Saskatchewan Roughriders fans are now coping with the loss of the Grey Cup game in their home province, and potentially an entire CFL season.
The 108th Grey Cup game in Regina, set to be held at Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 22, was officially cancelled Wednesday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation also includes the Grey Cup Festival surrounding the big game.
The CFL said Wednesday the best-case scenario is now a shorter season starting in September, with the qualifying team that has the best overall season record hosting the final matchup — if there is one.
Arlene Mongovius, a Riders fan and season ticket holder from Saskatoon who has been attending the Grey Cup for 30 years, called this year “unprecedented.”
But she said she understands why the CFL made its decision.
“I’m glad that they’re taking it so seriously,” she said. “If the players get sick you can’t can’t hold the season anyway. So I’m remaining hopeful that they’re going to figure this out.”
She said she wouldn’t be able to attend without a vaccine for COVID-19. The group she goes to Riders home games with is mostly seniors, two of them in their 80s.
Nelson Hackewich, who has held Riders season tickets for exactly 20 years, said he’s disappointed by the news, but figured it was bound to happen.
He still hopes he’ll get to see his beloved Green and White hit the field this year.
“I love watching the CFL,” Hackewich said. “If it means not going to games for the safety of myself and everyone else, then so be it. I’ll watch on TV if I have to. But then there’s nothing like the live experience, so I’d prefer to go.”
The CFL also says it needs help to ensure there’s something for fans like Hackewich to see going forward. It’s asked the federal government for up to $150 million in financial aid, including $30 million for immediate assistance and $120 million should the league not have a season at all.
Hackewich said he’d be happy to have the Roughriders keep his 2020 season ticket money, as long as the deposit helps ensure Canadian football gets played in the future.
“My hopes are that the CFL can make it through. I truly believe that we will see football in some capacity come September, be it with fans or without fans.
“And I hope in the future that the CFL can use this to work on their business model and look at how they can generate revenue for the league moving forward.”
Stephen Safinuk, who co-hosts the Piffles Podcast — a fan podcast dedicated to the Roughriders — said it’s “terrifying” to think about the CFL being unable to recover from a potentially lost season.
“The CFL is such a heavy game-driven league that if you take away, that fan attendance, of course you’re going to have issues,” he said.
“I think they said five of the nine teams are not profitable right now under the best of circumstances. How are they going to do with all of the costs they’ll still associate with the year, but … none of the TV revenue, none of the gate revenue? It’s scary.”
Like Hackewich, Safinuk hopes the CFL can field some games this year, with or without fans in the stands. He suggests the league try to follow the lead of the German Bundesliga (soccer league), which has resumed playing matches in empty stadiums.
“In the end, I just want to watch CFL football. I don’t care if it’s fanless, I don’t care if it’s 30,000 [fans],” he said. “Just give me football.”