why is CFL interest so tepid in toronto?

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cms22
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does anyone have any idea why toronto interest in the CFL is so tepid?

three obvious reasons to throw out there, in two cases i'll throw 2 ideas together.

1) toronto has 3 major league teams....... lots and lots of other stuff to do in a huge city

2) such a huge place. and enormous waves of immigration, all from non-football countries.... so the fan base wouldn't naturally grow with the city and some of the potential hard core fans could be 30 miles away........

3) moving to skydome was bad................ having a nice intimate outdoor stadium the whole time would have led to higher attendance today i think

any other obvious ideas?.. it was very popular in 70's and fairly popular in 80/90's. note that these time periods predate having 500 channels on your TV.


thx in advance...... i will note that all 3 arguments apply to vancouver in varying degrees.
thx in advance.........


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I haven't spent much time in Toronto but my sense from afar is that all three of your points are accurate to some degree. The CFL thrives in markets where it is the big fish in a small pond, having no other major pro sports competition (Saskatchewan, Hamilton). It also does well in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg where the CFL competes primarily with just the NHL for the attention of local sports fans and media. It has worked well in Vancouver and Montreal at times but the Canucks cast a big shadow over other sports franchises here, and the French-speaking market in Montreal hasn't always been given the attention it deserves.

Toronto is a world-class city with one of the 10 largest metro populations in North America. CFL football interest and attendance peaked before the Blue Jays arrived in 1977 and the Raptors in 1995. Those franchises, along with the Maple Leafs and Toronto FC, all compete against American teams in what are considered to be the top North American leagues in their sport. IMO the CFL is seen as more parochial and less prestigious than the NFL. Nationally, according to an Angus Reid survey in 2018 and similar polls I've seen, Canadians are divided equally when they're asked to state a preference for the CFL or NFL but in Ontario the split was 48% to 27% in favour of the NFL. (In B.C. the breakdown was 50% to 32% in favour of the CFL but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the attention that the NFL receives here.)

The Argos made a publicity splash in the early 1990s with Bruce McNall, John Candy and Wayne Gretzky as celebrity owners and Rocket Ismail as a million-dollar player but that quickly fizzled and is not a sustainable business model.

The bigger question in Toronto and other big-city markets is how to grow the CFL brand. I think Randy Ambrosie's CFL 2.0 initiative is on the right track, marketing the CFL as the second biggest pro football league in the world and drawing interest from players and fans in Mexico, Europe and elsewhere. That may not pay off in the short term in higher quality global players or bigger TV revenues but it may help Canadians see the league as a more prestigious global brand, and that can make a big difference in Toronto and other large markets.


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cms22
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thanks for the response. much appreciated :)

here's an idea...... maybe the CFL should have a game each year in china, India. maybe Japan. forget Mexico and Europe........ WWE got so much mileage out of having an East Indian champion.

talk about something that might fire up the local ethic fan bases here..... especially the India. china is a bit trickier I think, both in china and with recent immigrants here.... p.s. I was watching "million dollar arm" last night and apparently MLB made some money in India off the initiative (movie was based on reality show)


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The short answer is Toronto thinks they are bigger than the CFL. It's a city that only really noticed the Raptors once Drake starting sitting court side. They love the Blue Jays when they are winning. And the Leafs no matter what. As Rod Pederson said on his show recently, the Argos are a 2AM booty call for sports fans in Toronto. They enjoy it when there is nothing better available, but they don't want to be seen walking down Young Street arm in arm.

There are over 6 million people in the GTA. The Argos need to stop worrying about trying to capture the attention of Toronto as a collective and just focus on finding 26,000 people who enjoy watching live football. It shouldn't be that hard in such a large market. TFC has managed to do just that.


