Saturday afternoon saw the Saskatchewan Roughriders extend their impressive start to the season with a 23-20 win over the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions at Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium. Big games by running back Kory Sheets and Tristan Jackson, who took back a missed field goal for a touchdown to seal the win for the Riders, have given the Rider faithful a reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season after last year's dismal results.
However overshadowed by the on-field action, the big news of the day was the announcement that the Riders will be getting a new home in 2017. After years of rumors and back and forth between provincial and municipal governments the City of Regina, the Saskatchewan government and the Roughriders came to terms on a proposal that will see the end of the current Taylor Field/Mosaic Stadium site in exchange for a new stadium at Evraz Place, the city's exhibition grounds. The announcement has received the typical mixed reaction throughout the province so far, the plan does include a significant amount of provincial funding which will always draw the ire of non-sports fans.
The funding for the stadium is pretty much the standard for when it comes to new sports stadium building. The province of Saskatchewan is giving a $80 million grant while the City of Regina is expected to foot $73 million with the Saskatchewan Roughriders chipping in an extra $25 million dollars by way of naming rights and profit generated by the club. The rest of the money will be provided by a $100 million dollar loan provided by the Saskatchewan government to be paid by the way of a $12 fee on tickets to Rider games and other events that will take place at the new facility.
Two hundred and seventy eight million dollars is the final pricetag on a brand new stadium, but what does all of that money get you one might ask? The answer: a 33, 000 seat open air "roof ready" stadium that will fit just a few thousand more fans than what is already built in Taylor Field. This is where the government and the City of Regina dropped the ball in a very huge way. Don't let Regina mayor Pat Fiacco fool you with his "It's our turn" mantra and all of his bluster about the "status quo not being good enough" because this new stadium plan is the status quo. When you are standing in front of 30, 000 fans bragging about a brand new $278 million dollar facility and you have to resort by talking about how much better the concessions and bathrooms are going to be on national television, your stadium is probably the status quo.
But that is what Fiacco and Premier Brad Wall did on Saturday and it all feels a bit too much like an act for me to swallow. Just last year everyone was shooting for the stars with dreams of a huge, domed stadium so that as many Riders fans as possible could take in the action in a world class facility that could also host events in the winter, much like Vancouver's B.C. Place, home of the Lions and the MLS' Vancouver Whitecaps. So how is settling for something that is much, much less than the initial point of building a new facility some sort of accomplishment and victory for Rider fans and the province of Saskatchewan? That taxpayer dollars and paying an extra twelve dollars a ticket until $100 million dollars is earned building a stadium that will fit 3-5,000 more people is some massive victory and a credit to the passionate support Saskatchewan has for its team? This is going into the dealership after talking for years about buying a Corvette and walking out with a Honda Civic then selling it as if you didn't downgrade.
I wasn't a supporter of the initial stadium plan as some of you might already know, but I was excited that Saskatchewan was going to get a type of facility that I never thought I would see in my home province. Now I am left sitting wondering why all parties involved would make such a financial commitment to something so middle of the pack that it feels like building a stadium for the sake of building one. Yes, the City of Regina and the Saskatchewan Party were backed into a wall after the hoopla of stadium coverage that has consumed this province's newspapers and call-in shows in recent years, but if $278 million dollars is being thrown around, can it at least be close to worth all of the taxpayers money?
Yes, we are in the very preliminary stages and that until doors open on the stadium and that my position on this topic runs me the risk of looking really bad come 2017, but the numbers back me up on this. Save for the four stadiums in the CFL built for non-football purposes (Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Rogers Centre, BC Place, and Commonwealth Stadium) the average CFL stadium capacity is around 26-28,000 give or take. Taylor Field after the recent addition of a bowl concept to the temporary seats has increased capacity to nearly 30,000, making it as large capacity-wise as stadiums in Winnipeg and Hamilton. Both cities are building brand new stadiums with, you guessed it, roughly the same capacity as the new stadium plan. A new 33,000 seat stadium doesn't even match the 35,500 seat capacity that Calgary's McMahon boasts. Shouldn't the whole point of this new stadium concept be that the most amount of Saskatchewan residents can be able to watch their Roughriders play? If the Roughriders needed to add a seat tax to the fans to pay for the stadium, shouldn't more than 33, 000 seats be available to give "Canada's Team" a chance to show exactly how many people it can draw? With a fanbase that constantly shows that they will show up and support their team through thick and thin and a product and live experience that pretty much guarantees a big draw for at least 95 per cent of its games in a given season, shouldn't capacity be extended to include even more of a growing province?
These are the things that have been ignored thus far in the current stadium plans, immenities have taken priority over logic. Does having new bathrooms and concourses really enhance the fan experience? Or does fitting 40-50,000 people into a brand new stadium for a Labor Day Classic or a season opener give more of a pay off?
I understand that the due process has been made and that people with much more of a grasp on how all of this stuff works put a lot of time and research into what has been announced, but I just can't sit and be happy. Maybe it is because I'm not ready to let go of old Taylor Field and that a newer, slightly bigger and fancier version of what we already have doesn't satisfy me. Or maybe it is because I just don't see the point of spending $250 some million dollars in government/city funding for something that Winnipeg and Hamilton are already doing as some massive victory for Rider fans and the province. You guys can believe Wall and Fiacco's victory speech and damage control all you want, but when it comes to the new football stadium my "status quo" has remained: The government has dropped the ball once again.