RCGrass

MLSE wants an NFL team and public money with which to renovate BMO field. The National Football League doesn’t want to kill the Argos, and the various tiers of government might be more inclined to kick in money with another tenant in the building — particularly one with deep roots, cultural significance, and an inability to secure stadium funding on their own.

Solution: Starfrit! Assuming, y’know, that in some language “Starfrit” means that MLSE or Larry Tanenbaum buys the Argos.

According to Dave Naylor of TSN.ca – not to mention an anonymous tipster I wrote about a week ago — that is precisely what seems to be happening behind the scenes.

Talks between David Braley and MLSE have heated up in recent months to the point that the MLSE board, which includes Tanenbaum as well as representatives from Bell and Rogers, was asked to vote during December on acquiring the CFL team.

While the board could not agree on the matter, there remains the possibility that MLSE could revisit buying the team or that Tanenbaum himself may purchase it.

Naylor quotes former MLSE head Richard Peddie as claiming that “everything I’m hearing is that that the NFL is telling them that if you want an NFL team, you better make sure the Argos are okay. I don’t think it’s out of the realm that he may do it.”

Here’s the thing that I wonder, though — and that I know from previous discussions about the subject other commenters wonder about, too. Obviously getting the Argos out of the Rogers Centre is a tremendous thing for the Jays and their plans to eventually join the nineteenth century and play on an actual grass surface. But if the aim is in part to land an NFL team, where exactly is that team going to be housed?

I mean, obviously eventually they’d need a new stadium. The Rogers Centre is comically bad for football. It would be among the smallest, and oldest stadiums in the NFL, and according to a Globe and Mail piece from late November, there is already a design for an NFL-friendly venue at Downsview Park. But… uh… are they going to start building before they have a franchise in place?

Obviously I have no idea what any sort of plan might be and am just spitballing. If the aim is to move the Buffalo Bills here — and, really, maybe it would have to be, given the existing relationship, and the fact that it might be tough to teams in both markets to coexist — it’s very possibly a non-issue, as that team could simply be dickishly moved from Orchard Park once the stadium at Downsview is built.  But on days like this — especially when reminded, as I was after writing about the grass issue yesterday, that rumblings from two years back, while not officially from the Jays themselves, suggested that playing surface changes could be coming to the Rogers Centre much sooner than the 2018 timeline Paul Beeston now calls “realistic” — it’s easy for the mind to get spinning about the possibility of an NFL team being temporarily housed at Rogers Centre until a new facility is built.

This is all very theoretical, of course. But right now MLSE has the Rogers Centre as an NFL option in their back pocket. Once they start tearing up the floor in order to go baseball-only, doesn’t it disappear?

Are the Argos, then, even the real obstacle that the Jays face with regard to this vital issue for their franchise? Getting them out of the building at least starts the process, by the cynic in me — or maybe it’s just the downtrodden Jays fan — just can’t quite start jumping for joy as though a fast-moving Argos-to-BMO thing alone will “expedite,” as Beeston says, the installation of the Jays’ desperately needed grass surface the way that, right now, it would be oh so easy to hope. There’s a fun thought, huh?

Comments (80)

  1. MLSE can’t buy an NFL team, can they? The NFL only allows for individual owners I thought, not corporations.

    • That’s what I’ve heard too. But I think they allow a “primary” owner backed by others – as would have been the case with the Bon Jovi/MLSE thing that didn’t actually end up happening.

    • This is not mentioned nearly enough. There is no obvious candidate to purchase an NFL team and bring it to Toronto any time in the near future.

      The NFL is very serious about this rule, actually. It’s led at least one sale to be blocked.

      • It’s noted in the piece. They’d work around it.

        • As noted by commenter AmericanJaysFan below,the Bills have a 7 year stadium lease.Cost of breaking that lease –$400 million.

      • One person simply has to be a controlling partner in the ownership of a NFL franchise. Al Davis owned only 47% of the Raiders for most of his tenure, save for a period in 2004 where he purchased 30% owned by a deceased original partner then offloaded it to Wall Street investors.

        In short, it is complicated to us outsiders but corporate entities can indeed own NFL franchises.

    • I always assumed it would be done something like this: Tannenbaum owns 30%, Rogers and Bell each own 29%, Lewieke family/Bon Jovi etc pick up the other 12%. If Tannenbaum needs the money he can probably get a loan from MLSE, be bought out of MLSE, or “sell” the rights to run the stadium to MLSE.

