Organizers expecting a sellout crowd for Grey Cup

Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris high fives fans as he runs out of the stadium following the CFL Eastern Final. (Adrian Wyld/AP)

TORONTO — Grey Cup organizers are reporting a recent uptick in ticket sales for Sunday’s CFL championship game and are confident a sellout crowd will be on hand to watch the Calgary Stampeders play the Ottawa Redblacks at BMO Field.

The Toronto Argonauts reduced ticket prices for the game last month to an $89 starting price with thousands more available for less than $150. That was down from a previous pricing plan where tickets were no cheaper than $169 apiece.

The CFL club would not reveal Monday how many tickets had been sold, but a mid-afternoon check of the Ticketmaster website showed about 1,700 tickets were still available. Unsold tickets ranged from a base price of $134.10 on the low end to $899 for a field-level seat.

“We are not disclosing how many tickets are left, but I can tell you that overnight and into today we have seen a big spike in ticket sales,” Argonauts communications manager Anton Bennett said in an email. “It’s natural to see a bump like this after the Eastern and Western Finals. But with the proximity of Ottawa to Toronto, it’s been especially strong. And we expect those strong sales to continue throughout Grey Cup week and anticipate a full house on Sunday.”

BMO Field’s seating capacity has been expanded from 27,000 to about 35,000 for the Grey Cup game. In mid-October, the team said about half of the tickets had been sold.

In announcing the ticket pricing change last month, the Argonauts said they were listening to fans who told them they needed prices to reflect the fact that Toronto has been a very busy sports market this year. The limited interest may also have been an indicator that the Toronto market has grown increasingly apathetic to the CFL in recent years.

The Raptors and Blue Jays both went on deep playoff runs this year and Toronto also hosted the World Cup of Hockey. In addition, Toronto FC reached the Eastern Conference final for the first time and will play at home on Nov. 30.

The Ontario capital will also serve as co-host of the world junior hockey championship next month and the NHL’s outdoor Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day.

Having fans spread out their sporting dollar hasn’t helped the Argonauts. But their last-place finish at 5-13 also did little to generate football buzz in the city.

The Argonauts’ move from Rogers Centre to BMO Field this season also did not energize the fanbase. The home opener at the outdoor stadium on a warm, sunny evening last June against the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats was still a few thousand short of a sellout.

The Argonauts drew only 12,373 spectators — well below half the regular capacity — for their second home game of the season. The team was just 2-7 at BMO Field, where they averaged 16,380 fans over the year.

While football interest has been lagging in the city, Grey Cup organizers did catch a break when the Redblacks defeated the Edmonton Eskimos in the East final. Ottawa is only about a five-hour drive from Toronto.

Over 53,000 fans took in the 2012 Grey Cup indoors at Rogers Centre on the 100th anniversary of the championship game. The Argonauts defeated the Stampeders 35-22.

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