Status of Toronto Stadiums

Toronto Argonauts – BMO Field

The Toronto Argonauts moved to BMO Field for the 2016 season. A virtual venue tour is available to confirm the location and sight lines of any seat in the house.

In 2017, the team used York University as their training facility prior to August 6th, before moving their training facilities to the former Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, busing the team to other fields for practices for the remainder of 2017. The team is looking at entering a long-term lease at the school to centralize their practice facility, and install suitable turf for a practice field. Previously, the Argos practiced at the Downsview Park MLSE practice facility.

The May 20th, 2015 announcement of the sale of the Argos to BCE and Kilmer Group (2 out of 3 owners of MLSE) also provided confirmation that the Argonauts will move to BMO Field for the 2016 season, after modifications are complete to accommodate the Canadian football-sized field and improve the facility. The sale of the team from David Braley closed Dec. 31st, 2015.

Toronto Argonauts – Rogers Centre

2015 was the last season the Toronto Argonauts played at Rogers Centre, their home since 1989, which was known as The SkyDome until 2005.

In 2015, the Argos moved their “home” opener to Fort McMurray’s SMS Equipment Stadium and played their next four games on the road due to the 2015 Pan-Am Games in southern Ontario and the availability of Rogers Centre. They also played their 2015 home pre-season game at Varsity Stadium. After making this concession to their schedule, they were evicted from Rogers Centre for three games in October, 2015. One was played in Ottawa vs the RedBlacks, while two were moved to Hamilton vs Calgary and Montreal. A third, vs BC, could also have been relocated to Hamilton on October 30th, but this did not occur.

The search for a new home for Toronto’s football team began officially in Sept. 2013 when with the announcement of a new lease agreement, Rogers informed all this would be the last lease for the team at the domed stadium they had called home since its opening. The Argonauts could call Rogers Centre home until the 2017 season at the latest. That home was apparently found at a renovated BMO Field with council approval of the stadium expansion. While the stadium expansion was approved to go ahead, there was no agreement in place for the Argos to become tenants and David Braley appeared to be keeping all options on table. MLSE announced in May, 2014 that their first phase of BMO renovations will not involve the end stands, making the stadium not suitable for a Canadian football field, so the stadium can be ready for the Pan-Am Games while renovation funding is worked out. MLSE stated they were not shutting the door on the Argos at BMO Field, just adjusting priorities. In Feb. 2015, David Braley expressed hope a deal could be done by the summer of 2015, much to the impatience of some.

In July 2014 the Argos and MLSE announced they would partner on a training facility on the grounds of the Toronto FC training facility in Downsview Park. The team moved into their new practice and training facility Sept. 8th, 2014. The Argos announced in April 2014 they would hold their 2014 training camp at York University after the University of Toronto informed them they could not continue to use their facilities at that university’s Erindale Campus.

In September 2014, it was reported Mark Cohon was involved in trying to raise $20 million to allow the BMO Field renovations to go forward without government funds. In a Toronto Star article Braley was quizzed about the status of the team and media criticism over a perceived shoestring budget and progress on their new home. It was reported that Braley has had two offers to purchase the team in the last six months. Braley refuted that, however, saying he had “multiple people approach” him, or inquire about the franchise, but not at the stage of discussing price. The focus for Braley and the CFL in the 2014-2015 off-season it appears will be to find a way to raise the $20 million needed to renovate BMO Field in MLSE’s plans to allow it to accommodate a Canadian football field.

In 2014 it became widely reported that MLSE was involved in a complex plan to accommodate the Argonauts at BMO Field as part of their planned renovations to increase capacity, improve fan experience and provide covered sideline seating to the city-owned and MLSE-managed stadium. The $120 million renovation needed for the Toronto FC MLS soccer team would include retractable end seating sections so the stadium could accommodate a Canadian football field. This design results in no end seating for football events, but end seating in a soccer configuration. Options to protect the integrity of the field for both tenants have been suggested including a hybrid natural/synthetic surface, grass varieties that stand up to athletic use, moveable field turf surface to be placed on top of the grass surface for football games and painting and removing lines for each sport as necessary.

The speculation from the media was MLSE would make BMO Field a home for the Argos, they or Larry Tanenbaum would purchase the Argos from David Braley and guarantee to operate them even at a loss as part of the continued play to bring an NFL team to Toronto. The media has speculated that the NFL would not allow an NFL franchise in Toronto without the guaranteed protection of the Argonauts as they do not want to be seen as killing the Toronto CFL team and the Canadian league.

