York vs. Rogers

The Toronto Argonauts are looking at the prospect playing out of the Rogers Centre (formally known...

The Toronto Argonauts are looking at the prospect playing out of the Rogers Centre (formally known as the SkyDome) after they were offered a rent-free deal. (File Photo)

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Are Argonauts owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon in it for the long haul? This week, the two will announce whether they have scuttled their deal to build a new stadium at York University in favour of remaining at the Rogers Centre.

The announcement will also go a long way in revealing how long the duo will hold on to the club.

Sokolowski and Cynamon enjoyed a dandy rookie season and face the prospect of a handsome return on an asset they bought for $2.5 million.

The Argos boast a charismatic coach in Pinball Clemons and an able scouting and management team. And the CFL is enjoying a rebirth in the eyes of sports consumers.

The first truly local owners since Bill Hodgson sold the club in 1981, Sokolowski and Cynamon have managed to transform themselves from proprietors to assets.

Their vision, from importing a new field for the Argos to upgrading virtually every facet of the operation, has reinvigorated a 130-year-old brand.

Even when the proposed stadium was shuttled from the University of Toronto to York, the dynamics remained constant: Position the team in a 25,000-seat stadium.

The Montreal Alouettes' experience proved that with a cozy stadium, the club can create and marshall demand. Favourable side deals and broadcast, parking, apparel and sponsorship revenues would make the Argos, previous losers of more than $3 million a year, profitable.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the future and the unexpected Grey Cup win is only one minor element.

The Argos exceeded any realistic expectations at the gate. Despite a wretched schedule, they put more than 25,000 people into the ball park for half of their nine home dates. Their average of 25,800 was a 100% improvement over the previous year.

The real gains won when a team turns itself into a winner are realized the following year. The Argonauts were able to negotiate a far more favourable schedule for this season. Away from the SkyDome for six consecutive weeks last summer, the longest the club will be away in '05 is three weeks. Four of the club's nine home games will be played on Fridays or Saturdays.

Now, crowds of 30,000 or more seem not only possible, but likely.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, announced Maple Leafs Square, a new $350-million retail and condominium development that sharpened the focus of the Air Canada Centre and the neighbouring Rogers Centre as a sports destination. The question for Sokolowski and Cynamon is this: Why build a sports destination from scratch when fans are used to coming to the Rogers Centre.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is more likely to buy the Argos if they remain where they are.

LOOKS DOUBTFUL

With a federal election coming, the $10 million to be ponied up by Ottawa for the stadium at York now looks doubtful. Sokolowski and Cynamon were going to contribute $20 million toward the stadium, but any cost overruns would come out of their pocket.

Flipping the Argos makes imminent business sense. Now that the Blue Jays and Rogers Communications has pitched a deal that would dramatically improve the revenue picture, Sokolowski and Cynamon have been furnished a defining moment.

They cannot fill the Rogers Centre. By staying, they sentence their core supporters to an indefinite stay in an oversized, cold, albeit recently renovated stadium.

A new building has always been central to their vision. If Sokolowski and Cynamon walk away from it, they start the clock on the wait between enlightened purchase and profitable retreat.


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