      • I don’t think Tanenbaum could finance his stake by taking a loan out from a corporation of which he is chairman.

        He could probably sell his stake in MLSE and use the funds to help finance his purchase of 30% of an NFL team, but

        1. HUGE tax implications involved in trying to execute that
        2. Why would Tanenbaum prefer ownership of an NFL team to ownership of MLSE? Plus, the ownership structure of MLSE has a joint Rogers-Bell holding company controlling 75% and voting as a block. I’m not sure that Rogers and/or Bell would be willing to settle for being junior partners in a football team.

    • Here is the speculation (the Star and the Globe had this too):

      http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/11/25/wheels-quietly-in-motion-to-move-buffalo-bills-to-toronto/

      Basically a group led by Edward Rogers or Larry Tannenbaum, with Bon Jovi involved (weirdly) tries to buy the Bills. MLSE, supposedly, builds the stadium. Leiweke seems to be heavily involved in orchestrating the whole thing.

  2. Great title.

    I maybe wrong, but unless a deal was in place before Ralph Wilson passes, the Bills go up for auction as part of his estate. His kids don’t want the team and/or can’t afford the taxes and ongoing expenses.

    So it is possible the Bills could end up in Toronto, but also possible they end up in the hands of the highest bidder.

    • True.

    • I hope it’s not the Bills that eventually end up here. I like that team where it is.
      There are some other, struggling, NFL franchises that could be relocated when the time comes I’m sure.

      This is all based on personal preference btw, I haven’t actually done an analysis on whether this would be a good idea $ wise.

      • As Andy says in the post, teams in both Buffalo and Toronto would make life very difficult for each other, and there’s no reason for the NFL to allow that.

    • If the Bills DO go on the auction block, I can’t see an ownership group from Los Angeles being outbid by a group in Toronto, especially if it’s members of the group that own the Dodgers, seeing as they’re making almost $400 million a year in their TV deal.

      • MLSE is owned by companies like the ones paying that money to the Dodgers for that TV deal, only they’re wealthier. You need only look as far as the NHL rights deal to see the kind of money they’re backed by.

    • But sports teams are a bit different, in that ownership must be approved by the league.

      If the NFL decides the best thing for the Bills is to stay in Buffalo, or move to Toronto, then that will influence the bidding – though I also suspect the league would expect any bids to be of a reasonable value to respect estate of the owner.

  3. If Beeston/AA are comfortable using “the Policy” as a “valid” reason for not being able to sign high-priced free agents, I think they’d be happy holding onto the “he didnt want to play on turf” reason as well (Carlos Beltran). Add this to the costs of adding in grass, and the lost revenue from not being to hold other events at the RC, and I really don’t see grass being installed in this decade, Argos moving or not.

    • Tin foil hat looks great on you.

    • Why would RC install grass? Doesn’t that limit their ability to have concerts, monster truck rallies? conferences and other alternative forms of income they currently enjoy…

      Toronto needs a baseball only stadium. RC is going to be 30 years old by the time they get around to putting grass in … by that time it’ll be the oldest, non-renovated stadium in baseball save Fenway … Build a new baseball only stadium and sell off the land RC sits on to the developers…

      And why do the Argo’s need an expansion on BMO ? when was the last time they drew more than 20,000 fans?

      • Fenway’s been renovated numerous times.

        • BMO needs an expansion to accommodate the CFL field. While they’re at it, they might as well add seats – Argos playoff games draw much more than 20,000

      • So… let me see if I have this straight. Putting grass in at the Rogers Centre cuts away too much profit from non-Jays events, so… they… should… build a new stadium for the Jays? Because that’s going to be so cheap?

        • considering they bought the stadium for basically nothing (probably less than the cost of renovating and putting in grass) what’s the difference.. they’re not losing on this deal regardless.. that and the stadium will be approaching 30 years of age …

          i’m saying sell the land off to developers and build a baseball only stadium that will also act as a host for winter classic games in the future.. you’ve got a guarantee of 2-3 years of sell out baseball… an annual winter classic and a beautiful outdoor stadium… hey why not buy the land surrounding Ontario Place.. nothing going on there right now

          • just to add the cost of renovations over the next 10 years according to Beeston will be around 250 mil.. they spent 25 mil buying the Dome in the first place

          • except as most have commented this week, baseball stadiums are terrible for hockey. None of the options are great, but baseball is the worst of the lot. NFL stadiums seem to be best, and an expanded BMO is the better than a new outdoor baseball stadium.

