Argonauts' off-field woes spell troub...

Argonauts' off-field woes spell trouble for franchise and CFL

There are 18 comments on the SLAM! Sports story from Jul 16, 2014, titled Argonauts' off-field woes spell trouble for franchise and CFL. In it, SLAM! Sports reports that:

The Toronto Argonauts play in Canada's largest market but struggle to be relevant in the country's biggest city.

Join the discussion below, or Read more at SLAM! Sports.

CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#1 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

For the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Argonauts are an anomaly; existing as a cornerstone franchise, and, as its albatross.

Without a Toronto franchise the league loses its biggest market, reducing its prestige and influence to a regional, parochial scope.

With this Toronto franchise, it also has a headache.

As currently comprised, the Argonauts are the CFL’s problem child; a thorn in a bed of rose petals.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#2 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

A darker side of reality reveals that the Argonauts’ biggest problems are off the field; have been for years, and they appear no closer to being solved now then when Sherwood Schwarz was calling the audibles almost two decades ago.

The Argonauts are orphans of the sports world — abandoned by a preoccupied owner who’s heart lies elsewhere.

Braley, much like a sports version of a deadbeat father, would enjoy nothing more than to be rid of a bothersome off-spring.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#3 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Club CEO and president, Chris Rudge has seen this team through three summers, and a Grey Cup. Yet, he has found nobody to love them as their own. Nobody to buy them a home. Nobody to build them a place to play. Nobody. Not even Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, whose ardour was roused, then cooled.

There is a small, fiercely-loyal, fan base. Yet, mostly the Argonauts remain ignored. The 2014 home opener came on a beautiful summer afternoon; the roof of Rogers Centre removed for a blue ceiling brushed by puffy white clouds.

A crowd (and we use the term loosely) of 17,000-and-change, bothered to care.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#4 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

That product officially drew 16,000 last weekend for a date with Calgary — but the Argos would be lucky if there was 8,000 actually in the stands.

“... The largest increase in the TV audience has been in southern Ontario, so we’ve been successful in spreading the Argonaut brand. It just hasn’t translated into crowds at the stadium. I don’t have the answer,” says Rudge,

He finds himself in a city with a hundred different diversions from parades to community block parties, Beyonce concerts and theatre. The entertainment dollar is spread thin.

“There’s no reason,” argues Rudge,“to make excuses.”

Excuses? No.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#5 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Players put on a brave front, mostly shrugging at the public disinterest. There’s a general “Crowd? What crowd?” attitude.

The team, with a proud history but an uncertain future, has been deemed irrelevant.

It is fair to wonder if the team itself can’t be far behind, its demise foretold by those empty seats at every home game.

The silence is deafening — from its owner, from its estranged suitor Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, from an indifferent media, from fans.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#6 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

This is a team lacking a public profile, and in the world of professional sports, there is one thing worse than being loathed, and that is to be ignored.

Not only do the Argonauts not have a stadium, they shared a practice field at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus with the seagulls.

Every autumn, for a couple decades now, the Canada geese would move in, making for some crappy practices — and we’re not referring to the efforts of the players.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#7 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

If it rained, snowed, or the field turned into a swamp, everyone abandoned the luxurious portables used as dressing and meeting rooms, and hopped on a bus to one of several indoor soccer facilities that dot the western GTA.

That cuts into practice time. It also meant the occasional players who decided to drive, inevitably would get lost. Not to mention, media assigned to cover practices sometimes wound up staring at a flooded field full of geese, all of whom offered “No comment” when asked where everyone had flown off to?
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#8 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Amenities, though, are limited. The Braley Bunch could’ve moved the trailer over from Mississauga for staff to use — except that already burnt down a couple years ago. So, instead, some work out of a cafeteria.

All of which would be laughable, if it wasn’t too sad. High school teams in the United States live swankier. It’s embarrassing. For the team. For the league. For this city.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#9 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

It took 20 years to get a practice facility. And, it may take that long to find another owner because when it comes to the Argos the only sure thing, is that there is no sure thing.

