CFL and Argonaut fans have been clamoring for a new place to play for at least a decade. The Toronto Blue Jays expedited this with the announcement that installing natural grass in the Rogers Centre would mean the eviction of the Argos. On May 20, 2015, Argo faithful were jubilant in the announcement that the team that many still believe to be the lynchpin to the entire league was going to be sold to Bell Communications, part-owners of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and owners of the Canadian sports channel TSN, and Larry Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Sports. The even bigger news was that beginning in 2016, the Argonauts would set sail west of Rogers Centre, down Lakeshore Blvd. to Exhibition Place to BMO Field, home of Toronto FC of MLS. Further renovation of the soccer stadium would be needed in the off-season to bring the field to CFL specifications.
The 2015 season marks the final season the world’s oldest professional football team will play in the Rogers Centre. The Argos began as the Toronto Argonaut Rowing Club in 1873 and have lead a roller coaster existence in Canada’s largest city. There has been plenty of success on the field with the Argonauts winning 16 Grey Cups. There has also been plenty of drama for the Double-Blue over the years off the field with a litany of celebrities who have been linked to the team. Joe Theismann led the “Greatest Team that Never Won” in 1971. In 1991 the Argos were run by Wayne Gretzky and John Candy along with Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall. Also in 1991, the Argos swooped in and signed Raghib “Rocket” Ismail right out from under the NFL. Amongst all the glitz and publicity, the Argos have still struggled at the gate and the common explanation for that is the stale, behemoth known as the Rogers Centre … a stadium that was never adequately designed for football.
In the last season, the Argos remain the property of Senator David Braley who also owns the B.C. Lions. The lame-duck season and move to BMO Field continues the tradition of Argonaut controversy. Hamstrung with poor dates, the Argos began their season with a home game in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The prospect of the Blue Jays making the MLB playoffs for the first time in 22 years also has the Argonauts possibly displaced. The move to BMO also has Toronto F.C. fans in a tizzy, worried the pitch will be ruined by football.
Any way you slice it, the 2015 season for the Argonauts seems to be a problem wrapped in a controversy. However, the Argonauts and Argonaut faithful are continuing to hold on to the this time as the brightest in decades of Argo history. No longer is there a giant question mark over the team’s head, this is the final journey before the new horizon.
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".
In sharing a home with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Argos have access to concessions that are as good, if not better than any other team in the CFL.
There are a number of permanent and temporary stands in the main concourse of the Rogers Centre. With lower attendance numbers for the Argonauts it is a distinct possibility that some stands will not be open for the game. Major permanent stands are open however. Most have unique items. Toronto Street Eats features Corn Dogs, Beef Brisket Poutine, Fish and Chips and Frites. Olde Spadina Ave has a variety of kosher options including hot dogs. Premium foot long hot dogs are found at Garrison Creek Flat Grill. Hogtown Grill has Chicken Tenders, burgers, sausage and sweet potato fries. T.O. Sandwich Co has a variety of deli sandwiches including reubens and corned beef. Jerk Chicken Nachos can be found at Queen St and the Muddy York Market features a rotating menu and is probably the best spot to find some good eats. There are also a few Pizza Nova stands throughout the stadium offering a variety of pizza options.
There are a number of varieties of draught beer that can be found throughout the Rogers Centre. The main brands are Budweiser and Bud Light, sad considering that the Blue Jays were once owned by Labatt and the Argonauts were once owned by Carling O'Keefe, former Canadian beer giants. Other brands that can be found include Alexander Keith's IPA, Stella Artois, Rolling Rock, Sapporo, a variety of Lowenbrau brands, Corona and Sleeman's. Permanent concession stands feature Coca-Cola products served fountain style, while in the Muddy York Market or at mobile stands, plastic bottles can be found.
The Muddy York Market is your best bet to find some high quality items that can be pretty original. If the menu cooperates, try the Porchetta Sandwich or Jerk Chicken Nachos.
Pure and simple ... football was an afterthought when the Rogers Centre was built.
The exterior of the Rogers Centre is fairly non-descript with a lot of exposed concrete. The north end of the stadium, which can be seen from Front Street features the Renaissance Hotel, which does give that side of the exterior a little character. On either side of the hotel there are bronze sculptures embedded in the stadium paying homage to the fans, which is definitely unique. There is no specific main entrance and there are numerous gates around the exterior of the roundish shaped stadium. Inside the stadium, the main concourses are open and enable the fan to see the playing surface from the concourse. In the seating bowl, the north end is really where the unique features of the stadium lie. The massive videoboard is crystal clear and has remained the same size for years. Surrounding the videoboard are the windows from hotel rooms at the Renaissance which look out to the field. Above the board are the banners honouring the 16 Grey Cup championships as well as the list of All-Time Argos and the retired numbers of Joe Krol, Dick Shatto, Danny Nykoluk and Michael "Pinball" Clemons. Unfortunately, these banners are temporary and removed when the Argos are not playing. Currently the 500 level at the Rogers Centre is not open for Argo games. This mass of empty seats adds to the empty and cavernous feeling during a game. Where the designers made a huge mistake was in the 100 level for football. The slope of the seats is far too gradual. The first 20 rows of seats in all sections of the 100 level are tarped off because patrons were unable to see over the players on the sidelines. This also makes all seats in the Rogers Centre quite far from the action. The club section can be found on the 2nd level and the suites just above them. The playing surface in the Rogers Centre is artificial turf, which is common in the CFL. The roof is retractable and is often open during the summer and early fall. Watching football under the iconic CN Tower is a treat.
