Let's go to The Ex: New stadium for Toronto?
Let's go to The Ex
The dream to finally have a new 30,000-seat outdoor stadium is about to become a reality for the Toronto Argonauts.
(posted May. 27, 5:21PM EDT)
The Toronto Argonauts are poised to return to their old stomping grounds, Sportsnet has learned.
According to several sources in the Canadian Football League, the Argos are close to an agreement with the City of Toronto that would result in the construction of a new outdoor stadium on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition -- which is exactly where the team played its home games from 1959 through 1988.
Sources say the stadium will hold about 30,000 seats and will cost about $35-million. The Argos' partners in the project will include the City of Toronto and there's a chance they could ultimately include the Canadian Soccer Association, although the CSA is not in the ownership group at this time. The sources said the Argos hope the facility will be finished in time for the 2004 season, although 2005 seems more likely.
There's also hope that a private company or businessman will supply several million dollars to have the stadium named after it. If no firm or individual step forth, however, the stadium very likely will have the same name it used to have -- Exhibition Stadium.
The Argos, of course, moved out of Exhibition Stadium to become tenants of the SkyDome, but attendance figures have been relatively poor at the dome, and the club's owners have lost megamillions. Exhibition Stadium, meanwhile, was without tenants for about a decade and was simply torn away a couple of years ago.
"The Argos' biggest problem has been the SkyDome," a CFL source told Sportsnet. "It's too big, for one thing, and it's just not a good place for football. A new outdoor stadium with 30,000 seats or so should do them a world of good."
Argos owner Sherwood Schwarz is counting on it. In fact, sources say the New York entrepreneur has threatened to bail out on the CFL if a new stadium deal is not worked out.
"I've been around for almost three years and I expect to be around a lot longer," Schwarz told me on Tuesday. "Things are financially okay, and I expect them to improve."
They'd better. A number of suppliers, after all, have either not been paid or have been late in getting paid by the Argos in the off-season, and Sportsnet has learned that the club has received a number of complaints.
Most of the complaints have come from suppliers who provided merchandise and/or services for the game date last season in which boxing legend Muhammad Ali was honored by the Argos at the SkyDome.
"There have been a few who were involved in the production of the (Muhammad Ali tribute) who may not have received their money yet, or were late in getting their money," Argos spokesman Dave Haggith said. "But it was explained to them that, in the CFL, off-seasons can be lean because of no ticket revenue coming in. Money doesn't flow as freely, unfortunately. But it's just a matter of the season getting started, and everyone will be taken care of, if they haven't been already."
The season for the Argos -- at least the exhibition season -- starts next Thursday, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit them at the SkyDome.
The question is whether the Ali tribute and other such events last season were worthwhile for the Argos. Haggith insists that, while they were costly, they were indeed worth the investment.
"The Argos needed to recapture some attention and some headlines, and we did," Haggith said. "This year, we have other forms of marketing we are introducing and we believe we'll be able to sustain these marketing projects for a long time."
But this season, it will be primarily football that the Argos will sell. The man who was responsible for the sideshows last season, marketing guru Garth Drabinsky, no longer works for the club.
The Argos, at this point, are also without a radio deal. And they're still without Damon Allen, too.
Sources said Tuesday that the Argos may be changing their minds about acquiring the leading passer in CFL history. They've been talking with the Lions about trading for Allen, who has been supplanted in B.C. by Dave Dickenson -- but Allen cmes with a price tag of somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000 a season, and sources speculate that such a salary may be too costly for Schwarz and the Argos as long as they are still based at the SkyDome.
Haggith refused to comment on the stadium issue, but a CFL source said: "I'm sure the financial picture will change for the Argos once that new stadium deal is done. Right now, it's obvious that money is tight for Schwarz. He's lost an awful lot in the past few seasons and you can't expect a lot of money to come in in 2003, while the team is still at the SkyDome."
Schwarz swore up and down that he's optimistic about this season.
"The whole feeling about the Argos seems to have turned," the owner said. "The people of Toronto seem to be much more receptive to us now, ever since Michael (Clemons) came back to be our coach last year. The team turned and the Argos' fortunes changed drastically."
What about the Argos' season-ticket base for 2003? "You'll have to ask (club president) Dan Ferrone about that," Schwarz said.
What about the absence of a radio deal? "You'll have to ask Dan Ferrone about that," Schwarz said.
What about Sportsnet's information about a new stadium on the CNE grounds? "You'll have to ask Dan Ferrone about that," Schwarz said.
And, you guessed it, Ferrone wasn't available to comment on Monday and Tuesday.