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Good topic, cms22. It's always an interesting question for discussion as to why professional sports teams prosper in certain cities, while fail in other cities. While team management and ownership may have something to do with the team's survival, no doubt business with it comes to fans and customers has a lot to do with it as well.
cms22 wrote:
Fri May 01, 2020 2:16 pm
1) toronto has 3 major league teams....... lots and lots of other stuff to do in a huge city
Actually, the city of Toronto has FIVE professional sports teams. Aside from the Argonauts in the CFL, the city also has:

Toronto Blue Jays in the MLB
Toronto Raptors in the NBA
Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL
Toronto FC in the MLS

Which team did you forget?
My belief is that you forgot Toronto FC, even though the team has been very successful in the last couple of seasons by winning the MLS Cup in 2017, while being the runner-up in 2016 and 2019 and coincidentally, their opponents in the final were the Seattle Sounders FC all three times.

As an aside though, I said things before. While the Argonauts may be overshadowed by the other pro sports teams in Toronto, whenever the Argonauts win the Grey Cup there are still large parade and celebration while Vancouver hasn't held a parade for the Lions for any of their Grey Cup wins after one in 1985. There was just a small rally and that's it.
cms22 wrote: 2) such a huge place. and enormous waves of immigration, all from non-football countries.... so the fan base wouldn't naturally grow with the city and some of the potential hard core fans could be 30 miles away........
That's an excellent point. For the last 30 years, most immigrants to Canada but especially in Toronto and Vancouver are from SE Asian countries and there are no local American Football leagues in their original countries. On the other hand, those countries may have local soccer, basketball, baseball, and even ice hockey leagues so they can relate to these sports, but American Football is way too foreign. Whereas, perhaps Asian immigration to cities like Edmonton is less while those who live in the city have been around for a long time and have been assimilated to Canadian culture and history, including their CFL teams.

Rough comparison would be trying to introducing cricket or Aussie Rules Football into Canada. Other than very loyal fans who may have originally come from those countries where it was popular, it's extremely difficult to hold a professional league in Canada.
cms22 wrote: 3) moving to skydome was bad................ having a nice intimate outdoor stadium the whole time would have led to higher attendance today i think
Not right away though. The main reason why Toronto built Skydome was because of the rainy and soaking 1982 Grey Cup at then-CNE Stadium.

As time went by though, all the cities that have both a football and baseball stadiums realized that having one stadium sharing football and baseball simplyi doesn't work out.
cms22 wrote: i will note that all 3 arguments apply to vancouver in varying degrees.
Only to an extent and one huge similarity are the ethnic demographics in that both cities have large Asian immigrant populations and to a lesser extent European immigration. And basketball, soccer, and maybe baseball is popular among Asians, while ice hockey is popular among Europeans. So a good question for discussion is why did NBA and MLB survive in Toronto, but not in Vancouver as their NBA team left and MLB never granted an expansion to Vancouver? Higher population in Toronto? Residents make more money in Toronto? Higher cost of living in Vancouver especially housing?


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cms22
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good comments,

i disagree with the raptors comment...... i think opposing players/teams wondered how the raptors had such a large, rabid fan base at their arena when they had had mediocre teams for so long............ definitely, winning and drake have taken raptors and frankly the perception of toronto to another level (i am not a drake fan but he has done wonders for toronto)..... btw, the rabid raptors fan base has never extended to tv ratings or tv revenue. not really sure why that is

as per raptors vs. grizzlies.

1) much bigger population/market ......... as as aside, massive east indian population in southern ontario. seem to really support raptors. i know we have it here, but it seems different there for some reason.

2) more black culture in toronto. and feels more like american city. close to tons of big american cities.

3) vince carter!!!!......... vs. griz being perpetually horrible.

4) some would say gloomy rainy vancouver. but can't see that matters. players like seattle and portland alot... probably was just an excuse

at the end of the day, if you reversed the earli-ish winning and losing of raptors and grizzlies, i think toronto would still have had the much more viable franchise.


cms22
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i'm refining my china and india comments..

why doesn't the CFL hard-core promote 7 on 7 football. even 5 on 5... take that to china/india etc. and do a reality show on it with good prizes (everyone can try out off tv)


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The failure of the Bills in Toronto series of a few years ago would indicate that T.O. is just not a football town. Maybe a more top tier NFL city would have been a bigger draw but a golden opportunity for T.O. fans to tell the NFL to get a NFL franchise in their city was blown. A sizeable number of Toronto sports fans are snobs.

