N.B.: The Montreal Alouettes will now have two bye weeks every season until there is an even number of franchises again. During which, I will be doing a blog regarding other topics of interest in the CFL. I hope that you enjoy these special editions of The ALSternative!
While the Montreal Alouettes finish their bye week, allow me to delve into a topic that has been discussed a fair bit this season. It can be a sensitive subject to many fans and has provoked many strong opinions. You may agree what what I suggest, you may not. The goal is to get people talking, hopefully in an intelligent manner.
During the first four weeks of the 2014 Canadian Football League season, there has been a considerable lull in the attendance of games. Some cities due to inclement weather (Regina in week one), some due to a team’s lacklustre records the year previous (Winnipeg/Montreal) and some due to resentment of the potential labour stoppage that was narrowly averted (All CFL cities).
But one city has taken a particularly hard hit in the attendance department. A city that many feel is too big for a team that is considered minor-league placed next to it’s other sports teams. A city that craves a major sporting championship, but not from a team that has already given that city 16 of them.
That city is Toronto and judging by the poor attendance at the Rogers Centre of late, the vast majority of this city’s denizens are not interested in its Argonauts. Oh, these people will throw down heaps of money to watch the Maple Leafs choke away a playoff spot in April and they will always sell out the Blue Jays’ Opening Day. But invest in a CFL team that is built for long-term success on the playing field? Nope is often the reply with noses turned skyward.
It seems almost sacrilegious, the idea of supporting a team or league that is not considered amongst the Big Four (NHL, NBA, MLB or NFL). After all, this is a major league town and it deserves a major league team, they will bellow from the rooftops! The team that was once the hottest ticket in town when Wayne Gretzky & John Candy were the owners now can never fill its cavernous stadium, even with gimmicky promotions. And it’s clear as day when they broadcast Argos games on TV live from the Rogers Centre that the interest in Toronto is going, going, gone.
Making matters worse is that there is seemingly no interest from Argos owner David Braley to invest any more in this franchise. In fact, he has stated on several occasions that he is wanting to divest himself from BOTH of his CFL franchises before he turns 75 in 2016. So there is certainly no motivation on his part to further advance this Argonauts team going forward.
The Argos are tied to Rogers Centre until 2017 after which Rogers Communications (who own both the building and the Blue Jays) want Toronto’s only football team to vacate the premises so that they can install a natural grass playing field. Thus making Rogers Centre a baseball-only facility.
You now have a football team that no one wants to see and soon will have no place to call home. And the hopes that the soccer-specific BMO Field could be refitted for a CFL field currently sits in limbo as that facility’s managers (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) are unwilling to accommodate the Argos, but would rather focus their energy on the faint possibility of acquiring the for-sale Buffalo Bills of the NFL and possibly moving them to the Greater Toronto Area.
Disregard that you are looking at nearly 3 billion dollars in fees to relocate that Bills franchise to Toronto and building a new NFL-caliber stadium. That’s 3 BILLION. With a B. A lot of money to pay when you consider that when the Bills played their annual Toronto game, they had to give away tickets more often than not to make Rogers Centre look somewhat full.
So what now? The Canadian Football League still clings to the ideal that the Argonauts are the flagship franchise and that the league can only succeed if Toronto is seen as a strong, viable centerpiece. But short of commissioner Mark Cohon herding people into the Rogers Centre at gunpoint, I just don’t see how it can work much longer.
Thus I propose the following: Relocate the Toronto Argonauts to the Maritimes. I agree that it’s a bold and wild statement/proposal, but hear me out:
The CFL has always wanted to test out the market for football on the East Coast and have been getting small sample sizes with the Touchdown Atlantic games. If there was ever a time to truly find out how viable the market is, send the Argos to play at Stade Moncton for one season.
That stadium in Moncton can hold 15,000 fans easily, which is what the Argos are currently claiming (quite generously, in my opinion) as attendance numbers at Rogers Centre. And the three times that the CFL held games there, no one seemed to mind the experience there. Perhaps with its own team and some proper marketing, that region can truly embrace the Argos as their own.
And maybe, just maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder for Toronto football fans, especially once the Bills are sold and they either stay put in Western New York or head to Los Angeles. Maybe once the “dream” of the NFL in Toronto is unequivocally dead and buried, will the Toronto fans come back around.
I can envision a scenario like when the NFL’s Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore, that the Argos name and records sit in absentia while the team itself moves to an Atlantic province. Then when a true owner emerges for Toronto with a feasible stadium and long-term plan for success, the league grants the city a brand new franchise with the Argos name and history attached to it. It happened when the Baltimore Stallions moved to Montreal to be reborn as the Alouettes, so there is precedent.
Many will say that the CFL NEEDS Toronto to attract sponsors and corporate types to the league. I would argue that 9 healthy, viable teams is a much better representation of the league than having a “flagship” team located in Canada’s biggest city with sparse crowds that are a visible slap in the face to the league itself.
Also, there remains no better example than the city of Los Angeles losing both of its NFL teams to relocation and the league has never once suffered as a result, but rather grown stronger. If anything, not having a team in Los Angeles has become the ultimate bargaining chip for the NFL to use when cities don’t want to pony up the dough for their respective team’s new stadiums.
“Oh, you don’t want to spend a billion dollars to build your team a new stadium, even though the owner has billions of his own money? Fine, he can pack up the team and move it to Los Angeles!” And then miraculously, the taxpayers find that missing billion dollars to build a new playground for these wealthy folks. Some consider it dirty pool, others call it leveraging. Your mileage may vary.
Truthfully, I think the CFL could survive without being in Toronto if they moved the Argos to a fanbase that actually cared. Imagine living in Moncton or Halifax and knowing that your area was about to inherit a team that won a Grey Cup a mere two years ago and is built to be competitive right now as opposed to a rag-tag group of castaways. I have to think that season tickets sales, even just for one year, would go through the roof!
That’s not to say the Maritimes would automatically care more, but maybe if being truly given a team of their own to cheer for instead of watching two other cities’ teams duke it out once a year, maybe the interest level would ratchet up and they could develop a true fanbase in Atlantic Canada.
CIS football has a great following as well in the Maritimes; a CFL team there would lead to stronger development programs in that region, much like how Quebec, Alberta and now Manitoba are producing some serious Canadian football talent. And imagine fans from other cities making the trip to see their team play the Maritime team! Rider Nation versus the Acadian faithful, now that’d be a treat!
Naturally, this move wouldn’t bode well for the faithful Argos fans that remain today. But it’s clear that they are in a vast minority here and will have to pay a dear price. Again, I give you the example of the Cleveland Browns. That city lost its beloved football team and was given a new one a few years later. That team now plays in a newer stadium built exclusively for them and despite many losing seasons, team support has never been stronger in Cleveland.
It would initially be a bitter pill to swallow for the league and Toronto fan base, but if the above scenario could happen with the Argos, then we’d have the ten team coast-to-coast league that everyone craves so bad.
I’ll leave it at that. It’s just one man’s opinion, take it or leave it. But as someone who wants the league to grow stronger, I would argue that these moves would ultimately lead to better days and more jobs in the CFL. And any true football fan can appreciate that, I hope.
I’ll be back later on with a preview for the upcoming Alouettes/Argonauts game. Be sure to check me out on Twitter for more thoughts and news.
GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.