In the wake of the announcement that, for some reason, Rogers has decided to extend its partnership bringing Buffalo Bills football to the greater-of-two-evils that is the football configuration of the concrete mausoleum they call an arena, Keith Pelley, President of Rogers Media, stopped to chat with Bob McCown and John Shannon on Prime Time Sports Tuesday evening.

And, believe it or not, he laid down some rather obvious, but wholly welcomed truth when it comes to the company’s relationship with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, and the possibility of one day, finally, getting the Jays a natural grass playing surface.

Obviously we’re too late in the game to expect anything for 2013, so it was no surprise when Pelley made exceptionally clear that “the Argos are going to play there next year.” Things got considerably more interesting from there, though.

“There has been much speculation about the possibility of putting natural grass in the Rogers Centre, specifically for the Toronto Blue Jays,” McCown asked. “Where does that sit? And it has been presumed that, if that were to take place, that the lease arrangement with the Toronto Argonauts would end as a result of that decision. Where are we?”

“First and foremost, it obviously doesn’t effect the National Football League, because the [Jays] season would be over, so it wouldn’t effect the deal we’ve just done with the Bills,” Pelley replied. “And as well as– you’re dealing in the NFL, you’re dealing with a field that’s 53.5 yards wide, as opposed to a CFL field, which is 65 yards. And 20 yard end zones, as opposed to ten. So you could actually probably fit it in.”

Well that’s interesting, I suppose, though not really what I think McCown was getting at. But it didn’t take a whole lot of– read: any– prompting for Pelley to get there.

“If we decide to put natural grass in,” he continued, “then, you know, our plan would be to give the Argos ample warning and ample time to be able to find another location. There is no question that you’ve seen the commitment that we’ve made to the Toronto Blue Jays, and I think every player and everybody would want natural grass in there. So, long term, we’re going to have to find a way to put grass in there. So, does that mean that the Canadian Football League has to find another place to play? Like I said, I’m a fan of the CFL, I’ve been there, we’ve had this conversation, and we don’t want to do anything that’s detrimental to the CFL. But there’s other options coming around, with 2015 and the Pan Am Games and some stadiums that are being built, and these are discussions that are ongoing. Nothing is, at this particular time, locked in stone, but it is a conversation and a dialogue that’s going on right now.”

Well, hello. Obviously there’s the Pan Am athletics stadium that’s being built at York University, which– according to Wikipedia– is due to hold 12,500 spectators, but could certainly be built to seat an Argo-appropriate number, and there’s a TTC subway station due to open at the University in 2016, which would make it a more appealing location than maybe it seems on first blush. Later Pelley also suggests that the door may still be open to get the Argos into Varsity Stadium downtown, which would mimic the success Montreal has pulled by moving into Stade Molson on the McGill campus.

Regardless, importantly, he at least acknowledged the elephant in the room– and maybe even more crucially, acknowledged that discussions are happening to fix the Rogers Centre’s Argo problem.

Ask if he could foresee natural grass in the stadium by 2014, he admitted that it “might be a little bit difficult.”

Twenty-fifteen, then?

“‘Fifteen, depending upon what happens with the Pan Am Games, what the options are, what the discussion is with the CFL, then that would be a possibility. We don’t want to do anything, like I said, to hurt the Canadian Football League, but they know that at some point we have to now look at grass. We’ve invested a tremendous amount in the Jays, and that’s going to continue for the next five years. We’re committed to actually winning, and we want to be in the playoffs, and natural grass is going to be another positive to actually bring people here. And at the same time, I think, going all the way back to the CFL days in 2004, when I was there, finding a stadium that is a little bit more compact is the long-term answer for the Argos here. I can say that having– nobody loves the Argos more than I do, but nobody knows how tough a sell it is.”

Hear, hear.

I mean, it’s even more emphatic than what Beeston might say, isn’t it? Sure he couched it at the beginning with “if we decided to put grass in,” but… obviously he got right to the nut of the issue not a sentence later. And it’s especially heartening since Pelley, having served as the Argos’ president from 2004 to 2007, has greater authority to comment on what’s very, very obviously best for that franchise, too.

