Could the CFL Survive Without a Team in Toronto?
Toronto can quite rightly proclaim themselves as the sports Mecca of Canada (and indeed one of the biggest in North America as a whole.)
While ice hockey will always come first, the city has over the years successfully embraced a variety of sports, especially when compared to other areas of Canada. Whereas baseball ultimately failed in Montreal, Toronto still has the Blue Jays and despite the current woes of the Raptors, you will not see them moving anywhere else as opposed to the Grizzlies leaving Vancouver.
However, as the Toronto sports scene has expanded, the team that has been affected most negatively by this growth is the Argonauts. Despite a proud history as the oldest existing professional sports franchise in all of North America and fifteen Grey Cups, support has continued to dwindle in recent years.
In this respect, while the decision to host the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto made perfect sense (going full circle and returning to where the first game was played) it could also be perceived as a Hail Mary attempt to breath new life into the team, and more specifically, the fanbase.
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon will be hoping that the celebrations throughout the coming season will help galvanise the population of Southern Ontario and promote interest, thus leading to increased attendances at the Rogers Centre.
Last year, the Argonauts were dead last in the league with an average crowd of just over 20,000. Anything close to 30,000 a game in 2012 would be considered a major success.
To that end, the trade for Ricky Ray from Edmonton was a step in the right direction, especially after the recent trials and tribulations behind centre for the double blue (I still have nightmares about Cleo Lemon). While the move surprised many people (including Ray himself), it will be up to Toronto to take full advantage of the Eskimos decision to part company with the future Hall of Famer.
While the addition of Ray raised awareness for sports fans in Toronto, the team is taking a calculated risk in investing so much money at the quarterback position. Amongst other issues, salary cap implications led to little movement in free agency and the decision to move on from All-Star left tackle Rob Murphy, who ultimately decided to retire.
Indeed, any momentum gained from the addition of Ray will have been further compromised by Tuesday’s retirement of defensive team captain Willie Pile.
Everywhere you look on the team, there are various questions ranging from who will step into a leadership role to how well the quarterback will be protected by his offensive line (as well as Murphy, the Argos also lost centre Dominic Picard to free agency and released tackle Edawn Coughman).
Make no mistake, this is an important season for both the Argonauts as a team and the league as a whole.
It has often been stated that the CFL cannot survive without a franchise based in Toronto. If the regions fans are unmotivated to support the team during a season when Canada is proudly celebrating 100 years of the Grey Cup, we may be a step closer to finding out how accurate a claim this is.
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