In preparing for what could be one of the greatest events in Toronto sports history, the Toronto Argonauts have beefed up their lineup on the field, and continue to strive to put together a rock solid event. November of 2012 marks the 100th edition of the Grey Cup championship game. That game will be hosted in the largest city in Canada, and is being met with much anticipation and excitement. Tickets for the big game are sold out, and tickets on the after-market are going for a mind-numbing $400 per nose-bleed seat.
That being said, the Argonauts are left with the daunting task of attempting to get back to the big game, which is being played in their home stadium. An Argonaut victory in their home stadium would bring about the curious situation where owner David Braley will have won back-to-back Grey Cups in his home stadium. (Braley also owns the B.C. Lions, who won last year's Grey Cup at B.C. Place in Vancouver).
The Argos are still putting together a decent product both on the field and from a production perspective. They still struggle with a stadium that is far too large for their product, and owned by a different sporting entity (the Rogers Centre is owned by Rogers Communications, who also owns the Toronto Blue Jays). They struggle with being in a city that feels it's too good for CFL football. They struggle with not being trendy, in a very trendy town.
However, the Argos do have history on their side. They've been around since 1873, and they've taken home the big trophy 15 times. They've had a host of celebrities pass through their doors, from players like Doug Flutie, Raghib Ismail, Joe Theisman, Damon Allen, Condredge Holloway, and Ricky Williams; or owners which have included TV network TSN (Canadian equivalent to ESPN), Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky, and the late, great, John Candy. They also have the staying power of making it through some seriously tough times, and still making a go of it.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The big advantage that the Argonauts have playing at the Rogers Centre, is that a top-notch, ever improving menu is available at game time. Your best options are all found on the main floor. Options are available on the second floor, but they are not as vast.
All of the normal attractions can be found, including burgers, fries, nachos, hot dogs, and popcorn.
The Argonauts attempt to put together a decent game day package. The date of this review was on Canadian Civic Holiday, and featured a 5:00 pm start time. The Argos put on a pretty decent Pre-game street party which was licensed and began four hours before kickoff. The live band was good and entertained the rather large crowd. The street party made up for the gates to the Rogers Centre being opened only one hour before kickoff, which I have never understood.
Inside the seating bowl, it is obvious that the biggest obstacle the Argonauts face is the Rogers Centre itself. At a true capacity of over 45,000, the Rogers Centre is just too big for Argonaut football. The Montreal Alouettes have seen great success with the more intimate locale of Percival Molson Stadium, which has a much smaller capacity than Olympic Stadium does. Even though the Argos keep the upper deck closed, it is impossible not to feel the emptiness of the stadium. During games in the summer, when the roof is open, (like this one) it helps a bit, but the feeling of emptiness still remains.
The Argos are treated with a huge videoboard, which is used throughout the game. This is one of the advantages they have of playing in the home of the Blue Jays. A big disadvantage is the gaudy advertising that is found on the windows of what was at one time Windows restaurant. Not necessarily the Argonauts' problem, but definitely not a plus for the team in the atmosphere department.
The in-game production of the Argos game is decent, but needs some work. There is great emphasis on the Argo cheerleaders, which is fine. There is heavy use of the PA system, which is on the annoying side.
Where they really fall short is in capturing the vast history of the Argos. At well over 100 years, Argo history is vast, but not well showcased. The old Argo fight song was not played, perhaps because they scored no touchdowns. The use of the Argonotes band was also weak. The band plays throughout the game in the endzone under the videoboard. The problem is that they blast modern music over the PA system during the same time. The "Argonotes" did get one dedicated spot, being miked and shown on the videoboard, but technical issues made their song difficult to hear at best. The people that go to Argonaut games are die-hard fans. They should be treated to the history, and tradition of the Argonaut franchise, which might actually bring a few more people through the turnstiles than they expect.
The Rogers Centre is located right in the heart of downtown Toronto. There are a plethora of other things to do and numerous places to eat and drink. Any visitor to the area should consider venturing to the top of the CN Tower, which is now the 2nd tallest free-standing structure in the world. There is fine dining in the revolving restaurant and a great view from the observation deck. For those extremely adventurous types, you could try the Edgewalk.
