Argos move just plain smells

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

It's time to drop the gloves.

The Argonauts can't make money playing at the Rogers Centre and think they can find greener pastures at BMO Field.

But they will not be walking their way into the charming, smaller, and more intimate locale without a fight.

"We have serious concerns with the idea (Argos playing at BMO Field)", said Peter Montopoli, General Secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association. "It's the National Soccer Stadium -- the Argos had the opportunity to partner with us twice (at the University of Toronto and York University), and that time has passed."

Those are strong words coming from the CSA -- an organization that has been criticized over the years for its lack of ambition and vision for soccer in this country.

But the climate is much different now. Soccer is a sport gaining legs in this nation, especially from a professional point of view. Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact all have made great strides in building professionally run, ambitious organizations. The CSA has followed its lead, and is starting to realize its own potential in this nation.

The CFL, meanwhile, struggles to find its niche in Toronto. Interest is nominal. And although the Argos draw upwards of 27,000 for each game even when the team is losing, it's not known how many of the tickets are actually paid for and whether the demand for tickets will spike, even with a move into a more fan-friendly environment.

And the fact remains, CFL teams not named the Saskatchewan Roughriders struggle to make money, even during good times. One former Argos executive once told me the CFL exists because people want it to, and not because it makes financial sense.

Truth be told, soccer is a more trendy sport with potential for larger growth and more profit.

And Vancouver and Montreal paying in the ball park of 35 million for expansion soccer franchises while the league fee for an expansion CFL team sits in the $7-million range speaks volumes.

"We are committed to bringing more CONCACAF and FIFA events to the National Soccer Stadium, but the Argos would present great difficulties," Montopoli said.

"We can't be working around another professional league's schedule when you're looking at and dealing with an international body like FIFA, with a firm International schedule. There can't be a CFL game on the field the night before we have a game."

"And now that it's a natural grass surface, it's an even bigger problem keeping the surface at a FIFA playable condition," he said. "The surface is paramount for soccer -- not for CFL football."

The CSA is in an information gathering stage at this point when it comes to the Argos situation, but intends to bring the issue to City Hall in the near future. While Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. manages and runs the day-to-day operations of the facility, the City determines the tenants.

SUPPORTERS

And there are great supporters of the Argos at City Hall, including councillor Mark Grimes, who acts as chair of the Argos Foundation. He has expressed his desire to see the team move out of the Rogers Centre to BMO Field.

The fundamental argument goes as such: Should the field be used as a soccer-specific facility, used to grow the game in this country, or was the stadium built as a multi-purpose facility?

The original intent was to attract the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The recent move to put a grass surface in place supports the notion the stadium is meant to be soccer specific.

The extreme makeover needed to make the stadium CFL playable makes the Argos' venture that much dicier. Obvious significant expense, upwards of $15 million would be needed. But the argument can be made it would be money well-spent, if the case can be made that the move out of the Rogers Centre is vital to the survival of the CFL football team.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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