Stampeders' fan forum could set a valuable precedent

The Calgary Stampeders took an interesting step Monday evening, holding their first-ever fan forum at Calgary's Red and White Club. The team executed the concept brilliantly; many organizations have held expensive dinners or meet-and-greets restricted to season-ticket holders only, but the Stampeders instead decided to do a free event for any fans who wanted to come. That's an important move, as teams can no longer afford to only focus on season-ticket holders; in fact, it may be more crucial to attract those who are undecided if they'll attend CFL games this coming year, or haven't yet chosen how many games they'll go to. Reaching out to all their fans instead of just a selected few is an excellent move on the part of the Stampeders, and it's one that could potentially pay significant dividends for them down the road.

The other critical thing Calgary did right at this forum was bringing important people and giving them free reign to talk. In general, too many sports teams are concerned with controlling the message, keeping as much secret as possible and only releasing information on a need-to-know basis. That means many of these forums often don't include high-level team officials, or if they do, the officials involved deliver little other than clichéd responses. The Stampeders didn't do that; speakers at the forum included team president Lyle Bauer and head coach/general manager John Hufnagel (seen above right at a June press conference), and they both got into specifics about interesting issues. Bauer confirmed that Stampeders' season-ticket holders will have a chance to buy Touchdown Atlantic tickets for Calgary's Sept. 25 game in Moncton against Hamilton, while Hufnagel offered plenty of interesting commentary on what the team needs to improve, why they made the offseason personnel moves they did and why they didn't make some other moves. Here's the choicest excerpt fromThe Calgary Herald's Allen Cameron's post on the event:

John Hufnagel brought the house down at one point as he addressed the burning issue of finding a way to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the playoffs after two straight post-season losses.

"First of all," said Hufnagel, "Have a home playoff game, where everybody is wearing red.

"Second of all, score one more point than they do."

"And third (here's the big finish), if there's a loose ball in the end zone and there are five red jerseys and one green jersey, let a (bleep-bleep) red jersey recover the ball."

It's nice to see Hufnagel talking candidly to fans, even about last year's painful West Final loss to Saskatchewan. What's even more interesting is the specific information on players Hufnagel delivered, though; he mentioned that fullback Jesse Lumsden likely won't be back on the field until September after suffering a torn ACL last November, defensive end Mike Labinjo (who was traded to Montreal, but had that trade revoked after failing a physical examination)'s future as a Stampeder is "hanging by a thin thread" (and likely dependent on the shape he shows up to camp in), cornerback Dwight Anderson left for Montreal in free agency more thanks to differences in the contract structure the teams offered (Montreal's had more money up front) than total dollar figures, slotback P.K. Sam is expected to be ready for training camp and 2009 draft pick Spencer Armstrong may yet suit up for the Stampeders if his NFL opportunities fall through.

None of that information's earth-shattering, but there are plenty of fans who are interested in the minutiae of the CFL as well as the highlights. Reaching out to them with events like this and actually discussing the team's roster and personnel decisions is a notable step, and it's one many other CFL teams would do well to emulate. Of course, all the CFL franchises are active in their communities in their own ways, and they all do a lot of great things (the Argonauts' anti-bullying initiative stands out as a particularly notable recent contribution), but the success of the Stampeders' forum demonstrates several critical elements other teams could learn from and adapt for their own purposes. From this corner, it looks like teams would do well to target fans beyond just season-ticket holders. Moreover, there are plenty of fans who are interested in the details of the CFL as well as the overarching themes, and allowing key personnel to speak directly to the public about those details can be a very positive thing.

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