Braley took sole ownership of the Boatmen in 2010.

He did the league a favour, saving a sinking ship that couldn’t be kept afloat financially by the puppet ownership of Howard Sokoloski and David Cynamon — cynically referred to in some media circles as “The Poor Man’s Jerry Jones” due to his penchant for involving himself in coaching and personnel decisions.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#10 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Even before then, Braley reportedly had been quietly bankrolling the team. The Argonauts, can thank him for that much. But, enough with the well-documented platitudes.

The question is, are the Argonauts better off now than when he took control. It can be argued that they are not.

At least when he took control, the franchise could look forward to hosting the 100th Grey Cup in 2012 — which it did with great flair. Of course, the government threw in $10 million to help Braley throw that party.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#11 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Otherwise the Argonauts are a bargain-basement operation. Braley keeps the team afloat by paying the necessaries — player salaries, per diems, travel expenses, but that money comes from the CFL’s new lucrative TV deal with TSN.

He doesn’t appear to personally invest himself in the team. He remains a faceless entity. At least his predecessors gave some appearance of caring whether the team won, or lost. Nobody seems to know how Braley feels about anything, except whether he can rattle the MLSE cashbox, and see what might fall his way.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#12 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

There is a lot of talk about Braley. There is little talk from Braley. He declined a request to be interviewed about the team’s future, or his ownership. Braley will be 75 in 2016. Published reports indicate he wants to sell out before the candles on that cake are lit and that he has come down in price from $20 million to $10 million.

Confidantes, preferring anonymity, indicate his demands, in talks to sell the club to MLSE, were a prime factor in the failure of those talks.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#13 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT
Those same insiders indicate Braley was unimpressed with a blueprint presented for an expanded BMO to house the Argos; voicing his displeasure.

There has been speculation that his relationship with Rudge has cooled, although the Argonauts president would not confirm that.

None of this, of course, is helpful in advancing, or stabilizing, the ownership situation.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#14 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Ten million. Twenty. Whatever the price, suffice to say, Braley doesn’t need the money. Chances are that isn’t the point. Foremost he’s a businessman. Which means it’s as much about the art of the deal, as the necessity of it.

Charity begins at home. For Braley, home is not Toronto. He made his millions as the owner of Orlick Industries, an auto-parts company. He grew up in Hamilton, made his home in Burlington, but his sports passion has been his ownership of the B.C. Lions. Which might leave the Argonauts pulling at his purse strings, but not especially at his heart strings.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#15 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Some years ago he donated $10 million to a Hamilton medical centre; another $5 million to McMaster’s Braley Athletic Centre. But don’t expect him to give the Argonauts away, particularly not to MLSE, which last time we checked wasn’t a charitable institution.

Uncompromising.

Generous.

Domineering.

Braley seems to be all of these.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#16 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

But as Argonauts’ owner he remains an enigma, once a club insider reveals, even questioning the $200 he was being asked to pay for a unionized bus driver.

It’s stories like that — real or imagined — which can make a team, its players and employees, feel like the unwanted step-child.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#17 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Rogers, which is keen to see the Argos vacate the Rogers Centre (so it can install natural grass for the Blue Jays which they own); have little or no interest in the Double Blue.

Keith Pelley, the president of Rogers, was formerly president of the Argonauts, but that was during the Cynamon ownership era. With Cynamon and Pelley no longer holding an interest in the Argonauts, the Rogers’ Sportsnet group rarely covers the Argos, treating them with all the affection of a flea-bitten, junk-yard dog.
CFLSCH

Scarborough, Canada

#18 Jul 17, 2014
BILL LANKHOF ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 09:52 PM EDT
D: WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

What is obvious, is that on Toronto’s sporting map, the Argonauts once again are left as an island unto themselves, disabused of any fanciful notion that somebody with a Double Blue passion might actually buy them, own them, and show them some love.

So it is that Braley may lessen his demands, although there is no indication of that. MLSE might still end up buying the Argonauts. Although, there is no motivation for them to make it happen soon.

What there is, is a team living in purgatory.

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