Grass, Stadiums, Franchises and the Grey Cup

Published on February 17, 2012 2:27 PM by dbo.

More than ever before, the CFL brings speculation, blame and quick fixes when it comes to reporting on the Toronto market and new franchises. What follows is a bit of a rant.

Grass, Rogers Centre and the Argos’ Home

When the media picked up on comments about natural grass at Rogers Centre by the Toronto Blue Jays’ president Paul Beeston, the Toronto Argonauts were as good as homeless. Without a place to play, the speculation and advice on what the Argos should do began. Despite the Argos’ tempered view of the situation, the media started adding facts to the story — the Argos were in fact without a stadium to play in come 2013, web polls went up on where they should play and much blame was thrown on the Argonaut franchise for the situation they found themselves in. Being reporters, you would think someone would have asked some questions.

No one asked for clarification from Beeston. No one asked what this retrofit would cost. No one asked what the annual groundskeeping costs would be, what the lost event revenue to the building would be by making it an exclusive baseball only park eight months of the year or what the annual configuration changes would cost. No one even asked how this would affect the Rogers Bills in Toronto series (or a permanent NFL team) in the future. What about the backlash to Rogers for throwing the Argos out? It would be the same as banning the Argos from the CNE in the 1970’s. While the stadium may be commercially owned by Rogers today (picked it up for $0.05 on the $1), it was publicly built to serve the city’s sports teams and forcing the football team out and to build another stadium is not fiscally responsible. On Feb. 10th Primetime Sports Roundtable (13:22, 6.4 MB, mp3) some of these questions were brought up, with no answers but a few guesses.

After much ado about nothing, Paul Beeston was a guest on Primetime Sports Feb. 14th (8:25, 4 MB, mp3) and stated, while it was possible to install real grass in Rogers Centre, converting the Rogers Centre to a grass field is not being contemplated at the present time. He does not see a grass field in the next five years but it could happen eventually.

Case closed? No need to worry about facilities for a Toronto CFL team and we can all go back to other matters? No, not exactly. Commissioner Cohon, on the same Feb. 14th Primetime Sports hour (18:40, 9 MB, mp3), had to wriggle under questions about a new stadium for the Toronto Argonauts. The media and many citizens of this country would like the situation fixed today, because it is easy to complete major capital projects in your mind. They expect someone to announce they are building a new stadium for Toronto to play in, and the issues of the Toronto market would be solved. When they don’t get that answer, they like to heap blame on the Argos and CFL for the past failures leading to getting shut out of BMO Field and not building a shared Argos/Ti-Cat stadium in Oakville with Pan-Am Games money.

The fact is any new facility to suit the Argos is a sensitive political issue. Unlike other major sports where the suggestion to use public money to build stadiums and arenas will likely be met with some support in the political leadership, the CFL doesn’t have that luxury. Toronto political leadership are completely silent on this issue, despite the city owned BMO Field holding a key role in future Argo home discussions. Laying all the failures and political backstabbing that has left the Argos at Rogers Centre at the feet of the current owner and management is not helpful, as is expecting an answer from the team that they will be playing in a new stadium in x years.

Ottawa and Other Franchise Sites

The commissioner also touched on the Ottawa situation. The media reflect the impatience of fans across the country on the length of the process in Ottawa. Unfortunately, the CFL has no card to play here. The process will take as long as it takes. While true that a court delay or an unfavourable ruling and potential appeal will push out stadium construction dates, jeopardizing the projected field date of an Ottawa team in 2014. These scenarios are unlikely, however, with the City of Ottawa, the franchisees and the CFL behind the project and confident in their position.

Mr. Cohon also responded to a question on a possible shift of attention to Quebec City. The situation of a new hockey arena in the city funded by the province and city led to the assumption that money should be forthcoming for a CFL stadium with the right person asking. This conjecture has that the CFL has missed seeing this opportunity because there is no active noise about a stadium and a team to follow in this hot football market.

In Atlantic Canada, the thought is Moncton has had their chance, two years of Touchdown Atlantic and not the overwhelming groundswell of support that indicates a stadium and franchise will be there soon. However, the CFL is in no position to burn any bridges, and needs to expand its coast-to-coast audience for growth and needs sites for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2013. The league’s nice touch in announcing there will be no 2012 Touchdown Atlantic before the 2012 schedule was released shows its attention to this market.

Halifax has proceeded with its stadium process, and a committee recommended building a 14,000 permanent seat stadium with room for 6,000 temporary seats for major events. The cost is expected to run up to $71 million and the city has committed $20 million to the project. They have had a hard time finding other funding, however, with the province and federal government not committing to the project yet. The stadium is required to be considered as a host city for the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 20,000 seats is required to be considered for a FIFA event. While looking for partners, Halifax faces tight deadlines within a 90 day extension from the Canadian Soccer Association.

The recommendation came under question from event producers who believe it is oversized and in a bad location. The attitude in Halifax appears to be that they cannot support a CFL team and the size recommendation of the stadium supports that. While it appears Halifax may be out of the running in providing a suitable stadium for a professional football team, nothing is for sure until after the stadium project is cancelled or built.

