A few readers may, at this point, be rolling their eyes and possibly thinking "oh no, not another nostalgia piece from an old guy. What's next? An elegy to the passing of boxing? A lament for the irrelevance of the CNE? A remembrance for horse races past?" Well, actually, partly.
After all, the Argonauts, along with the Maple Leafs, were the sports face of the city of Toronto and most of southern Ontario for more than one hundred years. Those of my age or older, will remember the arrival of great players like Joe Kroll, one of the great early quarterbacks of the early years of football, and his indelible mark left for all time on this great game. We can also remember well the large crowds, and the legendary achievements in some of the worst conditions that weather could throw at the players and fans. We can remember games at Varsity Stadium and Exhibition Stadium when crowds of more than 40,000 were the norm rather than the exception. And we remember people talking about the Argonauts, and imitating their players when we played pick up games, and when the sports media was full of the signings of great players, the colourful lines of colourful coaches, and the crazy promotions of crazy owners. In short, we remember when the Argonauts mattered.
So much for nostalgia. The fact is, the Argonauts no longer matter. Crowds have diminished, despite some good teams over the last twenty years and a couple of championships. The media has, for the most part, ignored the football team to concentrate on the Leafs ( as expected, Toronto is, first and foremost, a hockey town ), the Blue Jays ( suddenly a contender with the considerable media clout of Rogers backing them ), and johnny-come-latelies like the Raptors ( hip, urban and ethnic ) and the soccer team I shall not name ( also ethnic ). The Argonauts get the scraps, along with the Marlies and college and minor sports.
Recently, a blog suggested that it was time to move the Argonauts out of Toronto and re-locate them to Quebec City or the Maritimes. I read that blog and, for the first time ever as a football fan, had to concede that the blog had valid arguments. In short, the blog stated that even a move to a "new" and more fan-friendly stadium (BMO Field ) couldn't help the team. Essentially, the blog said that the Argonauts had, after more than 140 years, worn out their welcome and should move.
However, as Hamlet said .... "that would be scanned." A move out of Toronto would surely kill the CFL as a national institution. Like it or not, Toronto is the media capital of English Canada and the mere presence of the Argonauts in the CFL guarantees that the media will pay some attention to it, although largely for the consumption of other markets in the country. A move would also pave the way for the huge National Football League to finally make it's move into the market. The CFL cannot have the NFL on its home turf. So, the Argonauts must stay, but, more importantly, must become relevant again. But how ?
In recent years, the Argonauts and the rest of the CFL have operated on a strict and rigid business plan implemented by the league. The league went through some very tough times over the last two decades: franchises disappearing, an ill-advised expansion into the US, and external economic downturns that negatively impacted a small league driven largely by gate receipts. The plan has ensured that the league has survived and, indeed, has thrived in the west, and in Montreal and Ottawa. But the plan kept the league and the game small and quiet in the big market of Toronto. The result was the impression that the league was minor and on a par for a town like Regina, not Toronto. Thus, the situation that has been covered in this blog.