  4. I think when Ralph Wilson dies, the owner of the Buffalo Bills who is in his 90s, the situation will become clearer as I understand his estate will sell the franchise. The chances of both Buffalo and Toronto having an NFL franchise is probably nil. Not to be morbid, but over to you Mr. Wilson.

  5. Does anyone know know exactly why the NFL gives a shit if the Argos fold or not?

    • PR mostly, I’d guess.

    • They simply don’t want the perception as CFL-killers in Canada. I’m sure they don’t actually give a shit about the CFL, even with the occasional player they pluck from it for an NFL job.

    • They don’t want to kill off the oldest professional sports franchise in North America. I mean, people in Toronto are okay with it, seeing as they don’t go to games, but…

    • The CFL serves as a quasi-development league for the NFL. Plus this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Football_Act. Anyone wanting to bring an NFL franchise to Toronto will need to ensure that the CFL wouldn’t be threatened (at least in the near term) by the move. Opposing it would be a cheap way to score political points although I don’t think we’re nearly as reflexively nationalist about these things as we used to be. I have a hard time believing the Bills are coming to Toronto. There is plenty of money in Western New York to buy the franchise and keep it there when the time comes. Not to mention the fact that Goodell is from Jamestown, New York. I’m not much of a football fan personally. I just want the Argos out of the RC. It’s best for both teams.

  6. I call bullshit on everything that is coming out right now. Fucking spin doctors.

  7. Why are the Argo’s a major factor in converting Roger’s Center to a grass field? Is it due to the machinery that adjusts the seating?

    • They’d tear the shit out of a grass field. You’d have to fix it after every game.

    • To convert to football from baseball, the 100 level literally spreads open on tracks to create enough room for the football field. Installing grass involves going to a permanent baseball configuration and thus there would not be room for football.

  8. Just an FYI the Bills are Guaranteed in Buffalo for at least 7 more years as per their agreement with Erie County. This was brought about because they are currently renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium with taxpayer money of course.

  9. Best case scenario: Build a brand new ballpark on the CNE grounds and let the Argos/Bills have the Dome all to themselves.

  10. In the next 5-10 years:

    An NFL-only stadium will be built on the Downsview lands, which is the perfect location for a middle-of-a-sea-of-parking-and-ancillary-retail-game-day-uses stadium.

    The Blue Jays will install grass at Rogers Centre, which will leave only late-October to early-March for events non-baseball/grass-destroying related. (Monster Trucks only seems to visit in January, plenty of time to rehab the surface/install sod, etc.) I also think that major renovations will continue to take place at Rogers Centre to make it more baseball-friendly. I’m one of those crazy folks who don’t think it’s the WORST place to see a game, but it is far from the best, that’s for sure. If an open-air, retractable-roof, baseball-only stadium is not feasible (and let’s be honest, it isn’t right now… or in the foreseeable future), then Rogers Centre with even more renos will suffice.

    The Argos will move to an expanded/upgraded BMO Field, and the live game experience for Argos fans will increase immensely. If Toronto decides the CFL is no longer a fit (which the NFL really does care about), I’ve always wanted to see a CFL team in Southwestern Ontario. London is centrally located, and a football hot-bed (high school football, and Western draws well), and has the facility, albeit with renos/expansion required. But that’s just me day-dreaming.

    I think the above will definitely happen, it’s just a matter of timing.

  11. Thanks for keeping up on this story, Stoets.

    It’s pretty under the radar at this point, but if you think about it, it’s implications on the Toronto sports scene are huge. And the plan to at least attempt it seems to clearly be in motion, according to each major paper at least. Buying the Argos seems to be step one.

    Could be interesting down the road. Leafs/Raps at the ACC. An NFL team in a new NFL stadium. Jays at the dome. Lower tier teams, the FC and Argos at BMO.

    That kind of situation could really allow Rogers to renovate the Skydome for baseball only. The NFL stadium could become the go to mulitpurpose facility to host monster truck shows etc.

  12. I’m not trying to be an Argo’s basher (Nothing against em)…

    But it is slightly amusing that after years of worry that the NFL might kill the Argos, the potential of a Toronto NFL team might be the only thing saving the Argos at this point.

  13. I don’t see the NFL in Toronto before it’s back in L.A.

    • This is an excellent point.

    • Back in the day of gate revenue being a larger slice of the pie that was absolutely true, but these days TV is where the big money is made.

      California and Canada have are both markets of 30 mil plus. Cali has 3 teams, and Canada has none. It makes sense to penetrate the Canadian market first, then LA.

