Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Someone Wants The Argos!
Toronto Argonauts owner David Braley, facing heightened media criticism over the team’s uncertain future, said that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment are not the only ones in the picture to buy the Argos.
Braley said he has been approached by two new potential bidders.
Just two weeks ago, a prospective buyer emerged with the idea of setting up the Argos as a not-for-profit corporation. The economic model would be similar to the community-owned teams which are successfully run in the Western Division.
“I’m trying to evaluate how that one would work,” Braley said.
Another offer came in about six months ago, and Braley is not sure how strong the proposal is.
MLSE, the owner of the Maple Leafs, Marlies, Raptors and Toronto FC, approached Braley last year, but made no offer and there are no current discussions.
Braley is interested in working out a lease for city-owned BMO Field with MLSE, which manages the stadium. The stadium, which is home to the soccer team, has natural grass and would provide a more intimate fan experience.
For the not-for-profit idea to work, there would have to be enough interest in the community for each party to buy a share in the team so there is enough working capital.
In this scenario, Braley wouldn’t necessarily give up ownership.
“What might happen is I just might end up with the lease with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and I own the team,” Braley said. “My job is to find a place for the team to play, and the only place that I can see where the team can play right now is BMO Field.”
The Argos’ lease at the Rogers Centre runs out at the end of the 2017 season.
The cavernous stadium, when it’s not getting 40,000 to 50,000 fans, doesn’t make for a fun football experience and a smaller, 20,000 to 25,000-seat venue would be a better fit.
New cozy stadiums in Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg are seen as the new frontier for the CFL.
Braley, who is 73 and owns the B.C. Lions as well, has said he wants to sell one team before he turns 75. Most of the speculation is that Braley would unload the Argos.
Not so fast.
“Maybe the Lions get sold first and I still own the Argonauts until I can fix them,” he said. “There’s nothing cast in stone. Whatever is good for the team. Whatever is good for the league, and whatever is good for the city of Toronto and B.C., that’s how it’s going to happen.”
The smart money has MLSE buying the Argos (both sides have a partnership already allowing the team to practise at Downsview Park next to the Toronto FC training facilities) and move them to BMO Field.
However, some critics suggest the window might close because MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke has announced he will be leaving by June 2015, or until a successor is appointed. The other moving part is that CFL commissioner Mark Cohon has announced he won’t be seeking another term after his contract expires in April.
“I’ve never had a negotiation with a football team while the season is on,” Braley said, adding he doesn’t want to cause a distraction to the 3-8 Argos.
Braley bristled at criticism he is running the Argos on a shoestring budget. Some players have complained that they were unhappy with the changing practice facilities.
“Financially, (the Argos) have all the money they need,” Braley said. “They have brand new practice facilities. We were two weeks getting into them, yes, I apologize. I had no choice.”
Braley is deeply troubled by the sagging fortunes of North America’s oldest professional football club.
The team is not a success at the gate or on the field.
“Right now, the marketing has been somewhat less than adequate,” Braley said.
Braley doesn’t disagree with critics who say he is to blame for the attendance woes that have crippled the team pretty much since he bought the franchise in 2010.
“I’m not doing a good enough job,” he said. “Isn’t that the truth? We haven’t sold enough tickets. We haven’t sold enough sponsorships. I have to take the blame. That’s my job to hire the people do it, and that’s why we’re making changes in those people.”