Can BMO Field save the Toronto Argonauts?

Jun 1 2016, 9:31 am

Ever since Bruce McNall and his fancy coin collection left town in 1994, outside of a few rare patches of good weather, the Toronto Argonauts have been taking on water as they tried to stay afloat while sinking in the cavernous confines of the stadium formerly known as SkyDome.  

But hope springs eternal as the Argos find themselves with a new ownership group as the notoriously tight-fisted David Braley sold the team to Bell Media and MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum, and a new lease on life as the team moves to BMO Field on the Exhibition Grounds.

If there was one thing Torontonians learned from the Blue Jays’ late summer surge and autumn playoff run, it was that the long held idea that the SkyDome was a lifeless, concrete echo chamber was actually not true.  What people realized was that the stadium is actually an entertaining place when there are 50,000 people packed into it, but an absolutely terrible place to watch sports when there are fewer than 25,000 fans in attendance. Unfortunately for the Argos, they have found themselves almost exclusively in the latter category during their tenure at the dome.  

So, this move to the newly renovated 26,500 seat BMO Field should solve all their problems, right? Not so fast.  

The Lost Generation(s)

It’s not hard to imagine, but the biggest hurdle the Argonauts face is re-connecting with the generation (or two) of fans that have largely been ignored, as the team went through many ownership changes and even receivership. The good news for the Argos is that they have the deep pockets of Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Media (who happen to own CFL broadcaster TSN) and these new stewards desperately need the team located in the largest media market in the country to be successful on and off the field.

The next step for the Argonauts will be to target their marketing at the next generation of fans by tapping into a bit of the early 1990s nostalgia that has been such a boon for the Toronto Blue Jays. Granted, the Argos don’t have two World Series rings to draw off of, but if they can attract that university-aged crowd to make the short trek down to BMO Field, they will be on the right track. And from the looks of their recently launched 2016 ad campaign, that is precisely who they are targeting.  

If the new owners want some advice, all they have to do is ask Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young about how long, and how much money, it takes to get a CFL franchise back into the black. Luckily for Mr. Tanenbaum & Bell Media, the hard work of trying to get a new facility built has already been done in advance of them taking over ownership.

If that doesn’t work, buy them alcohol…

Argos vs TFC

One thing that will be interesting to watch is how the freshly funded Argos marketing department navigates the fragile psyche of the TFC fans who feel the city-funded BMO Field is exclusively their territory. Something tells me the Argos are going to have a tough time with cross-promoting the team to the likes of TFC fans. If you want proof of this, go to a TFC game this summer and yell, “Arrrrggoooooos!” and let me know how it goes. (Pro tip: if you hear someone yell “Worldstar!” get ready to duck.)

Why am I telling you this? Take it away TFC fans!

They seem like a reasonable bunch don’t they? Unfortunately for the Argos, the “passion” fans of TFC display about the sanctity of BMO Field won’t allow them to take advantage of many of the synergies that come with having multiple tenants at the same stadium.

The “Hybrid” Field

One thing that hasn’t received a lot of press prior to the start of the CFL season is the fact that when the natural grass pitch of BMO Field is configured for the Argonauts, it will feature 17-yard end zones. Not only will each end zone be three yards shorter than a regulation CFL field (which may have a negative effect on Ricky Ray’s patented deep corner passes), but the north end zone will be entirely made of artificial turf and the south end zone will be half artificial turf.

While this isn’t Memphis Mad Dogs at the Liberty Bowl level of inadequacy, it still isn’t a great look for a venue that will host the CFL’s marquee event this year and certainly doesn’t do much in the ever judging eyes of TFC and local NFL fans who view the Argonauts and the CFL as a second tier sport in the city.

So, you’re saying they are going to fail?

No, not at all. In fact, I would argue that the Toronto Argonauts have a lot of good things working in their favour to make their tenure at BMO Field a success on and off the field.  

Most importantly, the Argos have stable, deep pocketed ownership in the largest media market in the country and a city that has a thirst for winning that they desperately want to be quenched.

Sure, the CFL doesn’t compete in terms of visibility with the big four leagues, but there are a lot of football fans in the GTA with disposable income who are ready to spend their entertainment dollars on something worth their time. And the time for the Toronto Argonauts to convince the next generation of fans to join them at BMO Field is now.

Hopefully, around 26,500 of them.

Paul EdwardsPaul Edwards

+ Offside
+ Football