March 20, 2012
Argos brass opens up at town hall meeting
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The topics ranged from the meaningful to the mundane, the tone both light-hearted and at times testy.
It’s what one would expect when a team allows its season-ticket base to offer opinions and promote an exchange of ideas under the backdrop of a town hall setting.
And such was the case with the Argos, who huddled Monday night in an evening that put chief executive Chris Rudge, general manager Jim Barker and rookie head coach Scott Milanovich in the crosshairs, the team’s three most impactful individuals who will have the biggest say in how the coming season unfolds.
Whether it was the team’s logo, its relationship with Rogers, the use of players and even the delicate subject of the Canadian quarterback, not many punches were pulled.
“The first thing we have to do is stop making excuses,’’ Rudge began when discussing his vision of the team from a business perspective. “We’re not going to buy into any excuses.”
And nor should they.
Even if the Argos wanted to build their own playpen, it won’t happen in the next five years and Rudge was adamant that Rogers Centre can once again serve as a vibrant football venue, provided the Argos sell tickets and put forward a product that’s worthy.
Everything Rudge said was both logical and straight forward.
When the 1989 Grey Cup was played indoors for the first time in Toronto, no one complained about the cavernous surroundings because the joint was packed.
Obviously, it remains to be seen if the Argos can win over a fickle following in the Toronto market, but Rudge will not tolerate any crutches, real or imagined.
Rudge admitted the team needs to draw an average of 25,000 paid tickets per game this season to break even, a number that is within reach as long as the Argos field an entertaining team.
Last year, the team had a paid average of 15,000.
With the 100th Grey Cup to be played in Toronto and the Argos fielding a legitimate quarterback in Ricky Ray, getting 25,000 to a game seems realistic.
“At the end of the day, we’ll be measured in results,’’ Rudge added. “And that’s all that matters.”
Rudge speaks regularly with Paul Beeston as the two try to hash out a new lease deal at Rogers Centre, their latest exchange taking place last week during breakfast.
Beeston caught many off guard when he held a similar town hall gathering with Blue Jays subscribers when he raised the possibility of an all-grass field.
As Rudge correctly pointed out Monday, the issue of grass was more theoretical and hypothetical.
Realistically, the economic impact of going all green makes no sense, but yet the media ran with it and made much more of it than necessary.
For the Argos, what’s necessary is a full-time, state of the art practice facility, an issue Rudge raised but could only say the team recognizes the need for a facility and is working to establish one.
“The place is so bad,’’ Rudge said of the Argos’ temporary home at Erindale that had one of its trailers burned down in December. “I wonder if Barker set it.”
For Barker, the loss was devastating because he lost many of his links to his football past, including playbooks he used during his career stops and notes by Bill Walsh.