The Toronto Argonauts start the 2016 preseason on June 11th and finally, it won’t be at the mausoleum formerly known as the Skydome. The Argos have played in dreary Rogers Centre for far too long as it is one of the most horrible fan experiences of any sport, anywhere. The average attendance dropped to 12,500 in 2015 and with a 52,000 capacity looks hauntingly empty. I have been to a couple of games there and try as you might it was impossible to get the sense that you were part of something special. A move was desperately needed by the Argos and, truth be told, the CFL as well. It’s not that the Argonauts have been disappointing, but in one of the most vibrant markets in Canada, the Argos should be doing better. A lot better. Its popularity has dwindled while the fan base’s average age has risen to the mid-50s.
— Mike Richards (@MikeRichardsTSN) May 3, 2016
It is safe to say that soccer has surpassed football in popularity in this city. TFC play at BMO (pronounced bee-moe) Field, where a cozy, loud and warm environment makes for a fantastic fan experience regardless of what actually happens on the field. Why did I bring up BMO Field? Because that is exactly the kind of experience Argos should be looking for to give their fans and guess what? That is exactly where the Argos are headed. With the recent renovations, BMO will now be able to host both sports. There is a fear amongst TFC supporters that the pitch will be in bad shape after football is played there. Assurances have been made by those in charge that this will not happen so before I complain, I’ll wait to see what happens. Overall though, heading to BMO is a smart move by the Argonauts. Toronto fans can create a wonderful experience as we have seen with Jurassic Park, and therefore the cozy atmosphere at BMO provides a nice backdrop for fans to increase that fun factor exponentially.
Speaking of fun…the Argonauts have also announced that tailgating will be allowed in certain areas this year. WHAT?!?! For those that are not aware, tailgating is an NFL ritual which takes place on game day. In the early morning, people drive to designated parking areas around the stadium, unpack their coolers, barbeques, lawn chairs, coolers, a football and did I mention coolers? It is a picnic type atmosphere which for the most part is self-policed and extremely well behaved. People are free to walk around with alcohol and start chatting with others who are cooking up burgers, dogs and anything else you can imagine. Some people will start a touch football game while others just casually throw the pigskin around. One of my favourite setups had two guys playing Madden NFL video game on a 50 inch tv (outside) while sitting in lazy boy chairs. Then, just before the real football game starts, people pack up their stuff, walk to the stadium and go watch the game. It is so much fun that even people who don’t like football like tailgating parties.
Now unfortunately in Canada, we have some strict regulations around alcohol. Many people have criticized the Argos attempt here stating that it will never be like it is with our neighbours to the south because Canadian legislation will not permit anyone to bring beer, so beer will have to be sold there. Now they are correct in that it won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean that this way can’t be good either. I know, I know, the first thing you are thinking is that the beer companies are going to make a fortune. But cost has been taken into consideration and although not ideal, breaks down to a $5 fee per vehicle over and above the price of parking, and each beer will cost $4. In fairness, that is cheaper than pub prices so let’s cut them some slack for now.
You are still free to bring barbeques and therefore curious to see and taste what creations Torontonians will concoct. It can turn out to be a great family event, like a picnic with the added bonus of watching a sporting event at the end of it. The beautiful thing about making this even more family friendly is a) you wind up bringing the average age down again and b) you make an impression on a younger generation who hopefully grow up and bring their children one day. If you haven’t done so before, try to make it out to a game this year and be part of something new.
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