Tips for righting the good ship Argo | Football | CBC Sports

CFLTips for righting the good ship Argo

Posted: Saturday, November 26, 2011 | 12:29 AM

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Toronto Argonauts running back Andre Durie (32) is congratulated by teammates Maurice Mann (left) and DJ Boldin (right) after a touchdown this season. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Toronto Argonauts running back Andre Durie (32) is congratulated by teammates Maurice Mann (left) and DJ Boldin (right) after a touchdown this season. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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After 43 years of growing up with, cheering for and then watching the Toronto Argonauts as a professional journalist, it was beginning to look here like the only person who could find this almost sunken franchise was Dr. Robert Ballard.
 
There is, however, a plan to salvage what's left of the famous old boat.

After 43 years of growing up with, cheering for and then watching the Toronto Argonauts as a professional journalist, it was beginning to look here like the only person who could find this almost sunken franchise was Dr. Robert Ballard.
 
There is, however, a plan to salvage what's left of the famous old boat.
 
We know this because Mark Cohon, the commissioner of the Canadian Football League and man on the spot, told us so at his annual State of the League address on Friday morning in Vancouver.
 
A well-trained executive anticipates the questions before they're asked and already has a practiced answer written. Boy, was Cohon ready for this one.
 
He has to be, because while the rest of the league seems to be doing just fine (even Hamilton, though it's always a tad bumpy down that end of Lake Ontario), the Good Ship Argo is taking on water at a propitious rate.
 
Attendance is dropping, the team stinks, and, as Stephen Brunt pointed out in a column elsewhere, a near-complete apathy has set in around Canada's largest city.
 
If no-one cares enough to even get mad at you for being awful, there's a huge problem.
 
Cohon, who grew up around the McDonald's restaurant experience because of his dad, knows about long-term plans, and short-term fixes.
 
He's going for the former.
 
"Most importantly, it starts with ownership first," he said, before being asked. "David Braley bought the team last March, and speaking with David he really needed to see what he had."
 
"He's now prepared to make changes over the coming year to really start turning around the franchise."
 
Braley has done a superb job in B.C., fixing an organization that couldn't draw and had lost the local public. They're back now, and his sights are set on his other club over in the Big Smoke.
 
Nothing worse than unsolicited advice, but we'll offer some anyway.
 
1. Lower expectations and trade on them.
 
I grew up in Exhibition Stadium, where getting tickets to the Argos before the birth of the Blue Jays was almost impossible. 
 
Bill Gibson's father took Billy and me there for my first game. The ticket was yellow. It sat in the fruit bowl for days at home as I stared at it in wonder.
 
Those days are gone. They are not coming back, and there's no use dreaming about it. Attendance of 50,000 a game? Not a chance.
 
A well-run CFL team can survive financially on 25,000, about 5,000 away for the Argos right now. A reachable goal, and when you get there, trumpet it.
 
Stop apologizing that it isn't bigger. It's unseemly. 
 
2. Reconnect with the old season's ticket holders.
 
"You have to start with the people who are most passionate, and that means you start with your season ticket holders," Cohon said. "You have to turn your season ticket holders into ambassadors.
 
"You have to make them be your champions, you have to give them reasons to be the champion, and part of that has to do with the play on the field."
 
Sure, not stinking out the joint helps a lot, but the best Argo teams I've ever seen were in the Doug Flutie years of 1996 and 1997, and they didn't draw capacity crowds.
 
I had a chat with the daughter of some former long-time ticket holders a few weeks back, and she said her parents stopped going because the games are just too darn loud.
 
That's not the first time I've heard that, either.
 
It's great the Argos can get young fans in, but a little more care for both the old timers who are your core, while keeping the newcomers who are your future entertained would be nice.
 
Turn it down by 50 per cent. Besides, most of your young fans are listening to their own iPods anyway.
 
3. Get your management house in order.
 
The Lions run like a Swiss watch. The Argos run like a Swiss cuckoo clock.
 
Hire one coach. One general manager. One head of Canadian scouting. One head of American scouting. Lots of other scouts.
 
Most important is a general manager American agents will trust when he calls and says "Send your guy up here for two years and we'll turn him into a good ball player."
 
It takes Jim Popp, in Montreal, 10 calls to get one guy. And agents trust him completely.
 
4. Get Michael Lutrell Clemons back no matter what it costs.
 
It might surprise people who look at his big smile and small stature first, but Clemons is one sharp cookie.
 
In addition to being No. 2 behind Bob O'Billovich in all-time coaching wins, the beloved former star is a strong businessman and judge of talent.
 
He's doing well in his other ventures, so getting the man called Pinball back in the fold is going to be expensive. And, it says here, worth every penny.
 
Clemons is the only guy in town who can get people emotionally involved in the Argos again, and he can do it quickly.
 
What the late Bob Ackles was to the B.C. Lions (their legendary president), Clemons can be to the Argos.
 
5. Get a real practice facility.
 
Cohon mentioned this in passing, and it's a huge problem.
 
The collection of sad-looking structures next to a parking lot just doesn't impress guys used to big-time college programs and NFL training camps. Their first impression is second class.
 
Finding a new spot and building something is going to be expensive. How about sharing with the U. of T. downtown at the new Varsity Stadium?
 
There's so much more needed than just this, but it's a start.
 
In Hamilton they yell "Argos suck." They do. Time to fix it.

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