Yesterday, the Montreal Alouettes took a bold new step with regards to their training camp regimen. Normally camp is held exclusively at Bishop’s University. But yesterday, the team opted to pile into a couple of buses and headed down to Parc Rosanne Laflamme, located in the South Shore of Montreal. The purpose of this field trip? To play their annual intra-squad game, complete with actual CFL referees and more.
But would fans respond to the Alouettes’ invite to join them in St. Hubert? After all, it was a gorgeous sunny day and it was also Grand Prix weekend in Montreal, one of the city’s biggest summer events. Getting anyone who is not a die-hard Alouettes fan out to Lennoxville to watch training camp has been like pulling teeth. Would casual fans really want to head out to watch a game that only features a team’s offensive players versus the defensive players?
It turns out that if you build it, advertise it at a place that is close to Montreal, have cheerleaders plus real referees there, feature the voice of the Alouettes calling each play and sell refreshments as well as merchandise…..they will come.
The turnout for this game was far beyond my expectations as just over 1000 people showed up for this event and all indications were that this was a roaring success. It turns out that all you had to do was get the Montreal area community involved and they will come in droves. The atmosphere was tremendous when you consider that an event like this has never really been done before. But with the help of local amateur football teams, this became a great showcase for the Alouettes and it also further reinstates my belief that if you moved the first day of training camp to Molson Stadium, the response would be off the charts.
Yesterday’s game was a chance to get real CFL referees involved, there to help prepare for the new rules that will be in effect for 2015. The flags were a-flying, as it was evident that very little focus was given to the new rules during actual training camp sessions. The coaching staff would be wise to ramp up the preparation of the players to these new rules before this Saturday’s first pre-season game in Quebec City.
After the scrimmage was finished, it was time for the Alouettes fans to finally meet and greet the players that had just performed for them. This was your best possible opportunity to get autographs and photos taken with all of the players. Every player that I spoke with was loose, happy and really feeding off the energy of the crowd assembled for this potential landmark event.
For many of these players, this may be the only time that people will clamour for their autograph. Or for the rookies their first taste of the future, as CFL players are renowned for the approachability and they are expected to treat these fans like gold. The response was overwhelming on social media, as many fans tweeted pictures of themselves with players and the Montreal Alouettes twitter team was only too happy to share those pics with the rest of the Interweb.
I have to believe that based on the strength of this event’s success, that this will NOT be the only time that the team ventures away from Lennoxville during future training camps. I get that having camp during the week at Bishop’s makes perfect sense. But I think now more than ever, you have to touch base with the entire outlying Montreal area and eventually reach the entire province of Quebec.
I’ve said on numerous occasions that the Alouettes can easily be just like the Saskatchewan Roughriders as far as being the province’s only team. It starts at the grassroots level and there is a ton of interest. Football in Quebec has grown to such a powerful juggernaut at all levels and it all started with the Alouettes returning in 1996. Now more than ever, this team needs to continue the tremendous relationship it has built with the football youth of this province.
The Montreal Alouettes have really scored a touchdown here with its fans to kick off the 2015 campaign; now it’s time to go for two when their pre-season gets underway!
I’ll be back later this week with a quick preview of the first pre-season game versus the Ottawa RedBlacks, being played at Stade Telus in Quebec City. Ticket sales have not been great so far, hopefully the weather gods will co-operate and the walk-up crowd will help fill the stadium.
There’s still a full week of training camp to go, for more info head over to the Alouettes web site for scheduled start times. And as always, follow me on Twitter for more news and updates.
GO ALS GO!!!