      It’s not that you have a bad argument, it’s just one that doesn’t jive as much with how things are now.

  14. So in this scenario everybody gets what they want, except for die hard TFC/soccer fans. Who may bitch and grumble for a bit, but will still eventually go to the games, because, y’know, they are die hard TFC/soccer fans. Especially if increased MLSE revenue helps fuel player purchases like the ones this year.

    Makes sense to me.

  15. Here’s the problem in all this:

    TFC fans have been adamant about not wanting the Argos at BMO for the same reasons Jays fans don’t want the Argos on a natural-grassed Skydome. If Leiweke/MLSE are as gung-ho about turning TFC into a big earner (and spending $100 million on two players certainly suggests they are), why would they sully that good will by pissing off the newly-rejuvenated fanbase?

    • I’m no stadium grass expert, but if the Argo only play games at BMO, and practice somewhere else, I’m sure a modern day grounds crew could keep the pitch decent.

      As for the sight lines/ moving stands back, they’re gonna have do a really good engineering job at that, no doubt. The good news for soccer fans is that it is in MLSE’s best interest to do so.

  16. klaw just posted his farm system rankings. jays are #24.

    “24. Toronto Blue Jays

    It’s tough to trade away three top 100 prospects, as the Jays did last winter, and maintain a strong system, but the Jays compounded that problem by failing to sign their first overall pick (Phil Bickford) for the second time in three years.

    The Jays can afford to trade prospects if they’re hitting on high draft picks, but they haven’t done so often enough other than the selections they ended up dealing.”

    woof

    • I wonder if KLaw had any comment/knowledge of the Rookie ball arms that Jason Parks was so excited about?

    • What I’m getting from that is that the Jays were picked clean by other GM’s, which is okay so long as you replenish the farm properly, which they haven’t.

      The last placed team in the AL East has the worst farm system in the AL East. This team is in an awesome place right now.

      • Klaw had the lowest rank.
        Minor League Ball has them at 20th; Baseball America has them at 11th; and Baseball Prospectus has them at 13th.

  17. How much would a team in Toronto be at odds with one in Buffalo? I grew up in SW ontario, and don’t recall anyone being Bills fans…i imagine there is some draw from canada attending games in buffalo, but is it really that significant? Maybe there is an argument for a Toronto team affecting Buffalo’s market…i can’t see how a team in Buffalo would hamper one in Toronto more than negligably.

    I stopped following the NFL a long time ago, maybe things have changed.

    • I think the idea is partly that Rogers has established Southern Ontario as a Bills ‘region’.

      One of the articles on the subject said that they might present it to the NFL as not as severe a relocation (as if, say, they moved to LA) because the team would be staying ‘within region’.

    • I’ve been in Niagara for about three years and there seems to be a pretty significant following down here for the Bills. I’m often hearing about people going to games and being Bills fans.

  18. FFS grass in the Rogers Center is just another mythical unicorn being dangled in front of the beaten down jays fan.. If it’s not Yu Darvish, the promise of a playoff berth or Tanaka it’s this kinda shit…

    Just leave us to our last place finishes and $18 beer while we pine for mediocre free agents to fight over with the likes of Kanas City and… I was going to saw Milwaukee but they are actually higher up the ladder than the Jays now.

  19. If there’s grass on the field then let’s play ball

  20. Regarding:
    “Once they start tearing up the floor in order to go baseball-only, doesn’t it disappear?”

    An NFL field is 360 x 160 feet. Doesn’t that fit into a baseball field?

  21. I don’t think the next team that gets moved in the NFL goes to Toronto, I’m thinking LA is by far a much more interesting market for the NFL to revisit. Toronto shortly there after but to think we get a team before LA is crazy :) I don’t see bluejays and an NFL team sharing a field I think that has happened in the past as a last resort and we probably will never see that ever happen again if a team is moved.

    • I would totally agree with an expansion team but in the case of the Bills, who are already playing games in Toronto, it’s not the same as a traditional relocation.

  22. No mention of Downsview Park in the article you linked to. They are claiming they have a design for a stadium but it isn’t site specific to Downsview Park. Downsview Park shouldn’t be considered a serious option for a stadium.

  23. I think the Bills moving to Toronto is a non-starter. If they leave Buffalo the NFL will have no New York State representation. Giants/Jets play in NJ. That is a lot of revenue going out of the state. Gov. Coumo negotiated the new 10 year lease at the Ralph.

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