In 2014 MLSE confirmed their plans to renovate BMO Field and accommodate a Canadian football field, taking the heat off themselves with claims it was a push from the city to house the Argos there. Discussion about prospective purchasers for the Argos in 2014, linking them to MLSE or independent bids, was from a speculation perspective rather than sources. It was reported that anyone purchasing the Argos to play at BMO Field would see an annual lease cost starting at $1 million for the on-site city worker costs ($100K per game). MLSE, as stadium managers and with the sports infrastructure (ticketing, administration), could potentially bring some economies of scale.

In Sept. 2013 the Argonauts and Rogers Centre announced a license extension for the Argos to stay at the covered stadium until the end of 2017, with the option for the Argos to terminate earlier. The release also tersely stated both parties had agreed the license would not be extended beyond this agreement, though there was some qualification of this if another year was needed because a new home wasn’t ready, the Argos may be accommodated. Argos President and CEO Chris Rudge talked about the agreement and ramifications with reporters. This agreement raised speculation of where the Argos new home will be. Owner Senator David Braley stated he was in discussions with 3-4 communities on acquiring land and support for a 27,000 to 29,000 seat stadium, while becoming a tenant at BMO Field was also still a possibility, and the MLSE managers stating they will do what the city asks. The considerations for transportation, parking and commercial and residential development as well as cost sharing partnerships are going into the selection process. It appears the communities being considered are not the core Toronto sites suggested by Toronto’s mayor earlier, but suburb cities. Braley and Chris Rudge expressed hope that an announcement could occur within a year with two years needed to construct a stadium. This would lead to the timing Braley has suggested for divesting himself of the Argos by the time he is 75.

Much discussion about the situation and rumours happened in September, including recollections and opinions from former MLSE President and CEO Richard Peddie (Prime Time Sports, Sept. 5, 2013 6 pm, 13:40, 6.6 MB mp3), former Argonaut co-owner David Cynamon (Prime Time Sports, Sept. 25, 2013 5 pm, 16:13, 7.8 MB mp3), current MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke (Prime Time Sports, Sept. 30, 2013 6 pm, 9:19, 4.5 MB mp3) along with Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt discussing the BMO Field option in Parting Shots (Prime Time Sports, Sept. 30, 2013 6 pm, 6:53, 3.3 MB mp3).

In 2012 the Toronto Argonauts stated they had no immediate plans to look for another venue to play in under owner David Braley. Rumours of the Argos looking to build a smaller venue became more prevalent in 2013 with continuing comments from Rogers/Blue Jays staff causing Toronto Argonaut Executive Chairman & CEO Chris Rudge to admit they are actively investigating alternatives. The announcement of the new television deal for 2014-2018 with TSN increased the speculation that the Argos under David Braley will strike a deal to build an intimate outdoor stadium in Toronto. Commissioner Cohon said the broadcast deal allows teams to invest in facilities and called the Argonauts desire to move out of Rogers Centre into a smaller stadium as primary tenant “mission critical” to the franchise’s long term plan. The Argos were searching for a long-term home while they attempted to sign up to a five-year lease at Rogers Centre. Toronto’s mayor was optimistic and supportive about finding the Argos a home, but ever the politician, offered no hint of public money.

Toronto’s 2014 pre-season home game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is scheduled for Varsity Stadium on Thursday, June 19th. The Argonauts played their 2013 pre-season game versus the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday, June 20th at Varsity Stadium on the campus of the University of Toronto in front of 6,204 patrons in a 5,000 seat stadium. In 2010, the Argos moved one of their regular season home games to host Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton, New Brunswick.

The dream of a smaller open-air venue in Toronto for the Argonauts to call home has been around for over a decade now. Sherwood Schwartz was unable to to gain any traction in his term as the Argos owner from 1999-2003. Then in 2004, after purchasing the club the previous year, Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon announced plans in conjunction with the University of Toronto, the federal and provincial governments and the Canadian Soccer Association to build a $80 million, 28,500 seat stadium on the site of the previous Varsity Stadium, demolished in 2002. Over the next few months the size was whittled down by 5,000 seats and the university faced pressure over noise, their monetary commitment and private partnership issues. The rug was pulled out from the co-owners when the university pulled out of the deal over the cost of the project rising to over $100 million. The University of Toronto completed a smaller project with a 5,000 seat stadium and other facilities in 2007 costing $61.7 million of which the university contributed just over $16 million.

