Argos need big finish

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

From a football perspective, a big finish for the Argos would create a potential competitive advantage come post-season.

A home playoff date, be it the East Division semi-final or final, is almost guaranteed for the Argos (9-6) with just three games remaining.

From a business standpoint, there are goals to be met as well as the team looks to avoid a slight decline in attendance.

Through seven home dates, the Argos are averaging 28,378, roughly 150 more than at the same point a year ago.

But the final two dates of the 2005 campaign attracted by far the biggest crowds of the season -- 34,116 and 40,085 -- to boost the season average to 30,195.

After tomorrow's game in Edmonton, the Argos conclude the season with a pair at the Rogers Centre.

The team can all but clinch second in the CFL East with a win over the Eskimos, but the fight for first in the division could go right down to the season finale against Montreal.

And if that's the case, the team could expect a playoff-type crowd for that Oct. 28 contest at the dome. Those two teams drew 44,211 for last year's CFL East final here.

"Without a doubt, our final two dates are our biggest," Argos president Keith Pelley said yesterday. "Heading down the stretch and being competitive, we couldn't be better off.

"We still will come in around 30,000 but it depends on what that 30,000 is made of. At this time, we are on our target and are still growing. We're very happy."

As the former president of TSN, Pelley is well aware of how numbers can be skewed -- whether for ratings or attendance. Pelley maintains that revenue is up this season because the team gives away and discounts far fewer tickets.

Still, with the off-field acquisition of former NFL star Ricky Williams, expectations were that the team would continue an upward trend in attendance.

But a slow start to the season combined with a rash of injuries to Williams, fellow running back John Avery and star quarterback Damon Allen, may have softened the gate.

The team believes there are other factors and is considering moving away from weekend games in the dead of summer next year. Pelley said Argos management also has approached the league about pushing back the start of the season until after the July 1 Canada Day holiday.

"With an eight-team league, it is something that could be done quite easily," Pelley said.

"We are evaluating when we play our games in summer and fall. A lot of our games this year were on summer weekends when it was difficult (to draw) people into the city."

As for the remainder of this season, Pelley hopes both the Roughriders and Alouettes can top the Rogers Centre season-high of 32,412 for the Sept. 30 game against Calgary.

The Argos have surpassed 30,000 just twice this season compared to five times in 2005.


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