And what was that about a five year commitment to the Jays? Is it simply a reference to the length of the longest contract they assumed during this winter’s wheeling and dealing? Is it something to even be worried at all about? Yeah… I don’t think so. Not yet, at least. I mean, weren’t we jumping for joy when ol’ Uncle Ted promised a hefty-ish increase over three years? A five year commitment, the massive expenditures they’re already making in the next two or three, and statements like “they know that at some point we have to now look at grass”? It’s all good. It’s all real good.


Image still via James_in_TO.

Comments (101)

  1. Any Montreal football fan will tell you it was a fucking godsend when the Als got out of an oversized dome and into an attendance-suitable downtown stadium.

    Good news all around.

    • Anthony Calvillo winning a bunch of Grey Cups while the Canadiens and Expos were both in survival mode also helped the Alouettes cause.

      • Sure, but let’s not forget they both shared the main cause of one of them moving to Washington.

      • Canadiens in survival mode ? Thats like saying my pancreatic cancer is going to heal itself….

        • In the late 1990s/early 2000s the Habs were struggling. Attendance dipped with bad teams, the Canadian dollar was down, they came very close to moving until George Gillett bought them and saved them.

          • A lot of that is true, but there is a 0% chance that the Habs ever move out of Montreal, unless the NHL folds. The city would fucking burn to the ground if Bettman allowed that to happen.

            • The issue was that there were literally no local owners who wanted to buy the Habs. They weren’t ever really in danger of moving, but it was pretty much unanimously agreed that the Molson / Bell Centre had been a MASSIVE mistake by the team and that they weren’t ever going to fill it.

              Liverpool fans may hate him, but Gillett did great work for the Habs.

        • Arian, can I have your hat?

    • “Any Montreal football fan will tell you it was a fucking godsend when the Als got out of an oversized dome and into an attendance-suitable downtown stadium.”

      The issue there is that the Argos are already downtown. Moving them to the burbs would be… interesting. If anything, they need to be moving somewhere on an East – West axis; there’s not a lot of Argo fans in York Region.

      • Varsity is the dream. It’s an absolute long shot and they would have to add a second deck which is probably impossible, but it’s the glorious dream scenario. On the other hand, I live 5 minutes from York which would be awesome.

  2. Good news on both fronts. I want the Argos to have a small home where they can be successful and thrive in a real football atmosphere, and for the Jays to play in a real baseball stadium with real grass because it’s about fucking time we have a real ballpark in this city.

    • What about Lamport Stadium? I mean what is being used for as it is? It’s downtown and under utilized. Seems like an ideal home for the Argos.

      • They looked at it back in like 2003, of course before Liberty Village was developed. Now there’s some bars and some life around it, but it only seats like 8000. They renovated it a few years ago and it’s still a dump. If they actually wanted it they’d have to rebuild the entire thing into a real pro sports facility, which probably isn’t happening.

        • You could fit a CFL sized stadium on the Lamport site (you’d have to demolish the existing stadium and build from scratch) but there’d be no room at all for parking.

  3. well said sharky

  4. Fuck the Argos

  5. Bah. Even 10 years ago, I knew I would wind up hating kids who would get to commute to York via subway even though they were probably 6 at the time. Now that it’s happening, I still hate em’.

    In my day, we took a shitty bus to that campus, and said shitty bus took 45 minutes longer than it had to because it took the most convoluted route possible! And we didn’t have no CFL playing next door either!

  6. On my season-ticket holder end of year survey thing, I wrote about the lack of grass and closed roof on cloudy (but not rainy days) being a major detriment. I e-mailed that sum bitch like four months ago, so you’re welcome kiddies. This one’s on me.

  7. How bout tear down the Skydome and build something that isn’t as ugly, Rogers.

    • Government ain’t paying for a stadium after the Miami debacle

      • Nor after the Skydome debacle.
        You’d be hard pressed to convince me that, in this day and age, publicly funded stadiums for sports franchises is a good idea.

      • Unless, apparently, it’s Edmonton or Markham.

