55 Yard Line

Tim Leiweke’s comments about putting a Grey Cup at BMO Field are particularly curious

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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MLSE president Tim Leiweke discussed BMO Field expansion Tuesday.

New Year's Eve saw the omnipresent rumours of MLSE interest in the Toronto Argonauts renewed again thanks to an interview MLSE president Tim Leiweke did with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston about potential renovation and expansion of BMO Field in order to host a future NHL Winter Classic and perhaps other big outdoor events; one of the ones he mentioned was a Grey Cup, which has boosted the talk that MLSE may want to buy the Argos. Yahoo's Chris Zelkovich has already covered what this latest move in the MLSE/Argos dance could mean overall, but the Grey Cup comments are worth further examination on their own. It's still extremely difficult to see BMO Field as the Argos' future home at the moment, and the chances of a Grey Cup there any time in the near future also appear slim.

Expanding BMO Field from 22,000 to 40,000-plus, as mentioned in Johnston's piece, may be a nice idea in theory, but it's tough to see it working as a 40,000-seat stadium in general. Toronto FC doesn't need the extra capacity at the moment, and while they might draw more fans if they start winning, it's a rare MLS team that can draw in that range. The average MLS attendance was 18,608 in 2013, and the Seattle Sounders averaged a league-high 44,308 fans per game. The next-closest was the L.A. Galaxy with 22,523, and only two other MLS teams (Montreal and Portland) were even over 20,000. There's a reason most MLS stadiums have a capacity of 25,000 seasts or less.

Similarly, even if the considerable difficulties of convincing football and soccer teams to share a home (that would likely require a turf surface, which Toronto FC and the Canadian national soccer programs that use BMO Field would strongly resist) are overcome (and the bet here is they may never be), the Argonauts aren't going to draw 40,000 fans regularly. Only three CFL games crossed the 40,000 mark this year: the Grey Cup, Saskatchewan at Edmonton in Week 8 and Winnipeg at Saskatchewan in Week 9. Thus, it would be awfully difficult to make a business case for a 40,000-plus seat stadium as regularly needed for MLS or CFL games.

The idea of hosting a Grey Cup at BMO Field is also flawed. For one thing, Toronto just had the Grey Cup in 2012, so they're not likely to host any time soon, especially with new stadiums built or being built in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Hamilton. Beyond that, though, putting a Grey Cup at even an expanded BMO Field would be substantially lower-capacity than holding it at the existing Rogers Centre (which had 53,208 in attendance for the 100th Grey Cup in 2012). Yes, the Blue Jays want the Argonauts out of the Rogers Centre within five years so they can put in real grass, but the baseball season and playoffs are over by November, so hosting one game there then is much less of a problem. It would be hard to use "We need a bigger stadium for the Grey Cup!" as logic for a BMO expansion when the new stadium would be smaller than Toronto's existing Grey Cup venue.

Overall, the Grey Cup mention in Leiweke's interview with Johnston may be more about him spitballing potential ideas than anything serious. Sure, MLSE would love to host the Winter Classic. Sure, they're in negotiations around BMO Field expansion. That probably means there's even more of a benefit for them to mention every conceivable outdoor event to convince governments to pay to build a bigger stadium for them. There's no dispute that MLSE's shown some interest in the Argos, and the idea of the Argos playing at BMO Field (expanded or unexpanded) hasn't died yet despite the considerable obstacles in the way, but that doesn't mean MLSE will purchase the team yet, and it definitely doesn't mean the stadium's sure to be expanded. It also doesn't mean that Toronto will host an outdoor Grey Cup any time soon.

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