This leaves Moncton, who like Halifax, needs a leader behind a stadium improvement project before much will change there. The CFL will only come to Moncton for a game or two when it needs to or the money is right until more progress is made on the stadium and business community to get behind what is necessary to bring a franchise to the region. Making it a regionally backed initiative, with both provinces political and business leaders on-board about its location will be required.

The commissioner has to be very delicate in answering these lines of questions over market preference or giving up on a city. While it is easy for media to disparage what the CFL has done and ask why they don’t have a franchise in Quebec City or Moncton like so many 15-year olds in the country, the corporate/political infrastructure does not provide CFL ready stadiums at the drop of a hat as it does for hockey in this country. The economics of the CFL, even with the best forecasts of increased revenue, does not allow for private construction of stadiums by even the wealthiest of individuals. Public funds are required and until that is in place, a franchisee to champion such a project is unlikely to come forward.

Saskatoon again popped up on the people’s CFL franchise radar after a Conference Board of Canada report stating the city is approaching the size needed to support a team. This is after it was revealed Saskatoon has looked at a stadium project and CFL franchise recently. While certainly flattering to the CFL that more cities are interested in CFL franchises, Saskatoon would not be high on the league’s priority list if a capable owner and stadium existed today. However, it 20 years once the population has reached levels that could support both, the league may be in a much different position and need Saskatoon for a 12th franchise and balanced divisions. Until then, any discussions are a waste of time.

Despite the tough questions the commissioner faces regularly on existing franchise troubles and new franchise opportunities, it is generally agreed his approach has put the CFL in a position it has never been in before.

Back to Toronto, Chris Rudge and the 100th Grey Cup

Turning around the Toronto Argonauts is another hot topic. Today’s impatient media would like reports that the Argos are back to 1970’s popularity level with each change and the appointment of Chris Rudge as the new Toronto Argonaut president is not an exception as demonstrated in his appearance on the Jan. 30th Primetime Sports, (18:56, 9.1 MB, mp3) 5 PM hour. Every commissioner and Argo employee is asked the same questions, how can you fix it, when will you fix it, what will you do to fix it? The answers lay out examples of progress, what needs to be done but the conclusion is always the same. If they won’t say exactly how they will fix it in eight easy steps, then they don’t know how and it can’t be done.

What I got from the new president’s responses was this guy gets it. He’s talking about connecting the fans, the 100th Grey Cup, etc., but he also had some succinct comments about the football side of things I haven’t heard from a CFL executive in decades, preferring .500 ball with an average score of 38-34 rather than 9-0 and an average score of 12-7. Creating an exciting product, and not by dropping in some name player who invariably creates no impact. Lost in the desire to win in so many sports has been the attempt to entertain, stripping the skill out of the games and this has affected the CFL ever since the increased American influence in the mid-1990’s. People want to be on the edge of their seats from the starting gun with a chance to win at the end of the game. Let us see some big plays, 400-500 yards of offence per team, some mistakes and the scoring that comes with it. Try some long field goals even if there is a chance of a return, don’t down the ball at the end of the half, put in some imaginative plays based on deception. Not knowing what is going to happen, the game always being in the balance, that is what provides the excitement to watch.

The CFL launched a new marketing campaign/slogan “No Lead is Safe” in the fall, but this is less true now compared to the 1980’s and early 1990’s in my recollection. The CFL has fallen into the stricter coaching that has affected all sports with eliminating mistakes prioritized, creating players who react and don’t think and letting players just play frowned upon. I have reason to believe there are CFL fans in the GTA, but there hasn’t been a product they have been willing to pay for in about a decade, especially when they can watch it on TV. I think this mandate from executives down to coaches to “make the game exciting, don’t worry about your job” could work wonders across this league.

The great thing Chris Rudge has done with the 100th Grey Cup is think outside the box. So many Grey Cups just add more entertainment and partying to make it the best ever with no anchor to the CFL or game at all. While he is bringing his experience from the Olympics, many of the ideas focus on recognizing and celebrating the CFL, not just unassociated entertainment. His connections also provide a great opportunity now for the Argos in the political and business arena, something they have lacked since John Basset controlled the team. His type of thinking could result in a Grey Cup facsimile half-time show being replaced by a pre-game concert perhaps where you get more than three songs, and restoring a 15-minute half-time so the focus is on the game, not the game being secondary to the entertainment.

Conclusion

Those who do not have the responsibility of running sports franchises, organizing the political will and business partners to build stadiums and grant franchises can place blame, speculate and leave a negative perspective of the situation. But as reporters they also need to ask questions, provide detailed and insightful analysis and examine the complexities of the issues. Everything they write is on the web now, there are no length restrictions. Providing some meat in your articles might just sell as well as sensational headlines. And it will help educate those in this country with a 15-year old mentality where everything is so easy and it is a failure it is not accomplished.

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Grass, Stadiums, Franchises and the Grey Cup was published on February 17, 2012 2:27 PM by dbo.

2,301 words.

This article is categorized under Stadiums and tagged with chris-rudge, grey-cup, halifax, moncton, ottawa, quebec-city and toronto-argonauts.