        But the dome’s fine enough. As long as the product on the field is good (in the sense of playing meaningful September games), the athmosphere is fine. And you’re NEVER going to get a stadium in a better location, since the second you demo the Dome condo or casino developers would swoop in and pay much more for the land than it’s worth for stadium terms.

    • No government funded stadium is coming any time soon, for any sport. Have to think at least a part of the current deficit in Ontario stems from SkyDome.

      • “No government funded stadium is coming any time soon, for any sport.”

        May not want to be so absolute in your statements!

      • The main reason why stadiums usually have a lot of public funding (and the reason why any self-respecting kajillionaire would always ask for said funding) is because they also create tons of jobs in the local area… bars, restaurants, etc. In the area where Skydome/Rogers Centre is, a lot of those locales already exist. So tearing down the dome for a new stadium there ia highly unlikely… however, if at some point the port lands are developed, some form of convenient mass transit heads there and the Jays are in need of some injection of life into the franchise… tearing down the dome becomes a more realistic proposition.

        • @Rance

          I think Portlands is a good bet as well. The current plan is to develop the area gradually over the next 20 or 30 years (it’s a huge amount of land).

          So by the time the Skydome is truly decrepit, I could see that area working for a new baseball only park.

          • The Portlands would be perfect. There’s even new transit going in there. You could build the ballpark village around it. It’s a pipe dream to be sure, but it would be spectacular.

        • no they don’t. If you actually checked out some examples you would realize publicly funded stadiums are just a strawman to transfer public wealth to wealth corporations and individuals. As Dave Zirin says ““The building of publicly funded stadiums has become a substitue for anything resembling an urban policy.”

        • Rance – most economic studies have concluded that the money that gets spent in relation to a sports team would be spent in any event, so there’s no / very few jobs actually “created” due to the proximity of a stadium.

          I do know that the Leafs are a bit of a unique case in that regard in terms of high-end client entertainment (there’s been a notable downturn in restaurant revenue in the core this year with 20 fewer Leafs games), but that’s not the case for the Jays and hasn’t been since 1993.

  8. Good news, but the stadium still sucks most of the time with the roof closed

  9. I just hope that when September/October rolls around, the colder weather combine with the roof being closed any day there’s rainclouds/cold/concerts/Dickey starts, doesn’t turn the grass all yellow and chewed-up

    • We can just rub some Melky Cabrera “Miracle Grow” on it.

    • They just leave the roof open whenever the Jays aren’t playing.

      • The Marlins did that throughout all of last year. They have the same problem except in reverse because the stadium is unbearably hot with the roof open. They close the roof once doors to the stadium open to the public and open it and leave it open the second a game ends.

      • SkyDome isn’t built for that, though. It’s a closed-roof stadium that happens to be opened once in a while, rather than the reverse (as in Arizona and Miami). If you keep the roof open, you’d probably have every electrical system in the place blown out within months.

        • I would imagine they’d have to come up with a Brewers-like solution, with the roof converted to some glass or other material that lets the light in, and/or special lighting inside for the grass to keep growing (which exists and is technologically feasable, but that sucks up a lot of power).

  10. I’d bet even TV RATINGS would go up with a grass field. Don’t tell me Rogers isn’t thinking about that, too.

  11. Should we interpret the 5 year reference to indicate that as far as ownership is concerned we won’t see any contractual or financial commitment beyond that time until success is delivered? Not that it matters right now but if the team under performs this year then we likely won’t see any significant signings next off season. But yeah, fuck it, lets just enjoy this season

  12. effect–> noun

    affect–> verb

  13. What is an Argo appropriate number , if not 12,500. ?? Perhaps 10,000? Or 8,500 ish?

    • 25,000

      Remember, a thin crowd in Rogers Centre looks bad whether it’s baseball or football. Put the 18-20 K for an Argos game in a 25,000 seat stadium and it’s an intimidating football crowd. By the same token, put the 18-20 K from the Jays dark ages in the past 10+ years into a 35-37 K seat ballpark and it sure looks better than a half-empty RC.

  14. This is so long overdue it’s ridiculous! They need to get the turf out and natural grass in asap! It’s insane that this can’t get done now and we have to wait a year or two. These things take way too long to get done and I would have made the decision a long time ago! Hope it happens soon! Would make going to the Dome and watching games so much better, especially for the players too!

