Toronto Argonauts Ready to Usher in New Era at BMO Field

Oct 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Fireworks go off prior to the start of a game between New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Fireworks go off prior to the start of a game between New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC during the first half at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

After months of hype and preparation, the Toronto Argonauts get set for the start of a new era, when they play their first game at BMO Field.

It is tough to think it has been four years since the Toronto Argonauts were Grey Cup winners. The win brought much needed excitement to a fanbase that has not seen a champion since 2004.

In Toronto it is always tough to compete with the Toronto Maple Leafs for popularity. Add the Toronto Raptors rise to fame, the Toronto Blue Jay returning to the postseason and Toronto FC growing in popularity, suddenly the Argos were in a tough climb to attract a crowd at their games.

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The Winnipeg Free Press wrote that the Argos averaged 12,431 fans last season and 17,791 the year before. Now under new ownership with Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Media, the Double Blue are hoping a change of scenery is what they need in order to rejuvenate the fanbase.

The Argos should take pride in knowing all their struggles of the past few years will now be worth it, with the biggest problem being finding a suitable practice spot. In addition, last year they did not play their first game in their own stadium until August, because of the Blue Jays schedule at the Rogers Centre.

However, that is all in the past now, with the new venue at BMO Field having been a great spot for TFC. With renovations made to the stadium to increase the seating capacity, build a roof over the crowd and other necessary upgrades, it hopes to have a similar impact for the Argos.

The stadium will hold roughly 27,000 for Argos games and around 38,000 for the Grey Cup, which will take place in November. It has not all been perfect though, with a couple of situations arising from the Argos move to BMO Field.

Toronto Argonauts
Nov 29, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; The Grey Cup is carried on the field prior to the game between Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa Redblacks. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports /

The first being the fact that converting a soccer stadium to a football facility is not an easy feat to accomplish. The end zones will only be 18 yards deep, which is two yards shorter than the standard CFL stadium size.

However, that is only a small setback, with the real issue being that the Argos will face a pushback from TFC fans, who are not happy to see a football team move into what was supposed to be a soccer-only stadium. For their part, MLSE is confident there will not be any issues with both teams sharing the same pitch.

It will take some time but the Argos will eventually feel at home once the stadium adds some appropriate signage and the team gets a couple of games under its belt. However there is still the pressure to perform for the players, something which Argos president Michael Copeland spoke to reporters about.

"“They want this team to be at the top in terms of our ability to win. They’ve show that in terms of not only this locker room and the stadium … in everything we do,” Argos president and CEO Michael Copeland said of the new ownership on Friday. “That’s what Argos football is about now. And there’s a commitment right from the top, right through the entire organization, to do things the right way.“So when our players see this, we are very clearly sending a message that that’s what this franchise is about now. And we think that’s going to translate into wins and that’s going to translate into an unbelievable experience for our fans.”"

The game on Saturday should have a great atmosphere even though it is only a preseason contest, with it being fitting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be the first team to play against the Argos in their new home. It will also mark the first game against former Argos Chad Owens and Spencer Watt, while Jeremiah Masoli will get the start in place of the injured Zach Collaros.

For the Argos, receiver Kenny Shaw has been impressive in training camp and will look to make a mark in an opening preseason game that has a lot of meaning for the Argos. The 24-year old had 1,919 yards on 124 catches and 14 TDs with Florida State.

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Andre Durie is also set return, after an injury plagued season kept him out of the lineup and the Argos will need his veteran presence with Owens gone. In addition, there is excitement for newly-signed defensive back Keon Raymond who left Calgary in order to join this new era with Toronto.