Brock students aiming to help safely bring Hamilton Ticats fans back to the stands

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be getting strategic advice from Brock University’s Sport Management (SPMA) students to help bring football fans back to Tim Hortons Field in a safe way.

Three Brock teams comprised of SPMA Council representatives are among four Ontario universities that will pitch their proposed solutions for safely navigating the stadium experience during the ongoing pandemic. The pitches will be made Friday, March 26 at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2021 Case Study competition.

“These 11 students are really taking the opportunity to motivate themselves, add value to their undergraduate experience and apply their knowledge gained while in the program,” says Department of Sport Management Associate Professor Shannon Kerwin. “I know when I’m at a game, I don’t want to just sit. I want to be engaged and move about the stadium. These students are stepping up, despite being very busy, to showcase their skills and gain more practical field work.”

With the cancellation of the 2020 football season, the 2020 Grey Cup in Saskatchewan was also cancelled and moved to 2022. This year, a full 18-game regular season for all nine CFL teams is currently planned to kick off June 10 and culminate Nov. 24 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and City of Hamilton hosting the Grey Cup for the first time in 25 years.

“What’s interesting about this case study is there are so many variables we have no control over,” says William Ord, a third-year SPMA student and one of three Brock team captains. “Some of our ideas could either be relevant or a moot point depending on vaccine roll-outs or further lockdowns. We are trying our best to find solutions that will benefit the organization while assuming physical distancing is going to be in place.”

As part of the study, participants have been directed to review the stadium experiences guests had in the past at Tim Hortons Field and develop a marketing plan that considers COVID-19 public health and safety regulations while at the same time, maintaining a positive guest experience that is engaging and interactive.

“Being a student going into the field of Sport Management, this exact situation of COVID-19 may not be something we face again. It is likely though, at some point in our careers we could be in a similar situation where we are responsible for keeping sport going,” says third-year student Natalie Hamel, captain of Brock SPMA Council’s executive team. “This is a good opportunity to hear from professionals in the industry dealing with a real-world situation and how they are handling it.”

The three teams of Brock students have been preparing for this competition since early February. To help create a positive learning environment and provide insight into where they are hoping to go, Ticats executives hosted a Q&A with all the university teams Feb. 11.

“My team was very excited about the opportunity to get the information we were focused on in front of the people who work at the Ticats,” says third-year SPMA student and team captain Jessica Crosthwaite. “We submitted our questions early in the hopes of learning more about the specific areas of safety, venue capacity and demographics.”

As members of SPMA council, all three case study team members are used to working together to host major events involving industry guests and Brock alumni. Despite having to move online, the high-profile networking events that SPMA has a reputation for hosting have still been attracting an average of 80 to 100 participants each this academic year.

“With having three teams entered in this competition, even though we’re competing against each other, we are still competing as one Brock team, says Ord. “Our collective agenda is to show a diverse set of skills that differs from the other schools we are up against.”

While all three teams are keeping their marketing and action plans top secret from each other, they do expect the competition to heat up in the few hours before the event starts.

“Some of us have been on SPMA Council for a few years now and have developed professional relationships as well as friendships,” says Hamel. “We are really proud of our members camaraderie and because of this, we are confident we can have a friendly competition with each other.”

On each team are members with varying levels of education and experience. The students navigating the learning curve the most are those who are in first year who have yet to benefit from the program’s second-year SPMA 2P65 Sport Marketing course.

“The youngest team members may have a limited grasp on marketing outside of the course SPMA 1P92 Understanding Sport Industry Sectors,” says Ord. “We know our plan isn’t going to be the perfect be-all and end-all solution, but we are hoping that we can develop something constructive the CFL can use.”

By comparison, some of the senior SPMA Council members have in the past had the opportunity to tour the Tim Hortons Field facility and engage with some of the Brock SPMA alumni who work there.

“We are lucky to have a Brock connection with some people at the Ticats and look forward to continue building on that by delivering quality presentations and seeing what their solutions are going to be to welcome back fans for the upcoming CFL schedule,” says Hamel.

On May 23, the CFL is currently planning to kick off its exhibition season by having the Calgary Stampeders host the B.C. Lions. On June 10, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are slated to visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a rematch of the 107th Grey Cup in the league’s regular season opener.

There are still many hurdles ahead as the CFL continues to work with local public health authorities, the league’s nine teams and the CFL Players’ Association on a return to play protocol that will spell out how or if, the 2021 season or a shortened one will play out amid the pandemic.

“Everyone is making the best of the COVID-19 situation,” says Kerwin. “I am so impressed with how SPMA Council is working together. Even though things are uncertain, they are embracing this opportunity to demonstrate they have fresh perspectives and showcase the critical thinking skills they have developed.”

As each team prepares their own safe return to play plan for the Ticats using out-of-the-box thinking, one thing is certain, for these students, the case study has created a space for new dynamics to emerge.

“During the pandemic, my one constant is our weekly SPMA Council meetings,” says Crosthwaite. “This competition has given me a chance to collaborate with students I hadn’t had the chance to engage with in a small group setting before. This is giving us the opportunity to explore new ideas and concepts.”

The students representing the three Brock University teams are as follows:

  • Brock SPMA Council Executive Team members are third-year SPMA student Natalie Hamel (team captain) and fourth-year SPMA students Ethan Crystal, Bailey Allport, Courtney Christy and Suzanne Kelley.
  • Brock SPMA Council Team 2 members are third-year SPMA student Jessica Crosthwaite (team captain), second-year SPMA student Mason Boruch and first-year SPMA student Madelyn Grossi.
  • Brock SPMA Council Team 3 members are third-year SPMA student William Ord (team captain), second-year SPMA student Neville Madill and first-year SPMA student Patrick Byrne.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats Case Study competition was organized in partnership with the Ontario-based Sport Management Research Collective and facilitated by Wilfrid Laurier University, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education Alanna Harman. There are 10 teams competing representing Brock University, Ryerson University, Western University and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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