  15. Umm, who gives a flying f about the Argos!?! I would break the lease and kick them out now. You telling me the team could even afford a lawyer to sue Rogers for breach of contract? They would need legal aid.

    • Argo’s dont fit in do they ….too many championships.They really are hurting our claim to the city of missed playoffs.

  16. 12,500 spectators IS an Argo-appropriate number…

  17. It’s really good that in a year or two the conversation has gone from ‘well, it might be theoretically possible to put grass in, but it probably won’t happen’ to ‘we’re going to put grass in, we just don’t know when’.

    I personally have no interest in the CFL at all, but for Argo’s fans sake hopefully they find a better venue. York sounds like it could work.

  18. Most of the people here don’t seem to know their a-hole from their ear canals when it comes to MLB ballpark atmosphere. Go and read a bit. Go visit Detroit. Cleveland. Pittsburgh… maybe even the tourist treats/traps/magiclands of Wrigley and Fenway (Ps, get to Wrigley soon before they Fenwayize it). Try to soak it in when you’re there and not just get drunk on $6 craft beers. Walk around the entire stadium. Talk to fans and staff. Learn what it’s REALLY like to be a MLB fan.

    Go to a game in Baltimore where groups of 5 10 amazingly stoked kids are running around sans parents because they were sent there with a fist full of tickets to see the O’s play the Yankees, “those damn, effing Yankees” says the one.

    Go smell the grass …the kentucky blue, the the perfect fragrant MASSIVE football field sized (and shaped) lawn at mass-hole filled Fenway. And feel like you’re in church. Because you are.

    And then come back and tell us why you don’t think grass would matter much, or change Tv ratings much, or that the grass might yellow, or you how you hate Skydome anyway (PS, more patios and light through the backs and open air BBQs and craft beer or even just BETTER beer would help). Tell us all your hateful things, after experiencing baseball’s bounty. And tell us why you wouldn’t want just a little piece, a nice little small thin velvety slice about two 90s seasons thick, to call your own. And the truth is, the Jays history DOES go way deeper than those two 90s slices played on AStroturf, doesn’t it? It goes back to when they were winning, and exciting people, on grass, in a crappy, run-down football stadium, next to the lake.

    Grass-planted dedicated baseball field at Rogers Centre would be the ultimate irony. But would also rank among the greatest moments in Jays history without involving a single player.

    • Nicely written but Exhibition Stadium had astroturf, not grass. And it was the older, crappier kind of turf than the RC has now.

    • They have never played on grass at home – all those memories take place on fake stuff

    • … your memories are odder than mine if you ever remember the Jays playing on grass at home.

      Winning baseball matters. The field surface at home matters inasmuch as it might impact signing or retaining players, but the Jays could play on gravel as far as I’m concerned if they won big while doing it.

      Romance has nothing on success.

  19. Also, yeah.. that photoshop is nails, Stoeten. Gonna plant itself in my dreams and never gonna give it up. Also, @Die Argos: I get you, but that’s not a good look. Not a JAYS look. Just sayin.

  20. “It goes back to when they were winning, and exciting people, on grass, in a crappy, run-down football stadium, next to the lake.”

    Not sure where you’re going with your piece UnjailedJay but the Jays have always played their home games on astroturf. It was installed in 1972 at Exhibition Stadium.

    • Read a book about the history of ballparks recently, and there was a great quote from a sports writer that pretty much sums up the horror of baseball at Exhibition Stadium: “At least the LA Coliseum had real grass.”

  21. Cornstalks in the outfield while they are at it. Just embed the electronic scoreboard into it.

  22. @Carl Sagan: Let’s imagine the past differently so we can move towards a better tomorrow. No, really.

    Besides, I think most people think of the Ex in their mind’s eye as covered in snow, so in that sense, it was more natural than the current setup. They need to hew to something very baseball-specific that references whatever past that was that you remember accurately and I fuzz up a bit. Maybe they could have a museum to artificial turf in the outfield area with samples from all of them. I feel like many would take comfort in it.