Sokolowski and Cynamon moved on in the fall of 2004 with plans to build a $70 million stadium on the campus of York University in north Toronto. This 25,000 stadium was to be cost shared between the same partners, Sokolowski/Cynamon, the university, the CSA and the federal and provincial governments. The story of how the Varisty deal fell apart and the York agreement was put together is a long one. Though a return to Varsity Stadium was an emotional favourite, many advantages to the York site were seen in time. At the same time the York deal was announced, the sale of the SkyDome was completed from Sportsco to Rogers for almost $30 million. Sokolowski was a member of the consortium that sold the SkyDome to Sportsco in 1999 for $80 million.

This time it was Sokolowski and Cynamon who pulled the rug out on the deal, announcing in May 2005 that they were pulling out of the project after negotiating a five-year lease with Rogers Centre with 2 five-year options. The primary reasons given for the change of direction was the new lease at Rogers Centre gave them access to revenue streams, lease savings and better date selection. The move to stay at Rogers Centre was criticized since the owners had publicly berated the facility for football. York University did not proceed with construction of any stadium after the stadium plan was cancelled, but were selected as a site for the athletics stadium for the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am games. Ground breaking for this 12,500 seat (3,000 permanent) stadium took place in November 2012 on the site of the existing track facility next to the Toronto Track and Field Centre.

Media rumours that the Argos would move to BMO Field surfaced in the wake of these two scuttled stadium deals. BMO Field opened in 2007 as the home for FIFA soccer events (the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup to start) that the CSA was seeking in the U of T and York University deals. While true that the Argos investigated the possibility of CFL football at BMO Field in 2009, they concluded the stadium could not support the Canadian field in its current state. At the same time, Argonaut owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski were in the process of selling the team to David Braley. During this time, they failed to renew their five-year lease option (paywall) for Rogers Centre, leaving the incoming owner to renegotiate a deal. In 2013, Sokolowski lamented their failure to complete the Varsity project and the decision to abandon the York project in favour of Rogers Centre.

BMO Field was built by the City of Toronto with funding from the federal and provincial governments, MLSE and the city, who contracted the management of the stadium to MLSE as part of the deal to bring a MLS soccer franchise to Toronto. The stadium was purposely made a soccer-only stadium under the guise of creating a fan intimate soccer field. The Argos were not involved or approached in negotiations to build the stadium and the soccer-only design fixed the end stands at the intimate soccer field dimensions, leaving the field too short for a regulation Canadian football field. Stadium managers MLSE would often claim the end stands would need to be dynamited to accommodate the Argos as tenants. By the time the Argos looked at BMO Field late in 2009, MLSE was planning a switch to natural grass for the field in 2010, creating concern over damage to the field by football teams as another excuse adding a football tenant was not possible. As managers MLSE have had strong influence on the usage, configuration and enhancements to the stadium, though after reselling the naming rights their stadium cost contribution was paid back and more. Solving the stand alignment and turf issues are simple and cost effective versus the talk of a new stadium for the Argos and only require the will to maximize the potential of a publicly owned facility, the opposite of the soccer perspective that the facility should be limited to their use. Mayor Rob Ford’s raising of the stadium issue in 2013 may be related to political posturing from MLSE, planning stadium upgrades and possibly eyeing a purchase of the Toronto Argonauts with greater ulterior motives. This only strengthens the appearance that MLSE is only looking out for their own corporate interests: opposed to stadium modifications to make the Argos tenants, but open to them when those Argos are under their ownership, but putting the decision on the city to shift blame for their soccer fans.

Some believed a new stadium was required for the Argos to survive and quick. In the end, the pieces came together at the logical location of BMO Field.

CFLdb Razzle Dazzle has an infographic on the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts sharing Rogers Centre during the 2012 season.

CFLdb Toronto Argonaut Stadium History and Details

BMO Field seating chart

CFLdb Articles and Single Point Links on Toronto Stadiums

Article May 2015: Argos/BMO Stadium Story Continues

Link Mar. 2014: Argos to BMO Field All but Confirmed

Link Mar. 2014: City Pushing Argos Into Renovated BMO Field

Article Sept. 2013: Stadium Labour Day

Link July 2013: Ford Wants Toronto Football Stadium

Article March 2012: Stadium Highs, Stadium Lows

Article Feb. 2012: Grass, Stadiums, Franchises and the Grey Cup

Article April 2009: State of the Stadiums

Article Aug. 2008: CFL News Toronto-centric

Article April 2008: Argos Pass on BMO Field - For Now