TORONTO -- Riding the momentum generated by the 100th Grey Cup and years of steady growth, the Canadian Football League is poised for a bright future, says Commissioner Mark Cohon.
"In this year of the 100th Grey Cup, we have strived to not only honour our history, but also build our future," Cohon told his annual State of the League news conference here.
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The 100th Grey Cup Championship matchup is set, as the Calgary Stampeders will duel the host Toronto Argonauts. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday's game.
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"And when I look at the size of our audiences, the quality of our game, the emergence of young star players, the transformation of our stadiums, the progress we are making in southern Ontario and across the country, combined with the passion of our fans, I can say with confidence: the state of the CFL is strong, and our future is bright, indeed."
Cohon thanked Canadians for making 2012 a special year by embracing all the league has worked on with its partners to commemorate the 100th Grey Cup, from 100th Grey Cup stamps and coins, to a book and magazine, to the Engraved on Nation documentary series from TSN to the Grey Cup 100 Train Tour, presented by RONA, which carried the Grey Cup trophy from coast to coast to coast.
"Everywhere the Grey Cup travelled - and it travelled more than 8,000 kilometres this year - it was photographed and cradled and embraced, by the people who have it a Canadian icon: our fans," he said.
Cohon added that 2012 has been a great year on the field:
• Records fell to Geroy Simon (all-time receiving yardage), Chad Owens (single season combined yards), JC Sherritt (tackles in a season) and Chris Williams (kick returns for TDs in a season).
• Young Canadians emerged as shining stars, with Jon Cornish leading the league in rushing and Andrew Harris leading it in rushing and receiving combined.
• Quarterbacks excelled, posting a combined pass completion rate of 63.4 per cent, the best in history.
• And big plays were the order of the day, with 14 kicks returned for touchdowns - up from 8 a year ago - and points per game, net offence per game, passing yards per game and touchdown passes per game all up.
"Our game is in good shape, and so is our business," Cohon said.
Television ratings were up this year by 6 per cent on TSN and four per cent on TSN and RDS combined, with the average audience per regular season game reaching 728,000, up from 701,000 a year ago.
The 100th Grey Cup playoffs featured divisional semi-finals that averaged 1.6 million viewers on TSN - up 32 per cent from 2011, and divisional finals that averaged two million viewers for the Western Final and 1.9 million viewers for the Eastern Final (both TSN and RDS combined). Final ratings on TSN were up 15 per cent in the East and 3 per cent in the West. Overall, more than 8.6 million Canadian watched some part of the Eastern or Western Finals
Attendance remained strong: more than two million Canadians attended a CFL regular season game - a 1.5 per cent increase over last year, and a 4 per cent hike over 2010, bucking a trend facing many major sports. And league partnership and licensing revenue hit record highs.
"A year ago, I said we would work to seize our opportunities here in southern Ontario," Cohon said. "And today, I can tell you that, while there remains work to do, our franchises here are aggressively moving in the right direction."
Armed with strong business plans and a one million dollar marketing boost from the league, the Toronto Argonauts reached out to youth and multicultural communities. They experienced double digit growth in attendance, ticket revenue and season ticket holders.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, building on their strategy to grow in the regions surrounding Hamilton as well as their hometown, saw their business grow for the third consecutive season, with double digit growth in partnership revenue, merchandise sales and tickets.
TV ratings suggest increased local interest in both teams: the southern Ontario audience for Argo games on TSN was up 20 per cent, and the same regional audience for Ticat games was up 11 per cent.
Cohon pointed to the prospects for a new television deal for the league -- its existing agreement with TSN expires at the end of the 2013 season - as the basis for further optimism about the future.
And he pointed to a consistent pattern of steady growth, comparing the state of the league today to where it stood in 2007, the last time the Grey Cup was held in Toronto and Cohon's first Grey Cup as Commissioner.
"In 2007, our television ratings were good. Today, they're excellent - up more than 100 per cent," he said.
"Then, we faced crumbling infrastructure. Today we have a wonderful new stadium in Vancouver, we are about to welcome another one in Winnipeg, construction will begin soon in Hamilton, and the commitment to a new facility has been made in Regina, all on top of improvements to most of our other venues," Cohon said.
"Then, returning to Ottawa was just a dream. Today, it's a certainty, with construction on another new stadium beginning at Lansdowne Park, and the strongest possible local ownership team in place, and preparing to kick off in 2014."
Outreach to Atlantic Canada, the full implementation of an effective salary cap, the introduction of random testing for performance enhancing drugs, development of a leading concussion protocol, improvements to the league's combine and Canadian draft, a 50 per cent increase in partnership revenue and a 400 per cent improvement in licensing revenue - all in the past five years - demonstrate the league's ability to grow and prosper in the years ahead, Cohon said.
The 100th Grey Cup Game, featuring the Eastern Division Champion Toronto Argonauts and the Western Division Champion Calgary Stampeders, will be played Sunday, November 25th at 6 pm ET at Rogers Centre in Toronto. It will be broadcast live on TSN and RDS in Canada, and the NBC Sports Network in the U.S., and in 187 other countries around the world on ESPN International. It will be broadcast in English in Canada on TSN Radio and is available in French on 98,5 FM (Montreal), on 106,9 FM (Mauricie), on 104,7 FM (Outaouais) and on 107,7 FM (Estrie).