The sports traveler would also want to check out the Hockey Hall of Fame. A fantastic combination of museum and interaction, the Hockey Hall of Fame offers you a chance to see the Stanley Cup up close and personal, as well as the other major award trophies. Shopping and theatre are also fantastic in this area. You may need to send that special someone to the nearby Eaton Centre for shopping, to ensure your opportunity to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The number of restaurants that can be found on Front Street alone are numerous. Fionn MacCool's, The Loose Moose, and Wayne Gretzky's are a few great selections. The Real Sports Bar and Grill across the street from the nearby Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs, Raptors, and the NLL's Rock, is also a great place to stop.
Averaging under 20,000 fans per game, the Argonauts have the lowest attendance, in the biggest market. Rogers Centre factors aside, the Argonauts are believed to be a lynchpin for the survival of the CFL, but have also been in the most trouble financially over the years. Toronto is a trendy city, and the Argos are most definitely not trendy at the moment. Toronto fans also view themselves as major league fans in a world-class city, and at times view the CFL as beneath them. There is some hope that there will be a fairly significant rub from the 100th Grey Cup, and that attendance will spike once the Olympics have ended.
Getting to the Rogers Centre is easy. Located near the Gardiner Expressway, getting there by car can be a challenge at times with downtown traffic. With low attendance at Argo games, however, this should not be an issue. There are also numerous public transit options, which include the Go Train from surrounding neighbourhoods and cities to Toronto, or the more local TTC subway which stops at Union Station. The station is a few minutes walk in the covered Skywalk, which is even better for those colder late autumn games.
There are more than enough washroom facilities, and the concourses are more than amply large.
Ticket prices range from $23 to $85, so great seats are available at a great price. The CFL offers an exciting product which is different from traditional American Football. The 3 down system and wider field lends itself to a bigger passing game. The Argos are looking more competitive on the field than they have in years.
The Argos put together a decent gameday package and concessions are excellent. Prices are on the high side for concessions, but well worth the quality. Parking is decent (approx $10-$20). The empty seats are the biggest turnoff that you will find. Unfortunately, if Torontonians got past this issue, the stands would eventually fill up, and break the vicious cycle.
An extra mark for the vast, over 135 year history of the Argos and the ability to survive in the CFL for that long.
An extra mark for the underappreciated, underutilized Argonotes band.
An extra mark for hosting the 100th edition of the Grey Cup game in 2012.
Whether the Argos make it to the big game or not, remains to be seen, but I'm sure Toronto will put together a fantastic package for the Grey Cup. Argonaut fans now need to take the reigns and bring more people out to the stadium to witness a pretty good product on the field, and help their team make it to the big game!
The Toronto Argonauts are the oldest professional football team in the world. Founded in 1873, the Argonauts are also the third oldest professional sports franchise in North America behind only the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. They also have the distinction of being the oldest team in North America to keep their original city and name.
Needless to say Argonaut history is deep, but Argonaut history follows that of the CFL. Many believe that Toronto is the lynchpin of the CFL. If Toronto falls then so will the league. The Argos have suffered through periods of poor play and many years of shaky ownership. Although they often make a splash, the results can be less than satisfactory. Whether it was the high profile, yet ill-fated ownership of Wayne Gretzky, Bruce McNall and the late John Candy, or the scooping of Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, or the signing of a suspended Ricky Williams, the Argos know how to make a splash. Currently saved by David Braley, also owner of the B.C. Lions of the CFL, and a Canadian Senator, the biggest issue for the Argos is an appropriate stadium.
The current home of the Argos is the Rogers Centre, owned by current owner of the Toronto Blue Jays, Rogers Communications. The previous ownership group worked for years to find a smaller, outdoor facility. They attempted to put together deals with the National Soccer Association, York University and the University of Toronto to build a stadium. On all accounts the efforts failed and eventually the Soccer Association got together with MLSE to build BMO Field, which is too small for CFL football. The rumblings of a new stadium have quieted down and the Argos remain at the Rogers Centre. Although not ideal, the Rogers Centre is adequate for CFL football and is great for a big event like the Grey Cup, but the long term future for the Argos at Rogers Centre remains uncertain.
The Rogers Centre closes the top level off when the Argos come to town, and the fans are louder and more into the game than their Blue Jays counterparts, helped by being closer together. Tickets are reasonably priced and even the worst seats provide good views.
The game is entertaining and doesn't suffer from the hype that dominates the NFL.
The best part is that fans are allowed on the field after the game.
A great afternoon can be had at Rogers Centre even when the Blue Jays are out of town.
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