Toronto Argonauts fans can expect lower ticket prices this season, along with tailgating inside the stadium and branding focused on the team’s roots as a rowing club.
The changes announced Monday are part of owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s ambitious efforts to revamp the Argos and after years of attendance woes and build a fanbase as large and rabid as MLSE’s other teams — the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, NBA’s Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer.
“Our job is to make sure that club is on the same playing field as the rest of our rest great franchises here,” said Jerry Ferguson, MLSE’s head of marketing. “We want people to feel and believe that the Argos is Toronto’s team.”
The Argos averaged 14,000 fans last season at BMO Field, a stadium that seats roughly 26,000. To increase that number, MLSE says it will target millennials new to the CFL experience as well as long-time Argos supporters. If both groups are enticed to come out to games, MLSE thinks it can increase their stadium audience.
To get fans to games, the average ticket price will be rolled back by 23 per cent, meaning about 2,600 tickets will be sold for as low as $15 per game for season’s seat holders and $19 per game for single-seat buyers.
“At the Argos, the fanbase has struggled a little bit,” Argos president Bill Manning admitted. “We were actually priced higher than TFC and we were losing some of the family aspect of Argos games.”
He said the team won’t drop ticket prices too low or give seats away en mass, because once someone is used tickets being so cheap or getting them for free “they’ll never pay.”
However, the club will “condense” seating, by selling tickets in the lower bowl first and keeping the upper deck on the east side empty, unless demand increases to fill those seats.
The team will also nix tailgating parties in the parking lots outside BMO Field and move them into the stadium. The popular U.S. phenomenon was brought to Argos games in 2016, but provincial liquor laws meant fans had to purchase booze on-site instead of bringing it from home.
Manning, who grew up in the U.S., said Toronto’s tailgating felt “forced.”
“With the ordinances and where they are, it is hard to replicate what they do in Ohio State or with the Florida Eagles,” said Manning. “It actually costs the organization a lot of money to put that on and it wasn’t worth it with the number of people that actually did it.”
He didn’t share specifics about how tailgating at BMO Field will work, but said MLSE is toying with specials and an area at the north end of the stadium that could be built out.
Meanwhile, fans will be able to purchase new Argos merchandise emblazoned with cannons, shields and typography inspired by old cuts of wood.
The nautical themes are rooted in the team’s past as part of the Argonaut Rowing Club, which had a football team as a way to stay fit. The merchandise will feature the blue hues associated with Oxford and Cambridge Universities, an homage to the rowing club’s love of both schools’ rugby teams.
The team will use an old slogan “Pull Together” in attempt to match bravado of the Raptors’ “We the North” and TFC’s “All for One” campaigns.
“We want to create a sense of rivalry, so if you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us,” said Ferguson.
That message wasn’t lost on CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who joked that he took one look at a forthcoming Argos shirt with “Toronto” written over a map of Canada and thought “I’m a Winnipegger, born and raised, so I already hate that.”
He said that the attitude was indicative of the league’s bold plans to become “bigger, stronger, better.”
“The CFL is no longer interested in being the humble church mouse league. We are no longer interested in being small and obscure,” he said. “We are no longer interested in making do. We want to take the Canadian Football League to new heights.”