to the fans from around the league and non-season ticket holders regionally. Saskatchewan is in limbo with half their Grey Cup tickets still left to sell.
“We’re continuing to plan as much as we can plan. You have to plan with caution and not go too far but to put yourself in a position to activate quickly.
“When the pandemic hit, the tickets in Saskatchewan were selling very, very well,” said Vienneau, adding that the local organizing committee was reporting good progress in getting the festival events sponsored up.
“Everyone is still working towards the goal while waiting to find the answers to all the factors we don’t know.
“We had a call Thursday with the local organizing team and our team and that’s the beauty of what we do. We plan for two years to put on an event that lasts for six days,” said Vienneau.
“We’re working on 2020 and 2021 and beyond with the bid process for 2022 and 2023,” said Farnell.
“It’s business as usual in the unusual.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020