TORONTO – Craig Ryan is a lucky man. His love for the Canadian Football League has been woven beautifully between his professional and personal life.
Ryan is the vice-president onfield of Reebok Canada meaning he helps oversee the relationship between the sports manufacturer and the CFL. Most recently he helped setup the new line of vintage CFL gear that hit stores in late August.
As someone who grew up a huge CFL fan in southern Ontario, Ryan said his latest projects have been a labour of love.
“The CFL business is extremely important to us because it’s a very high-profile league in Canada,” said Ryan, who has worked in sports merchandising for the last 20 years. “The CFL helps us strengthen our position as a supplier to professional sports leagues in North America. It enhances the image of the Reebok brand and creates a spillover effect to other products in our brand line.”
CFL and Reebok have just signed a new five-year contract extending the current deal that was signed in 2004.
Ryan said the new five-year deal will bring with it a concerted effort to help connect players and fans to the rich history of the league
A new line of heritage jerseys will showcase uniforms that teams wore decades ago. The first taste of the products on the field will come Sept. 12 when the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will don vintage gear during a regular season showdown at Rogers Centre.
It’s all part of the CFL’s new Retro Week program that will help rekindle memories of the league’s history. The Argonauts and Blue Bombers game on September 12 will help pay tribute to the Mud Bowl Grey Cup game in 1950 when Toronto defeated Winnipeg.
“One of the things the CFL can do that other leagues cannot do is speak to their history,” said Ryan. “No other league has been in existence as long as the CFL and is in a position to celebrate that history.”
In fact Ryan said fans can expect more vintage gear to come their way in the future.
“We’ve introduced third jerseys for teams in the last couple of years and we know that excites fans,” said Ryan. “I expect more vintage gear and merchandise that promotes the deep history of the game to be coming out in the years ahead.”
The CFL and Reebok launched a major co-branded outdoor media campaign in conjunction with CBS Outdoor Canada that has been very visible in recent weeks. But, the CFL’s history is only part of Reebok’s innovative approach.
“From the players to the fans we’re always looking to improve our products,” said Ryan. “We’re uncovering new materials and fabrics to improve our products.”
Reebok is always looking to improve the range of motion for players who wear their jerseys. This is something Ryan identifies as an ongoing goal.
“We want the jerseys to be lighter and more comfortable for the players and that’s something we will keep in mind as we move forward,” he said.
But in the end it is all about the fans and Ryan said Reebok is doing its best to make sure his company’s products are widely available and easily accessible for the CFL’s fervent fan base.
Fans have easy access to the Reebok merchandise through the online store CFLShop.ca and at SportChek locations nationwide. Other individual licensed stores will also carry the merchandise including Jersey City and River City Sports.
Ryan said he’s proud of the relationship Reebok and the CFL have forged during the last few years. He’s also looking forward to seeing Reebok gear on display at this year’s Grey Cup in Montreal.
“The Grey Cup is the event in Canada that galvanizes the country,” he said. “We like how the CFL is positioning itself in the Canadian market and we are proud to continue the relationship.”