  23. Stoeten, if you can humour us, I would love to see this photoshopped pic with “baseball green” seats rather than blue ones, and I bet it makes a huge difference to the aesthetic. Pretty please?!

  24. MLB Top 100 list is out.
    D’Arnaud #6 up from #11 up from #47
    Syndergaard #29 up from #83
    Sanchez #35 up from #38
    Marisnick #70 down from #35
    Norris Off the list from #91
    Hechavarria #82 not on list
    Osuna #90 not on list
    Nicolino #72 down from #86

    • I’m not sure how Syndergaard passes Sanchez in a ranking, but whatever.

      Also, Osuna is way too low. He’s going to be a monster. I base this on nothing but pure fan-boyism.

    • Jays go from top 3 (#2?) farm system to having bottom half. And I’m more than OK with it.

  25. Mayo seems to be giving a little extra love to those players leaving the jays ranks. I’m not sure how serious the usual prospect guys take Mayo.

  26. 1. Those that want a new stadium like Baltimore, Detroit, where ever .. NO DOME by the lake in Toronto .. ugggghh .. what a terrible way to spend an April day or evening

    2. New Field – not sure why Argos playing impacts grass or not presently – in the NFL and previously baseball/football shared stadiums they routinely resod fields after events or football games, and in time for the next game .. they would just need to do a bit of work on the schedule

    3. So “Unjailed Jay” thinks the addition of grass is what makes those stadiums great and tv #’s rise … and he’s a REAL fan .. ha … hopefully he isn’t holding out hope for a TV executive position

    • Re: Point number 2. I doubt the Argos pay enough rent and bring enough revenue to Rogers to be routinely resodding the field because of them.

      Rogers owns the Jays, not the Argos. They are not running a charity.

      • The Argos have played rent-free at Rogers Centre since 2009 I believe. It’s exactly as Pelley said: they want grass, they want baseball-only, but they also will do nothing in the process to hurt the Argos or the CFL, which is how it should be.

  27. “2. New Field – not sure why Argos playing impacts grass or not presently – in the NFL and previously baseball/football shared stadiums they routinely resod fields after events or football games, and in time for the next game .. they would just need to do a bit of work on the schedule”

    Two points:

    1. Most of those venues didn’t have the setup of Skydome, with both sets of bleachers moving significantly.

    2. It’s better for the NFL, which has a more limited overlap since the season doesn’t start until September. The CFL season starts in July.

    3. Re-seeding sucks for all concerned. Both the Dolphins and Marlins hated having the baseball cutouts and subsequent chewed-up fields – same for the Browns and Indians back in the day. I think San Diego had some weirdness at the Murph that avoided too many issues, but I can’t remember how they solved the problem. Even if the Dome was built differently, it wouldn’t be viable (and can you imagine trying to re-seed in Toronto in October?)

    • They would stop the bleachers moving though. For the re-seeding, you have a bit of a point. BMO is the only stadium with over 20,000 seats in the entire country of Canada that has natural grass. Again, the entire country. There’s a reason for that: it’s fucking cold up here which makes it harder to grow grass, and it’s a pain in the ass to ship it in from the US and deal with all the customs crap.

      • “They would stop the bleachers moving though.”

        Then the Argos can’t play in the stadium. It’s an either / or thing – you can’t fit a CFL field into the stadium without moving the 100s.

        “BMO is the only stadium with over 20,000 seats in the entire country of Canada that has natural grass. ”

        That’s only changed recently, though – Commonwealth had natural grass for about 30 years.

  28. Annnnd the jays passes are gone.

  29. Harkening waaaay back to the days when the Skydome actually had outdoor parking, one of the big sells of the Argos then was the ability to tailgate in said parking lots. It was fun. One big advantage of moving up to York University is that they have tons of parking up there, and tons of space to do the tailgating thing. In fact, that alone might bring me out to a few more Argos games than I’ve been to recently, which is exactly one game in the past 3 years.

  30. [...] The team is also planning to install grass, according to recent rumours. President of Rogers Media Keith Pelley spoke with Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports on Fan 590 radio in January. “So, long term, we’re going to have to find a way to put grass in there,” Pelley was quoted in a blog post from [...]

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