In the past both Argos and Als have relied on bringing in big name players from the US to attract fans but now both teams seem to be focusing on drafting CDN players from Ont. and Que. A very strong U Sports program in Que and sheer number of people in Ont help in drafting locals.


cms22
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i do think the CFL in bigger cities is a bit like minor league hockey in a place like houston or tulsa.

if they are excellent team for awhile and the arena is electric feeling then they will have great crowds.

then when they hit a rough patch, they will lose many of those fans AND it will be hard to get them back with a winning team again. not sure why that is (if in fact it's true)

that might not make sense, and i might be wrong.


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cms22 wrote:
Fri May 01, 2020 9:24 pm
i'm refining my china and india comments..

why doesn't the CFL hard-core promote 7 on 7 football. even 5 on 5... take that to china/india etc. and do a reality show on it with good prizes (everyone can try out off tv)
I want nothing to do with china, and that has nothing to do with the virus.


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Robbie wrote:
Fri May 01, 2020 7:10 pm
cms22 wrote:
Fri May 01, 2020 2:16 pm
1) toronto has 3 major league teams....... lots and lots of other stuff to do in a huge city
Actually, the city of Toronto has FIVE professional sports teams. Aside from the Argonauts in the CFL, the city also has:

Toronto Blue Jays in the MLB
Toronto Raptors in the NBA
Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL
Toronto FC in the MLS

Which team did you forget?
My belief is that you forgot Toronto FC, even though the team has been very successful in the last couple of seasons by winning the MLS Cup in 2017, while being the runner-up in 2016 and 2019 and coincidentally, their opponents in the final were the Seattle Sounders FC all three times.
Not to mention Toronto Rock of the NLL Marlies of the AHL and Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres less than 2 hours away. NLL may not be considered major but nonetheless the Rock consistently draw 9500+. Surprisingly the Marlies don't draw all that well considering the love of everything Leafs and they are the Leafs top farm team. They were drawing 5648 when their season was shut down. The Bills offer the cheapest ticket pricing in the NFL (about 65% the cost of Seahawk seats) and Sabres tickets are dirt cheap compared to Leaf ducats making both quite attractive alternatives for Golden Horseshoe sports fans.

Add them up and for the 4 you mentioned that's 180 home dates for regular season only. The Rock and Marlies would be another 47 dates with Bills and Sabres adding 49 more. Put them together and you have 276 non-Argo "options" each year for the Toronto area sports fan's disposable income, something that is in short supply for one of the most expensive cities to call home in North America. That's not counting annual events like Molson Indy and Rogers Cup tennis.

An interesting side note re: NLL. Many have pondered the "what if" the Lions were located out in the burbs like Surrey or Langley. Vancouver Warrior attendance doubled with their move from the LEC (capacity 5276) into Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. In their first 4 years in Langley they averaged around 3600-3700 (70% capacity) before dropping to 3200 and 3500 in the last 2 seasons there. Last year, their first at Rogers, it jumped to 6833.
Last edited by Hambone on Sat May 02, 2020 11:30 am, edited 2 times in total.


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DanoT wrote:
Fri May 01, 2020 9:52 pm
The failure of the Bills in Toronto series of a few years ago would indicate that T.O. is just not a football town. Maybe a more top tier NFL city would have been a bigger draw but a golden opportunity for T.O. fans to tell the NFL to get a NFL franchise in their city was blown. A sizeable number of Toronto sports fans are snobs.
I religiously listened to Bob McCown's Primetime Show on Fan590. Bobcat always said Toronto wasn't a football town, it wasn't a sports town, it wasn't a hockey town, it was a Leaf town. However the Raptors seem to be making a very good case against that theory. Meantime down at Rogers Center Blue Jay attendance dipped to 1.75million or just over 21000/game. Thank goodness for 20 home dates against the Bosox and Yankees.
Last edited by Hambone on Sat May 02, 2020 1:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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What really hurt about the Skydome move was when the City sold it to Rogers. Up until that point the Argos and Jays both were tenants to the City and on relatively equal footing. Within a few years of Rogers ownership the Argos schedule became built around the Jays schedule with the Argos often enduring ridiculously long absences from the Toronto market place.

