Bell, Larry Tanenbaum agree to buy Argos at end of year, but questions remain

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The Argonauts' sale to Larry Tanenbaum and Bell was officially announced Wednesday. (@CFL.)
The Argonauts' sale to Larry Tanenbaum and Bell was officially announced Wednesday. (@CFL.)

The Toronto Argonauts have been the subject of many media reports that failed to come true over the years, so even though Tuesday's news of their imminent sale to Bell and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum was imminent seemed reputable, there was still always a chance it could have gone south at the last minute like so many previous plans. This time, though, no one pulled the football away. Bell and Tanenbaum confirmed their decision to buy the Argos (which, interestingly enough, won't actually take place until the end of this year) at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, and stated that the team will be moving to BMO Field beginning in 2016. From the CFL's release:

Bell Canada and Larry Tanenbaum's Kilmer Group announced their agreement to jointly acquire the Toronto Argonauts Football Club of the Canadian Football League from sports entrepreneur David Braley on Wednesday. Financial terms of the transaction, expected to close on December 31, 2015, were not disclosed.

"The Argos are an important team for this great city and a crucial component in the ongoing success of the Canadian Football League. We're delighted to invest in the most successful Canadian pro football team of all time, and look forward to seeing the Boatmen play at beautiful BMO Field next year," said Larry Tanenbaum, Chair of Toronto-based investment company Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Limited and Chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).

This deal should address both of the Argonauts' main questions, their search for an owner and their search for a stadium. Potentially at least, it gives them two very good answers there; Bell and Tanenbaum are incredibly deep-pocketed, and Bell in particular has substantial incentive to make the Argonauts successful given that they own 80 per cent of TSN (which has the CFL's broadcasting rights locked up through 2018). Meanwhile, BMO Field could be a terrific facility for the Argos; it's much more appropriately sized (and a much better fan environment) than the cavernous Rogers Centre was, and it could be an excellent place to watch a CFL game. However, there are still a few concerns.

For one thing, there are questions about just how much Bell and Tanenbaum will invest in the team and whether they're in it for the long haul. Yes, they're both very deep-pocketed, but both have also been criticized in the past (especially with MLSE) for their focus on sports teams' bottom lines rather than on-the-field results. The Argos are also going to require a substantial investment, especially on the marketing front, to undo some of the damage caused in recent years by Braley's penny-pinching and the team's terrible stadium situation. How much will Bell and Tanenbaum be willing to put in? A big investment in marketing and ticket sales could be crucial to making this team financially successful in the long run, but will the new owners see that? And are they committed to sticking with this team through the tough times? Granted, those times shouldn't be too tough, considering that the deal reportedly includes two Grey Cups over eight years (including the 2016 one, although that hasn't been officially confirmed yet) and that the CFL's new CBA is leading to record profits for other teams, which should help the Argos at least come closer to breaking even. Still, it's possible Bell and Tanenbaum could eventually tire of this investment and look to move on.

This move also pulls the CFL even closer to TSN, and while that has some merits (such as even more incentive for TSN to promote the league), it carries some drawbacks too. The main one is what happens when the current TV contract expires in 2018. The closer the CFL is aligned with TSN, the less opportunity there will be for competing bids, which may cause the league to make less than it could in a more open market. This may not be a huge deal if the league's TV ratings stay strong and TSN does a good job of broadcasting it and wants to maintain its deal, but if things get more problematic, the lack of options there may hurt the CFL. Another potential drawback is that TSN now has a perceived bias in favour of the Argos given their common ownership. That doesn't mean TSN's commentators will necessarily go easier on them, but it does mean people will be examining every Argos' comment for bias, and it also means (perhaps even more importantly) that there will be lots of detailed examinations of the schedule in 2016 and beyond to see if the Argos are favoured there in any way. Skepticism of intertwined broadcasters, teams and leagues is healthy, and CFL fans won't be wrong to maintain that skepticism.

There are questions about BMO Field too. Yes, it appears like it could be a great facility for the Argos. However, there's still a lot of resentment towards them from Toronto FC fans, which could cause some issues, and it's going to be interesting to see how the field holds up under both soccer and football. If it gets poor, that might lead to a problematic situation. BMO Field also isn't right downtown like the Rogers Centre (for all its faults) was; we'll see if the Argos can attract fans out there. Perhaps most crucially, we'll see what sort of priority the Argos get in their new stadium. If they receive good home dates and adequate game-day support, this could be terrific, but if they're treated as a complete afterthought, this may not be much better than the Rogers Centre.

Overall, this looks like a good day for the Argos. They have their ownership situation resolved (albeit not for the rest of the year) and their stadium situation worked out (ditto). Both their new ownership and stadium have the potential to be solid. This also means that one of the CFL's most pressing issues is essentially sorted. However, there are still some questions about just how this move will work out, and we won't find out for a while if this truly was a great day for the team or not.

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