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.”
“‘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.”
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.