I never saw a game at CNE. In it's reconfiguration to accommodate baseball it was far from ideal as a football venue. Nonetheless they were doing good in the early 70s and enjoyed a big increase as CNE was renovated and expanded as they prepared for the arrival of the Jays. That was short lived as attendance started to slide 2 years after Jays came to town. That slide wouldn't be reversed until they moved into Skydome. I think they have still been unable to repair the damage to their brand caused by the damage of being treated like they had CV19 by Rogers and the Jays in the final 3 years at Skydome.

Here's an Argo timeline:
1970 - 32099 - CNE capacity at this time was 33135 - hosted Grey Cup. Only competition for sports dollar was the Leafs. At this point in history the Stanley Cup was handed out on May 10th with the CFL regular season not starting until August 4th leaving almost 3 months of nothingness between the two for sports fans to build up a healthy appetite for something, anything to devote their interest to and money on. Today we go directly from Stanley Cup being awarded to Week 1 of the CFL.
1971 - 33135 - finished 1st in East for first time since 1960 - lost Grey Cup (Leon McQuay fumble game)
1972 - 33055
1973 - 33135 - hosted Grey Cup
1974 - 31914
1975 - 37881 - in preparation for Jays arrival renovations started and capacity increased to 41890 for 1975.
1976 - 47356 - hosted Grey Cup - continued renovations increased capacity to 54000.
1977 - 46915 - inaugural season of Blue Jays. Prior to this Leafs were only competition in town.
1978 - 46546 - hosted Grey Cup
1979 - 40045
1980 - 37607 - hosted Grey Cup
1981 - 33176
1982 - 38428 - hosted Grey Cup - finished 1st again for first time since 1971 after finishing 4th and out of playoffs 8 out of 10 seasons in between - lost Grey Cup.
1983 - 35835 - won Grey Cup for 1st time since 1952
1984 - 32754
1985 - 26057
1986 - 26282
1987 - 27355
1988 - 23157
1989 - 35069 - hosted Grey Cup - first year in Skydome capacity 53595.
1990 - 32040
1991 - 36304 - won Grey Cup - first year of ownership of McNall, Candy and Gretzky - enter "The Rocket"
1992 - 32053 - hosted Grey Cup
1993 - 25417
1994 - 16841 - Candy dies, McNall gets in trouble and ownership falls apart. TSN takes over.
1995 - 16659 - inaugural season of Raptors. Labatt Brewing then Interbrew through purchase of Labatt take over ownership.
1996 - 20432 - first of the 2 Flutie years - this was probably darkest days of CFL - won Grey Cup
1997 - 18226 - won Grey Cup
1998 - 18910 - inaugural season of Toronto Rock
1999 - 21053
2000 - 17381 - Interbrew sells ownership to Sherwood Schwarz in Dec 1999
2001 - 15784
2002 - 20539
2003 - 15083 - CFL takes over in middle of 2003 season
2004 - 25813 - Cynamon and Sokolowski aquire team - won Grey Cup
2005 - 30196 - first year of Rogers owning Skydome effectively making the Jays landlords of the Argos.
2006 - 29677
2007 - 30931 - hosted Grey Cup - inaugural season of TFC in MLS
2008 - 29189 - finished 4-14
2009 - 26374 - finished 3-15
2010 - 22069 - after a few years of floating Cynamon & Sokolowski money to keep Argos going Braley buys them out. 1 home game played in Moncton
2011 - 20017 - Jays influence on schedule kicking in. Argos start with first 3 games and 5 of 7 on road. They would finish with 5 of last 7 at home starting Sept 24th. By then they were 2-9.
2012 - 23690 - hosted and won 100th Grey Cup - 3 game road trip in late September as Jays were finishing MLB season.
2013 - 21926 - after a 3 game home stand ended with a Tuesday game after Labour Day the Argos would go on the road for 4 straight, come home for 1 and go back on the road for 2 more. They had 1 home date between Sept 3rd and October 24th.
2014 - 17791 - a Jays influenced schedule even more bizarre than 2013. After starting on the road before coming home for back-to-backs they would go on the road for 3, home for 2, on the road for 3, home for 1 then on the road for 4 straight before finishing away then home. 5 of their 9 home games came in the 6 games after October 1 meaning they were at home only 4 times in the first 14 weeks of the CFL season.
2015 - 12432 (16966 at Rogers, 6763 elsewhere) - this may have been the most bizarre schedule nightmare in the history of pro sports. Not to be outdone by 2014 the Argos started their home season in Fort McMurray before playing their next 4 on the road. In fairness the Women's World Cup Soccer played a role. The first Argo home game in the unfriendly confines of Rogers Center didn't come until August 8th (Week 7). That would start a reasonable sane stretch where they would play 4 on the road and 3 at Rogers. Then everything went kaflooey with the Jays effectively punting the Argos out for the next several weeks. Their Oct 6th home game against the REDBLACKS was played in Ottawa. Their next 2 home games against Calgary and Montreal were played in Hamilton. They finally returned to Rogers for the final 2 games of the season against BC and Winnipeg. All told only 5 of their 9 home games were actually played at home. Mercifully this was the final year living under the retractable roof of the Blue Jays.
2016 - 16380 - Braley sells to Kilmer Sports (Larry Tanenbaum) and Bell Canada - team moves to BMO and hosted Grey Cup at BMO. It was a return to a semblance of a normal schedule.
2017 - 13914
2018 - 14211 - MLSE takes over - went 4-14
2019 - 12789 at BMO, 10126 at Moncton - went 4-14 for second straight season - 1 home game played in Moncton
Last edited by Hambone on Sat May 02, 2020 4:34 pm, edited 3 times in total.


