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MLSE’s dance with the Toronto Argonauts continues to take new and interesting turns

Will the Argonauts end up at BMO Field?

If nothing else, Tim Leiweke has shown an ability to make headlines in his brief tenure as head of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

After musing about Stanley Cup victory parades and excising (with implied burning) of photos depicting long-ago Maple Leafs glory days at the Air Canada Centre, Leiweke has taken to speculating about possibly getting involved with the Canadian Football League. He hinted at that a few months ago and appeared to strengthen his resolve on New Year's Eve when he raised the possibility of hosting both an outdoor NHL game and a Grey Cup game at Toronto's BMO Field in an interview with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

That's the same BMO Field he earlier said would likely remain a soccer-only stadium to preserve a sacred bond with the city's soccer fans.

What this all means isn't quite clear, since Leiweke seems to be prone to frequent changes of mind. But it has already raised speculation that MLSE will buy the Argos from reluctant owner David Braley, renovate BMO to make it both soccer and football friendly and -- now get this -- then move to bring the NFL to Toronto.

While the mind boggles at all these twists and turns, there is some sense to all of this.

First, the Argos are desperately in need of a both a new owner and a new home. Braley has said he wants to sell both his CFL teams -- a situation that is filled with its own bizarre twists and turns -- by 2017. Seeing that Braley reluctantly took on the Argos when no one else wanted them four years ago indicates that potential new owners won't exactly be lining up. Deep-pocketed MLSE would be a logical option.

Secondly, the Argos will be homeless after the 2017 season when the Toronto Blue Jays install natural grass at the Rogers Centre. Seeing that no one is likely to put up the money for a new stadium and that any new facility should already be at the blueprint stage to make a 2017 deadline, the Argos' options are extremely limited.

BMO is realistically the only alternative on that front, even though a study conducted in 2009 basically indicated that it would be cheaper to tear down the 20,000-seat stadium and rebuild rather than retrofit it as a 25,000-seat multi-purpose facility. MLSE certainly has the money to buy the team and rebuild the stadium.

But why would MLSE be interested in a football franchise that hasn't exactly made a habit of turning profits, outside the fact that the Argos would at least give them a team capable of winning a championship?

Here's where the grassy-knoll line of thinking begins. The talk is that MLSE wants an NFL franchise but realizes that Roger Goodell and company are reluctant to stage a Canadian invasion because they don't want the CFL's blood on their hands. The thinking is that there's little doubt a Toronto NFL team would kill the Argos with the CFL disappearing into oblivion shortly afterward.

To get around that, the theory goes, MLSE would buy the Argos and thus secure their future, thus allowing the NFL to march triumphantly into Toronto without fear of being implicated in the CFL's demise.

Like all NFL-in-Canada theories, this one has more holes in it than the Leafs defence. Even if securing the Argos future would coax the NFL to bring a team here, there is the somewhat large issue of a stadium.

Toronto would need a new one and with tax dollars no longer available for such projects, somebody would have to foot the bill -- and that would be in the neighbourhood of $1 billion and probably higher. Add in another billion or so to secure a franchise and suddenly you've got an investment of monumental proportions.

Yes, MLSE has more money than the Canadian mint so that really isn't the big roadblock.

The big fly in this ointment is the NFL's interest in establishing a northern outpost. So far, it hasn't shown any.

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