The Argonauts attempt to bring that party atmosphere to the game before hand outside along Bremner Blvd. There is usually a tailgate party that features a live band, a licenced patio and activities for the young and young at heart. The Argo Cheerleaders can often be found outside, usually attempting to sell their current Cheerleader Calendar. During the game fans can request songs to be played between the action via Twitter. The mascot, Jason, leads the team out on the field and can be found patrolling the sidelines. One of the real highlights both before and during the game is the Argonauts volunteer band, the Argonotes. The team does absolutely nothing to promote them during the game and simply play music over them as opposed to putting a microphone on them and having them part of the in game product. The band also brings some of that 140 years of tradition with them, often playing the Argonaut fight song.
In selecting a seat, consider some of the padded seats on the 200 level. If you wish to see the correct alignment of the logo, select the west side. You may also consider watching the game from the open air bar beneath the videoboard in the north endzone. The WestJet Flight Deck is a great place to see the game, and the bar has the best selection of beer in the building.
The Rogers Centre is located in downtown Toronto at the foot of the CN Tower. There may not be a better located stadium in the entire CFL.
There are a ton of options downtown for pre and post game meals. The top of the CN Tower features a culinary experience at the 360° Restaurant. Entry to the CN Tower observation deck is included with your meal, but you may be looking for something a little more affordable. You may want to consider The Loose Moose, Fionn MacCool's, or The Over Draught. Some chain restaurants in the area include Jack Astors, St. Louis Bar and Grill, Boston Pizza and Lone Star Texas Grill. If you want to head east, at Maple Leaf Square you will find the Real Sports Bar and Grill, Hoops Sports Bar and e11even. The pick of the litter however, would be a trip down Blue Jays Way to number 99 where you will find Wayne Gretzky's. Good food and great memorabilia all wrapped up in one.
There are also a ton of entertainment options in the immediate vicinity of the Rogers Centre. The Air Canada Centre is just to the east and is the home of the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Rock. A few blocks north you will find the campus of the University of Toronto, which is home of the Toronto Varsity Blues football, hockey and basketball teams. Unrelated to sports, tourists often take a trip up the CN Tower and tour the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada. The Toronto Railway Museum is across Bremner Blvd and HarbourFront is a few blocks to the south. If you are looking for some shopping, the Toronto Eaton Centre is a short walk North. Any sports enthusiast worth his/her salt must make the pilgrimage to see the actual Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There are a ton of places to stay downtown also. The easiest, of course would be to stay at the Renaissance Hotel at the Rogers Centre. Other options nearby include the Delta, and the Westin Harbour Castle. Possibly the best value can be found at the Strathcona.
The Argonauts are hoping that this is a temporary situation and that their attendance woes will be alleviated with the move to BMO Field.
The Argonauts have consistently drawn at the bottom of the CFL. Attendance has fallen every year since 2012. From over 23,000 to over 17,000 in 2014 it is clear that the Argonauts can't wait for the big move. The 2015 season has also seen a below 20,000 average, but with so many games away from Rogers Centre, mercifully the final season at the dome will not be a good indicator of fan support.
Those fans in attendance are die-hards for the most part. Often you will hear the war cry of "AARRRRGOOOOOOOS" throughout the game and even on the streets before. A soccer style support group has cropped up for the Argos. The southwest corner is home to the Argo Admirals, a small, but vocal group with a solid online presence. It will be interesting to see if the Admirals grow with the move.
Access is an area that has fallen off for the Argonauts for one specific reason.
Getting to the Rogers Centre can be challenging by car. The stadium is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, just north of the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Blvd. Coming into the city from the West will involve a slow trip from the 401 to the 427 to the Gardiner or Lakeshore. From the East you will probably need to drive down the Don Valley Parkway. The summer of 2015 has seen Toronto traffic at a snail's pace with the Pan Am Games and Para Pan Am Games in the city.
