Ticats announce Tim Hortons Field won’t be ready, first games will be at McMaster University

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats' return to their stadium will be delayed. The team hasn't played a game on the site of the old Ivor Wynne Stadium since October 2012, spending all of 2013 at a temporary stadium in Guelph while construction on the new Tim Hortons Field proceeded, and construction still isn't complete. The CFL built in tons of leeway in the schedule, not giving the Tiger-Cats a home game until Week Five, but that still proved to not be enough, as the team announced Monday that they will host their first two home games (on July 26 and July 31) at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium. From their statement:

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced today that due to construction delays at Tim Hortons Field, the team will host its first two home games – July 26 vs. Ottawa and July 31 vs. Winnipeg – at McMaster University’s Ron Joyce Stadium.

“Today’s meeting with Toronto 2015, Infrastructure Ontario, ONSS and the City of Hamilton has made it clear that it would not be possible to safely deliver a game experience that would meet our standards within the current timeframe. As a result, we will now host our first two home games at Ron Joyce Stadium. After holding our home pre-season game on campus last month, we know that we can deliver an outstanding entertainment experience at McMaster. In the coming weeks, we will have greater certainty regarding our August 16 game, but the builders remain adamant that Tim Hortons Field will be ready no later than Labour Day,” said CEO Scott Mitchell.

“While we are disappointed our fans will have to wait to visit our incredible new stadium, we know the world-class experience provided at Tim Hortons Field will exceed everyone’s expectations when it is complete.”

Fans that have purchased tickets to these games will be issued a credit or refund for the full value of each game. Details about the games at McMaster will be released tomorrow.

That's not all that surprising given recent developments. In late June, construction was reported to be over three months behind schedule, and although the team bravely talked of construction contractors working around the clock to ensure at least a functional stadium (but no scoreboard, few amenities, etc) that would allow them to play there on July 26, that seemed optimistic given reports from the site. Sean Fitz-Gerald of The National Post went to the new stadium Monday, and his photos show a building that's still nowhere close to ready:

Smart observers have been pointing out problems with the stadium construction plan for much longer than that. Consider the opinion piece Terry Ott wrote for CBC Hamilton in February 2013:

Regarding recent stories about the demolition of Ivor Wynne Stadium and the building of the new Pan Am stadium, I’m skeptical to say the least that the new stadium will be ready for football by July 2014.

Consider the fact that there was an unexpected six-month delay for the BC Lions to re-enter BC Place Stadium after originally being slated to play in temporary stands for one year. Then there’s the recent delay of more than one year for the new Winnipeg stadium.

Notwithstanding these delays in other cities, there are engineering observations that a new facility like the one proposed for Hamilton cannot possibly be completed in approximately one year.

And historically, construction projects in Hamilton are rarely "as advertised."

Perhaps I am too cynical, but in my view one would require a busload of faith to believe that the new facility, which after all is really first and foremost a soccer stadium that has to be ready by June 2015 for the Pan Am games, would be completed well before that date. This just does not seem to be a top priority for the province of Ontario. ...

So it would not surprise me in the least if the Pan Am stadium were still under construction well into the 2014 CFL season.

Well, that certainly proved prophetic. It's not as if the Tiger-Cats don't have at least some of the blame here, too. The construction delays aren't really their fault, considering that this is a project largely run and funded by various levels of government. (Hilariously, though, part of the bridging of the funding gap was filled by the team saying they'd only need to spend one season away from the stadium instead of two. That's now not the case.) Still, stadium plans and proposals could have been figured out much earlier (and demolition/construction could have started sooner after their final 2012 game) if not for the debates over various sites and the team's threats to relocate to other cities.

It's positive that the Tiger-Cats appear to be making the best of a bad situation. At least this time they were able to work out a deal with McMaster (something that didn't happen in 2013), ensuring that these games will at least be played in the right city. It's also positive that they're offering full refunds or credits to those who have already bought tickets, as there's no way Ron Joyce Stadium (aside: moving a game from Tim Hortons Field to Ron Joyce Stadium is the most Hamilton and most Canadian thing ever) can seat anywhere nearly enough people; it's listed as having 6,000 permanent seats with the ability to add 6,000 more temporary ones, but the new Tim Hortons Field is expected to have room for 24,000, so this is half the size. The team's also not planning to add temporary seats there as of right now, so only a quarter (6,000) of the fans they could have had at Tim Hortons Field can attend. The Ticats are obviously going to take a financial hit here, but at least they're trying to do right by their fans and customers, and this may work out better than trying to play in a half (or less)-finished stadium.

Still, it's worth noting that the issues with Tim Hortons Field may not be solved just by moving two games. The Tiger-Cats do hit the road for a week after the July 31 game, but are scheduled to play at home again on August 16 against Calgary. You'd think that extra time would be enough to get the stadium at least functional, but the builders are only offering assurances of Labour Day, and Ticats' president Scott Mitchell told CBC Hamilton "In the coming weeks, we will have greater certainty regarding our Aug. 16 game." So, that one at least is still up in the air. Losing two games at the new stadium is bad enough for the team, but it's possible they could lose even more. That could be severely problematic from a financial standpoint, and it's a story that will bear close scrutiny in the weeks to come.

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