The CFL is finished in Toronto! My freak-out reaction to Wednesday’s Argo attendance

Relax, this headline is simply to get everyone’s attention. But this will be the headline if nothing changes in Toronto any time soon with respect to interest there in the CFL. Quite honestly, I’m alarmed at what I witnessed on TV this week.

Announced gate for Wednesday’s Toronto Argonauts contest against Ottawa was 12,373. That number seems generous given what I saw on TV on Wednesday. I would have put the number closer to 7,000.

I’m seeing a fair amount of excuses online for why the gate was so bad, and while some make sense others don’t.

One excuse was the problems with the road closures due to Indy. Fair point, which raises this question: why the heck did the CFL schedule the game at BMO Field for this week? They should have known about the road closures and the havoc that would cause in Toronto, a city infamous for its gridlock.

Second excuse was that people stayed away because it was 35 degrees Celsius. Well, the Blue Jays have played in 35 degrees before and the place was usually packed. When the Rolling Stones played that massive outdoor concert in Toronto in 2003 there were over a half million people there for that, and it had to have been at least 35 degrees then, too.

If it were 25 degrees, the excuse from people would have been that they wanted to enjoy the good weather at home, and if it were 15 degrees or less there would have been complaints that it was too cold. And if rain is in the forecast people would have complained about that too. So I don’t buy this explanation at all, this is total baloney. “I didn’t go to the game because it was hot out!” Right.

Then the other excuse was that the gate was low because there was a concert for Duran Duran the same night. First of all, who cares about Duran Duran, it’s not like the Argos were up against Paul McCartney or Madonna or somebody like that. Second of all, this still makes no sense because the Saskatchewan Roughriders are going to be up against the Craven Country Jamboree this weekend with all these major country stars showing up there — traditionally the toughest concert competition of the year in this market — and yet the Riders are expecting around 30,000 at home! 

There are other excuses, but I think what it really comes down to is that few people in Toronto care anymore about the CFL. I think the bottom line is that the Toronto Argos are simply seen in Toronto as an inferior product — not only to the NFL but to all the other Toronto pro sports teams. Moreover, there is the distinct perception in Toronto that the CFL is “yesterday’s sport” — the league your parents and grandparents followed, but not you.

That’s the cold hard fact of the matter, but there are ways to deal with it through rebranding, better marketing, better fan experiences, better ticket prices, whatever. But that will take time and effort. You simply can’t expect all the problems to go away with a change of stadiums. Anyway, the new owners of the team clearly need to make more of an effort than what they are doing, just to right the ship. It sounds like a lack of marketing is still an issue there. 

As for moving to BMO Field and how it was supposed to solve all the Argos’ problems — it’s now apparent that all this is doing is giving the Argos a chance at a fresh start in the market, nothing more. 

The move to BMO Field solves some problems — at least the Argos won’t be kicked out of their stadium like they were before — but other problems have been created. Instead of being second-fiddle in Rogers Centre to the Blue Jays, the Argos are now second-fiddle at BMO Field to Toronto FC, whose fans are still hopping mad that the Argos have moved in to their beloved soccer stadium. Also, while BMO Field is good for tailgating, it isn’t really a convenient location. It’s way off the subway line, for instance, and even when you drive there traffic is usually terrible off the freeway. I know, I’ve lived there.
Bottom line — this new stadium is great, but more must be done to convince people to go there. I mean really, that was a sad scene on Wednesday, all those empty seats.

Here are some other stories and opinions about the Argos attendance debacle from the Toronto Star, from the CBC, and from Toronto Mike. Also, here’s a piece from Steve Simmons on a slightly different topic: the ridiculous ticket prices for the Grey Cup at BMO Field, with tickets running upwards of several hundred dollars. Seriously, some of these tickets are going for $899! 

Seriously, you’re better off simply using that money to buy two new big-screen TVs — one to watch the Grey Cup, and the other to watch the NFL game at the same time on the other station! As big a CFL fan as I am, I gotta say ‘no way’ to these prices, too.