Exclusive: Ticats' CEO Scott Mitchell on Tim Hortons Field, Hall of Fame, more

Ticats' CEO Scott Mitchell has struck a deal with the City of Hamilton over the issues that still remain at Tim Hortons Field. (CBC.ca).

The saga of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Tim Hortons Field has been a long one, including the team playing 45 minutes away in Guelph for a year during construction in 2013, playing games at McMaster University last year thanks to construction delays, and playing at the new stadium with restrictions from Labour Day on while work continued thanks to a last-second issuance of a partial occupancy permit. The stadium's in much better shape now, but there are still some major issues (including blocked sightlines and problems with the draft beer lines), and those led to a discussion last week over whether the licensing agreement should start or not. That was eventually resolved in a deal struck Tuesday, which will see the team pay $700,000 this year and then pay $1.4 million for each year going forward in the remainder of the 20-year agreement. In addition, the plan to move the Canadian Football Hall of Fame to Tim Hortons Field seems to be going ahead, with the city getting behind it.

Ticats' CEO Scott Mitchell spoke to 55-Yard Line via e-mail this week about the state of Tim Hortons Field, the team's relationship with the city, and the Hall of Fame move, and he had some interesting things to say. Here are my questions (sent Monday, before the agreement) and his answers (sent Wednesday, after it). Only slight grammatical edits have been made.

Andrew Bucholtz: You told the Spectator "you don't pay rent until you move into the building. It's either complete as per the licence agreement, or it isn't." Does that mean the team's position is that the money in question won't be transferred until the building is "complete as per the license agreement"? If so, when do you expect that completion?

Scott Mitchell: The agreement we have reached with the City is that the license agreement will begin once a list of the operational issues still remaining are fixed. In the meantime, we have agreed to pay the full rent for the 2015 season, as described in our license agreement.

AB: You told the Spectator the remaining Tim Hortons Field issues are "very significant for the operations of the facility." Can you go into some more detail on what the exact problems are? Are these problems likely to impact the home game on August 3, or do you foresee them being solved by then? 

SM: Whenever a stadium is designed with certain specifications and features, and they aren’t fully completed or are missing it creates problems. Those have been identified and will completed by the City now, as opposed to the builder, with the 20 million plus dollars the City has held back to complete the work. The problems will not impact the games this year to a significant extent,  either because they will be fixed before the games, or the City and the Tiger-Cats will come up with temporary solutions while they are being fixed. The City of Hamilton and the Tiger-Cats have a history of collaborating extremely well to be creative in solving problems.

AB: (City councillor) Lloyd Ferguson told the Spectator "(Mitchell) agreed to hold our city harmless in all of this. If he has a claim against the stadium being delayed, he needs to direct that through us to Infrastructure Ontario." Any response to that?  

SM: Any material features or specifications that were part of the design and build of the stadium need to be operational for our license agreement to be triggered. Our license agreement requires 22.500 permanent and unobstructed seats of the field of play. That issue and others, are not related to delays. It’s a construction issue that the City will need to resolve with the builders and Infrastructure Ontario. As we understand it, it’s an issue in dispute. As far as issues related specifically to delays, we must work with the City to bring those claims forward to the builders through Infrastructure Ontario. The City is not at risk on issues specifically related to delays. We are aligned with the City on these issues. None of these issues are uncommon in stadium or arena builds.

AB: On Twitter the other day, you mentioned that "As always, details/facts are glossed over but the @Ticats have spent millions in rent and other costs putting on games at Tim Hortons Field." What details and facts do you think are being glossed over?

SM: We rented the stadium last year and operated the games directly from the builders, not the City.  We all agreed to that. Due to inaccuracies in reporting, it's portrayed by some that we have already been using the stadium through our license agreement. We have never actually moved into Tim Hortons Field nor used the stadium under our license agreement. What is also being consistently glossed over or mischaracterized is our relationship with the City of Hamilton. We have an excellent working relationship that continually results in positive opportunities created and problems being overcome.

 AB:  How much has the team spent putting on games at THF? How much did the construction problems last year cost the team for the games at THF? And do you have estimates of how much playing 2013 and part of 2014 elsewhere cost?

SM:  I’m not going to comment on these issues.

AB: Adding those costs up, do you feel the Ticats have made a fair contribution to their new stadium compared to other teams around the league? Are there any unique factors that need to be taken into consideration with your stadium deal? 

SM: Our stadium deal is a very good deal for both sides, and while we have annual payments of more than $1.6 million ($1.4 million until then) once we bring professional soccer to Hamilton, we eventually will drive more than 2 million dollars a year through to the City of Hamilton through our license agreement.  What other teams in the league are you referring to? Every stadium situation is unique and our league and its facilities are very representative of that.

(Note: I didn't include specific examples of other stadiums in my question, but some include the Winnipeg Blue Bombers paying $85 million towards theirs and the Saskatchewan Roughriders paying $25 million towards their stadium and $15 million to outfit it.)

AB: How has the Pan Am Games' use of the stadium impacted the Ticats? 

SM: It's impacted the Ticats in a very positive way. Without the Pan Am Games, we would not have a beautiful, new state of the art facility. In addition, between the Games and the Canada Women’s National Team warm-up game against England in May that was sold out, it has shown that Tim Hortons Field is as good of a soccer facility as any stadium in North America.

AB:  On a slightly different topic, any updates or further details on the plan to move the Hall of Fame to Tim Hortons Field? Are the Ticats involved as an organization, or is this mostly a league office plan? If you are involved, do you have any idea how many, or which, of the current Hall exhibits and artifacts would be moved there? And would the new Hall of Fame be accessible only on Ticats' game days, or beyond?  

SM: The Tiger-Cats are very excited and involved and will be counted on to contribute to the vision, and to execute that vision with the City of Hamilton, the Hall of Fame and the CFL. What’s not well known is that there are over 80,000 artifacts owned by the Hall. Only several hundred are currently on display now and that will exponentially multiply at Tim Hortons Field. Tim Hortons Field is a city and public facility that is open to the public for the majority of the year. It will be used in some capacity almost every day from April through November, including for all Tiger-Cats practices, and the expectation is that the Hall of Fame displays will accessible for most if not all of those days. We will be able to do some special and unique things for the Hall of Fame on game day, but they only represent a fraction of the days the Hall exhibits will be open.

AB: Also, most of the comments I've seen on the Hall of Fame plan have come from either the CFL or the city. How does the Ticats' organization feel about perhaps having the Hall of Fame there? And does this licence agreement dispute with the city have any impact on negotiations with the city about the Hall of Fame? 

SM: We are wildly excited about Tim Hortons Field being the only facility in North America that will be the home of national sports hall of fame. As our fans will attest,  it will only enhance an already phenomenal game day experience, and our great partners from TSN will be able to do some great things  to expose the Hall to millions of viewers each and every game, which they previously did not have the opportunity to do. The City has already voted with unanimous approval on the Canadian Football Hall of Fame moving to Tim Hortons Field.

Thanks to Scott for his time. His comments and perspective are certainly appreciated, and they add some new information to what we know about the stadium and the Hall of Fame. You can follow him on Twitter at @ticatmitchell.

This post's introduction initially referenced a Hamilton Spectator report about the team threatening to withhold money from the city. The team disputes the accuracy of that report.