CFL

Argos president not fazed over Rogers Centre lease issue

Beeston's declaration the Toronto Blue Jays were considering installing natural grass at Rogers Centre was enough to prompt suggestions that such a development would force the CFL's Toronto Argonauts to look for an alternate venue when their current lease expires after this season.
Chris Rudge said while he has met with Rogers Centre officials about a new lease, the CFL club has always kept its stadium options open. (Adrien Veczan/Canadian Press)

The Toronto Blue Jays are investigating natural grass at Rogers Centre but a club spokesman says suggestions of a move away from artificial turf are premature.

Jay Stenhouse, the Blue Jays vice-president of communications, said Thursday the club has discussed the matter for some time but continues to look into the costs involved and what impact it would have on the stadium's ability to stage the wide variety of events it currently does.

"It's something that's being investigated," Stenhouse said. "There are a lot of factors that would play into it.

"We are still investigating our options at this stage. It is a little premature for people for to make assumptions about what the outcome will be."

Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston told season-ticket holders Jan. 30 that the club was considering the installation of grass for baseball games at Rogers Centre, but also added fans shouldn't get their hopes up. Still, Beeston's declaration was enough to prompt suggestions that such a development would force the CFL's Toronto Argonauts to look for an alternate venue when their current lease expires after this season.

That's because, according to reports, in order to sustain a grass field, the section of seats along the first- and third-base sides for baseball would have to be anchored in place and unable to move to accommodate a football configuration. Essentially, that would make Rogers Centre a baseball-only facility from April through October and force the Argos to look for a new home as early as next season.

But Stenhouse said the Blue Jays haven't made any definitive decisions about the playing surface at Rogers Centre.

"It has been discussed over the years many times," he said. "But it became more prominent after Paul was asked about the possibility at the state of the franchise event in January.

"I think it's safe to say leaders of both organizations [Blue Jays and Argos] have open dialogue and continue to talk."

Argos president Chris Rudge said while he has met with Rogers Centre officials about a new lease, the CFL club has always kept its stadium options open.

"We're always looking at what our alternatives might be regardless of whether this situation arose or not," he said. "The bigger issue we've been facing for many years is whether or not the Rogers Centre will allow us to create the kind of compelling football experience our fans would like.

"That has always been a discussion and always will be. This tends to shed a different light on it and if in fact it were to come to fruition at some point, it would bring a sense of urgency to the decision that we haven't had in the past … but certainly we've not been given any ultimatums or anything like that. It's another reason for us to re-assess where we can best serve our customers, our fans, but it's not something we have to panic about that's for sure."

Currently, both the Blue Jays and Argos play their games on AstroTurf, a synthetic surface that can be lifted and reconfigured quickly for baseball and football. It usually takes roughly 30 hours to convert Rogers Centre from baseball to football, 20 hours to remove the baseball diamond to get to the concrete floor and 16 hours go from a full football field to concrete.

But questions exist regarding whether a natural grass surface can be configured from baseball to football and if so, for how much? Other issues include the costs of daily maintaining a natural grass field that's used by two pro sports franchises annually — the Blue Jays play 81 home games and the Argos suit up for between nine and 11 — and what impact that would have on the venue's ability to stage various trade shows, concerts, private functions and other entertainment and sporting events.

Among the challenges faced with a natural grass field would be ensuring the surface got enough sunlight as well as building a sufficient drainage system.

"I talk to Paul Beeston on a regular basis and I know they [Blue Jays] will be fair with us," Rudge said. "They have a lot to go through before this ever even approaches being a reality.

"There are many options that might be available to us and I think to put any of them out there would be inappropriate at this time. There are many things we're looking at but I'm not going to lose sleep over this."

now