There are many bright things to look forward to in the future of the CFL; Winnipeg is drawing sell-out crowds, and will have a new enlarged stadium next year; Ottawa will start renovating Lansdowne Park next year; Touchdown Atlantic II in Moncton is already a success; but one sad fact still stands out: the CFL continues to decline in Toronto.
The Toronto Argonauts, located in Canada's largest city, playing in the comfort of a downtown, easy-to-access stadium, ironically draw the smallest crowds in the CFL.
The team has been bad this year, but that's not the reason for the dwindling crowds. The Argonauts are considered minor league and treated with indifference.
The last home game with Saskatchewan drew an announced crowd of approximately 20,000 and many of them were Roughrider fans.
In an earlier BR article, "How the Toronto Blue Jays Hurt the Toronto Argonauts and the CFL," this author traced the decline in attendance and significance back the championship years of the baseball team.
After those two World Series victories, the sports fans got swell heads and believed that since they were now champions of baseball, they wanted to be champions of football too; but that meant winning the Super Bowl, not the Grey Cup. The CFL saw demotion overnight to minor league status.
Why does the CFL continue to decline in Toronto?
Though nearly two decades have passed without even the scent of an NFL football team of their own, and having to settle for exhibition games and one home game from the Buffalo Bills, the CFL has never recovered in Toronto from the initial slap in the face.
NFL ardor has cooled somewhat; the Bills had to struggle to sell out their Toronto games, because of the high cost of tickets, but the NFL's struggles has not been the CFL's gain.
There was a time when Toronto was a stronghold of the CFL, when the league was worried about the survival of Montreal, when the Grey Cup played in Toronto almost every other year.
Since those days, the Grey Cup Game took place in Toronto in few and far between intervals.
So besides NFL worship, what are the reasons for the continued decline of the CFL in Toronto?
There are probably many causes but here are (in my opinion) three main reasons.
1. Repeated Recessions that Cause Unemployment
The NFL can afford to ignore unemployment; MLB, the NBA, the NHL, and above all the CFL cannot afford to do so at their peril.
The increase of unemployment and food bank use, means a shrinking of the sports fan market. People who would like to attend a football game can't afford to do it.
Ironically, the CFL has a charity promotion called Tackling Hunger, which supplies food to food banks, but it does nothing to attack the causes of hunger, unemployment and underemployment.
There has been a decline in attendance in every sports league, since the mortgage meltdown, but no league has made it a crusade to do something to rebuild their lost fan base.
Right now there is a debt crisis in the United States and if its yet to be determined consequences increase will unemployment even more in North America, the CFL's market in Toronto will shrink even more.
The CFL should sit down with its sponsors and figure out ways to tackle unemployment and underemployment, as well as hunger.
2. Elitism In Toronto
It became apparent after the overnight demotion of the CFL after the two World Series victories, that there was a new elite in Toronto that belittled the CFL and no longer was satisfied with a league they considered minor.
Elitism is nothing new in Canada. It has existed since the days of New France, and in 1837, it provoked two armed rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada.
Unfortunately for the CFL, while they lost fans who had precarious incomes, due to the repeated recessions, they also lost fans who had money and decided they wanted to shun an "inferior" kind of football.
The new sporting elite in Toronto shows itself in several ways:
They get newspapers and other city officials to attend Roger Goodell's annual state of the NFL address and beg for an NFL team in Toronto.
Except for the Maple Leafs, and when the Blue Jays and Raptors are doing well, they refuse to be seen at sporting events they consider beneath them. Even the recent Memorial Cup in Mississauga had trouble selling tickets.
They keep trying to get events in Toronto to make it a "world class" city. These include failures to get the Olympics and a World's Fair; they had to settle for the 2015 Pan Am Games instead. The CFL is not "world class".
They don't want to be seen rubbing shoulders with CFL players. The type of sports figure they want to be seen with are any Maple Leaf and the occasional star player from the Raptors and Blue Jays, like Chris Bosh and Jose Bautista.
Other types of people they like to be seen with are the movie stars who will be pouring into Toronto for its annual September movie festival. Tickets are at a premium to see Brad Pitt, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Lawrence, etc. Who wants to be seen with minor league CFL players?
In this, Toronto resembles Los Angeles, the only city in the United States where the sports figure comes second in hero worship. Even the mighty NFL was ignominiously shown the back door and hasn't been back in L.A. for over a decade and a half. Toronto is sometimes referred to as "Hollywood North".
3. Inability to Capture Ethnic Fans
The CFL doesn't come close to selling out in Toronto or even drawing respectable crowds for Canada's largest city.
A bad soccer team can get repeated sellouts, and even stage the championship game last year.
The CFL doesn't appeal to the new multicultural society that has grown up in Toronto in the past 30 years.
As Anglo-Saxons/Western Europeans have moved out of Toronto and their places taken by immigrants, the CFL has seen its market shrink.
While the new immigrants have embraced hockey and the Maple Leafs as a winter sport, they have not shown a similar inclination for the CFL.
They regard football as something alien. Besides, soccer, cricket, which appeals to the large East Indian/Pakistani community, is getting increasing coverage.
Baseball appeals to Oriental immigrants and basketball to the West Indies community.
The Argonauts badly need a few ethnic stars to make a greater impact.
These are some of the reasons why the CFL is declining in Toronto. There are probably many more.
It is a sad sight to see this happening to a league which used to call Toronto, its stronghold.