TORONTO (July 21) — The Toronto Argonauts have expired. Stick a fork in them. Offer up the Lord’s Prayer. Say Kaddish. Whatever you prefer. But, just know, this football team is the equivalent of Dead Men Walking.
As I forlornly present such a decree — having closely followed (and enjoyed watching) the Argos since attending my first game at the old CNE Stadium in September 1969 — I do so without any consideration of the on–field product. Which, after five games of the current season, is every–bit as ghastly as the club that finished 5–13 two years ago. The Argos, in 2018, could dress 35 topless women from the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles and they still wouldn’t draw a crowd. Well, maybe they’d attract three customers, because two is company and… you know the rest. But, the typical “crowd” of a professional sports team is no–longer attainable in our city. This was again proven on Saturday; an otherwise–perfect summer afternoon to attend an outdoor event. Not in my life have the Argos announced an audience as meager as 10,844 — the apparent count for the 38–20 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The season–low at BMO Field last year was 11,219; in 2016: 12,373. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs as none of the three attendance figures offer franchise sustainability. But, it’s becoming incrementally worse for the Argos. Every game. Every season.
The Maple Leafs would draw 10,844 fans for a rookie–tournament scrimmage at 3 o’clock in the morning. There are as many people in the south end zone of BMO Field (or so it seems) for every Toronto F.C. soccer game. Even the American Hockey League Marlies sold out the Air Canada Centre (18,000–plus) for a game in December 2012. How does a professional football team attract less than 11,000 customers to a regular–season match on a spectacular weather–day? The answer: Easily… when a large, metropolitan city has vacated the product. Again, writing this pains me to the core. But, I ask: Can the Argonauts continue to pay the salaries of players and employees while filling just more than one–third of their home stadium?
When Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment added the Argos to its near–monopoly of Toronto clubs last December, it was suggested by those who should know better that the company’s “marketing machine” would liberate football apathy in the city. Marketing machine? When has MLSE ever needed to promote a product? Marketing the Leafs involves printing the schedule and unlocking the arena doors. Same with basketball, when the Raptors are competitive. There are just enough soccer loonies in town to fill BMO every time Toronto F.C. kicks off. The only club MLSE must aggressively market is the Argonauts. And, never has there been such a dearth of promotion. The tall foreheads on Bay St. must know that every conceivable gimmick in recent years has failed to draw football customers. So, why even try? MLSE’s Argo strategy seems to be “open the gates and pray”. It made an untenable situation even worse with the harebrained decision to close off the upper–deck on the east side of BMO Field; thus eliminating, for potential ticket–buyers, the 7,000–or–so best seats in the house. You really need a “marketing machine” for that sort of blunder, huh?
AS WINNIPEG WAS ROUTING THE ARGONAUTS ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON, TV CAMERAS SHOWED THE CLOSED–OFF UPPER–DECK ON THE EAST SIDE OF BMO FIELD (ABOVE) AND A VAST NUMBER OF EMPTY SEATS ON THE SMALLER WEST–SIDE STANDS (BELOW). TSN IMAGES
There is, of course, a sure–fire marketing strategy that MLSE has yet to deploy. If it truly wants to sell out an Argos match, offer all fans in attendance two free tickets to a Leafs game next season. With the proviso that they cannot depart the stadium until the final gun. Otherwise, the hockey ducats are surrendered at the gate. Not only would BMO be bursting to capacity for the entire match, but the parking lots would overflow and 10,000 more would be treading water in Lake Ontario. I’m being slightly droll here, as you may have gathered, yet some form of cross–promotion involving the Leafs might offer the Argos a saving grace. And, given that both teams are owned by the same company, doesn’t it make at least a bit of sense?
If not for something drastic, the Argos are finished. The surprise Grey Cup victory over Calgary in the snow last November created no momentum. And, the loss of Ricky Ray to injury early this season — even if the veteran quarterback was running on fumes — deprived the club of its lone recognizable figure.
A winning football team would guarantee nothing with respect to the ticket–buying public.
Such a dreadful, boring team only adds to the misery.
Which is why I now believe — sadly, but resolutely — that the Argos are beyond resuscitation.