A great option to get to the Rogers Centre is public transit. The Skywalk joins nearby Union Station to the Toronto Convention Centre and Rogers Centre. Union Station is the hub for the TTC and GO Transit as well as Via Rail. TTC Street Cars also travel up and down nearby Spadina Ave. If you are planning on taking public transit, make sure you do your research ahead of time and check www.ttc.ca and www.gotransit.ca for schedules, maps and the current status of Union Station construction.
Decent parking can be found downtown, but it fluctuates significantly. Parking along Front Street will usually run between $10 and $20, with the lower to be expected for Argo games.Ticket windows are outside Gate 9 near Bremner Blvd. There are quite a few windows but the space between the windows and street is not huge so caution should be taken. The concourses in the Rogers Centre are plenty wide and the washrooms are plentiful. There are numerous ramps that lead to upper and lower levels, but no escalators. The biggest fall-off for the Argonauts has been getting into the stadium. Rogers Centre is following suit with the increased security measures outlined by Major League Baseball. Metal detectors and bag checks are now the norm. This can be understood, however where the Argos fall off are the very few gates they have open for entry. Combine this with only opening the gates one hour before kickoff and forcing fans to enter through the specified gate on their tickets leads to extremely long waits and unhappy patrons before they even enter the stadium.
You are going to get a decent return on your investment for an Argonauts game.
Tickets for the Argonauts are fairly average for the CFL with tickets running from over $230 for seats on the sidelines, down to $32 for endzone seating. There are discounts available for youths under 14. There is nothing really all that special for the Platinum seating at $90, so stick with the cheaper seats, or pick up below cost seats on the secondary market. Make sure you do your research for the 2015 season as the Blue Jays playoff run combined with the fairly entrenched television schedule is likely to displace the Argos, possibly to Hamilton. CFL football is fast paced and fun. A better atmosphere and fan support would bump up this score significantly.
An extra mark for the volunteer band the Argonotes and hopefully their greater role in Argonaut football.
An extra mark for over 140 years of Toronto Argonaut history, one of the richest in all sports.
An extra mark for the hope for the future in the 2016 move to BMO Field.
It will not be with a fond adieu that the Toronto Argonauts bid the Rogers Centre upon their departure. A better atmosphere and better fan experience await them on the grounds of Exhibition Place. Fans of the Argonauts can't wait for the Double Blue to make it to the new horizon as they sail up Lake Ontario to their new home.
Follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on
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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.
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.
In the 141 year history of the Toronto Argonauts, the cloud of uncertainty has never been so prevalent. Since 1989, the Argos have played at Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome. The stadium, which is owned by Rogers Communications, owner of the Toronto Blue Jays, is slated to be fitted with natural grass in time for the 2017 baseball season. The Blue Jays have informed the Argonauts that their lease at Rogers Centre will not be renewed.
In the long run this may be a blessing for the Argonauts, but the short term leaves significant questions for the future of the Argos. At this point there is no deal in place for the Argonauts in 2017 and the team at this point will be without a home. Combine that with the owner of the Argonauts and B.C. Lions, Senator David Braley, looking to divest himself of both teams in the near future, and one has to wonder what the future holds for the Double Blue. It would be a travesty for the longest running professional sports franchise in North America to cease to exist, and 141 years of history to come to an end.
There are many who believe that the Argonauts are a lynchpin for the entire CFL. The Argos do play in the largest market in all of Canada and at the very least the question of television ratings comes into question for a league with no presence in Toronto. That being said, the Argonauts have felt significant financial issues over the years with a wide variety of owners. They have had success on the field which is evident through their 16 Grey Cups (in 1914, 1921, 1933, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1983, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2012). Conventional wisdom lies in the idea that the success of the Argonauts is contingent on finding a new home in a smaller, more intimate stadium which has a better configuration for Canadian Football.
There has been a glimpse of hope on the Double Blue horizon. With the renovations that MLSE is investing in BMO Field, a plan is in place for the Argonauts to move into the soccer-specific stadium. As of the fall of 2014, the plan was short some money, which would be required from either the provincial government, federal government or the team or league. There were even some discussions about MLSE purchasing the Argos. MLSE and the Toronto Argonauts did get together to partner on a new training facility, which is near the facility for Toronto FC, so there is some hope that the two entities can work together.
For fans, the Argonaut experience remains an enigma with hope to the future and the Double Blue Horizon keeping the engine going, but with time ticking away, even the most die-hard of Argo fans must be wondering where the good ship Argonaut will sail next.
255 Bremner Boulevard
Toronto, ON M5V 3M9
146 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 1G2
310 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 3B6
156 Front St. W
Toronto, ON M5J 2L6
301 Front St. W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
301 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
288 Bremner Blvd.
Toronto, ON M5J 2A6
255 Bremner Blvd.
Toronto, ON M5V 3M9
One Blue Jays Way
Toronto, ON M5V 1J4
(416) 341 7100
75 Lower Simcoe St.
Toronto, ON M5J 3A6