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Awesome post Hambone. I am afraid of doing such long posts in case of losing them.

I'll take a contrarian view for the sake of the thread and say that there is an excellent fan base in TO. The former mayor was always wearing Argo blue. They until very recently had a longtime dedicated marching band to their credit. More going on then it seems imo.

They may not show up at the games but they do watch at home, and those are exactly the people advertisers on TSN are interested in. Reality is there is an alternative to attending and still following the game ( with expert analysis and play by play ). The CFL makes big money from TSN. You can't blame them for doing a good job marketing and they can't have it both ways. Has anyone tried an Dr Oetker frozen pizza?

I think it might be a bit the same in Vancouver. CFL issue more than a team issue imo.

Passionate and knowledgeable apply to the fans as well. As good in Toronto as anywhere in the country. I often thought it would be fun to have a "Reach for the Top" type CFL quiz competition for the different team forum sites during Grey Cup week. Lionbackers would do well. So would Argofans.


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I agree, Murdoch. People put all their apples in the "attendance" basket when talking about a team's fortunes. But most ignore the TV numbers (and completely ignore sponsorship and merchandising because we usually just don't know those figures). The Lions garner between 100K and 125K local viewers on average which is pretty decent for some pretty mediocre football teams. I don't know the Argos' local ratings but it's an important metric when assessing a team's popularity.

With high def screens plus traffic and commute times to the stadium, it's not a viable option for some (me? I still prefer the live experience. By far). But before writing off attendance in Toronto, I want to see what happens with some sustained on-field success. I mean 3+ seasons of 12 wins or more like the Stampeders. The Argos have won the odd Grey Cup in the recent past, but it hasn't been built around dominant football clubs.


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