The debate continues. Will Toronto, Ontario ever land itself an NFL team? That seems to be the talk at hand lately.
The city has a long history of football. The Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League is the oldest professional sports team in North America. Founded in 1873, the Argos boosts more championships (next to the Montreal Canadiens) then any other sports team in Canada.
Notable players such as Joe Thiesman, Doug Flutie, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail and, more recently, Ricky Williams have all donned an Argo uniform. So there is definitely a market for the sport.
Toronto considers itself to be a world-class city, and as such some think they deserve world-class football in the NFL. Some think of the CFL as a second-rate league whose players could not make the cut to the NFL. This may be true in some respects, but not true in others. Yes, the NFL has more talent but it is a different brand.
The CFL is based on the fast offensive game which requires a smaller, faster athlete. The CFL brand is played on a larger field, 12 players per side, and played with only three downs and a 20-second clock, meaning players have to be quicker than in the NFL.
The Canadian version has been considered to be more entertaining and more exciting then the NFL, and in most cases the game is. The CFL was on the brink of bankruptcy not more then 10 years ago. However, the league now is in resurgence, attendance is at its highest since 1983, sponsorships are up, and the TV ratings blow away any NFL games shown on Canadian TV.
It is worth noting that the Super Bowl ratings are about even with the CFL Grey Cup championship, but by and large CFL games are far more popular than NFL games in Toronto. Yet last year, the first regular-season NFL game played in Canada between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins was nothing short of a fiasco in the minds of football fans.
Rogers Communications, which purchased eight games for $78 million, underestimated the football fan in Toronto by charging mortgage payment prices for tickets under the illusion that Toronto’s fans would be lining down the streets for a chance to watch some NFL action in their hometown.
What came as a result was thousands of ticket giveaways and discounted prices to try and fill the stands. The preseason game played in August was over 5,000 short of a sellout, and it was reported that over 14,000 tickets were given away.
Another obstacle is the lack of a proper stadium in Toronto. The Rogers Center seats just 52,000 for football, far short of the 65,000 the NFL requires to field a team. As well, the Toronto Argonauts average over 30,000 fans per game, which overall makes them the most popular team in Toronto next to the Maple Leafs.
The Argonauts will be hard-pressed just to step aside and let the NFL move in. It seems that Toronto NFL fans will have to be content with the Buffalo Bills playing the odd game here and there in their hometown. The odds of Toronto getting an NFL team don’t look good...and it seems the city's residents don't mind.