Toronto Argonauts: Time for CFL to focus on growing league

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images)
Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie. (Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images) /

With the CFL deciding to cancel the 2020 season and focus on the future of the league, it’s time that it does that in the areas that need a lot of work including the Toronto Argonauts.

After some painful months of waiting for a decision, getting the official announcement from the CFL that there would be no 2020 season should not have come as a surprise, but the disappointment is certainly understandable especially with Toronto Argonauts fans.

Let’s start off by saying that we would not be in this situation if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic. While the CFL could not have anticipated the impact this would have on the season

until the reality truly set in, the league deserves its fair share of the blame for the mismanagement that has happened the past few months.

The benefit the CFL had that other professional sports leagues had to overcome was knowing ahead of time that their season could be in jeopardy. Instead of trying to get ahead, it seemed like the league misjudged the hurdles it would have to navigate.

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Now, they seem like the only league that was unable to figure things out at a time where the Canadian Premier League and Canadian Elite Basketball League were able to get a season going.

It seemed like the initial meeting with the federal government where commissioner Randy Ambrosie fumbled the request to get as much as $150 million and even though that wasn’t really the firm demand, the reports got to the point where it was tough to backtrack. That would set the stage for what would be a frustrating period for fans, players and those who rely on the CFL to make a living.

Would it have been better if the league pulled the plug much earlier? There is certainly a case to be made considering the league was putting a lot of faith in the chance of getting aid from the government. According to TSN’s Dave Naylor, the CFL was being encouraged to pursue a season by the government.

It’s easy to point the finger at the politicians during this time but that doesn’t solve the league’s problems going forward as many want to write off the CFL. Like it’s done many times in the past, this has to be another time where the league perseveres.

Where looks like the league will start is trying to reassure the fans of a better future but with so much uncertainty with COVID-19, there’s no way to guarantee that better times lie ahead. One thing the league will try to do is make sure they don’t lose the main chunk of their revenue stream by locking in season ticket holders for 2021.

Here is the problem, many people have seen their livelihoods impacted greatly by the pandemic and they might have no choice but to pull the plug on their investment out of necessity. This is why the CFL needs to do what should have been a priority years ago, and that is finding ways to grow the game.

It’s no secret that the CFL has struggled to get people in the seats especially in Toronto where the Argonauts continually are on the butt end of countless (and tasteless) jokes. It has really created a disconnect with the fact that if people were to go to BMO Field, they might actually enjoy what they watch with the atmosphere and exciting brand of football.

Unfortunately, the league has struggled to sell the game considering the many people that end up becoming CFL fans were born into it. That’s usually how fans tell their story of how they followed the team considering I started watching the Argos in 2004 because of my father.

My entire life, I’ve heard the same criticism about the CFL and the fact it hasn’t changed is a bit problematic. Talking with players, it seems like they want to be a part of the solution but need the league to treat them like partners rather than simply employees (which I understand they are) and this pandemic showed how far apart they really are.

Many players are wondering how they will get paid and provide for their families and there doesn’t seem to be a concrete plan right now on that front. The last thing the CFL wants is a situation where they are unable to come up with a solution and it becomes a trending topic across the country.

Once the league settles that relationship it needs to find a way to partner with the players and get into the communities in cities where the CFL is not recognized as much like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. To be fair, the teams already do great work in this area but there are other ways they can improve.

The younger generation needs to be introduced to the CFL and if parents aren’t willing to bring them to the game than the game needs to come to them. It seems unclear whether that is a priority in CFL 2.0 but hearing Ambrosie say that he’s focused on growing the game globally is not reassuring.

You would think that improving the league’s foundation in its own backyard would be a priority before trying to reach out to other markets. There are advantages to getting international interest in sports leagues but the CFL is not like every other professional league with only nine teams and most not making a profit.

Imagine the position the league was in if attendance across the league was stable, they actually market current players names on the back of merchandise (at least in Toronto) and they take a more modern approach with their marketing strategy which is something many fans have told me they have wanted from this league.

In the Argonauts case, they made the right move getting Pinball Clemons back into the fold because his positive energy and connection with fans will be crucial during this time. This is also where MLSE will need to stretch their financial muscle which they have done since buying the team but they will need to show fans that they are invested in making the Argos a brand that more people can be proud of.

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Right now, that pride has taken a hit and there is legitimate concern about what comes next for the league. Hopefully, the lessons learned over the past few months have shown that the CFL needs a different approach otherwise they will find themselves at risk of a another season being in jeopardy.