With the 2020 season cancelled, it seemed a good time to look at some steps the Argos might take in a more pleasant future to increase their level of popularity in Toronto. First let me say that Argos gameday promotions and giveaways have been really good the last few years, and the attempt to have a tailgate atmosphere within Canada’s laws has been admirable. However, the mystery of why the team has never really taken off is one that has eluded many owners and marketing departments over the years. In some ways it is quite simple, since 2000 the team has not been consistently good and even its Grey Cup wins came as a surprise. And I am not so naïve as to suggest that these steps will result in a Roughrider level of fandom exploding in Toronto, but there are some ways to increase engagement.
Saturday night is alright for footballing
The first move does not have to involve the entire league but for the Argos, the team must have their games on the same night every week. It is impossible to create a brand for a weekly game when the gameday is DIFFERENT every week! It just is not a model that allows for people to make plans around or more importantly to casually decide to catch a game on tv or in person. The NFL owns Sunday, and the CFL has made some attempts to claim Friday on TSN but it is not enough. The Argos need to play every Saturday night. Friday night and Saturday afternoon still compete with the Blue Jays in the city and there is some overlap between those fan bases. Saturday night is completely open all summer, as the NHL doesn’t run until October and if a switch to Friday night in October is needed that is an easy move, but Saturday night is Football Night in Toronto.
A Star is Born
This may sound ridiculous or obvious, which scans as I have been consistently accused of being both but there simply is no way for the Argos to become more popular without a star. Of course, every team is looking for a star, but it is more vital for the Argos than all the other fan bases. MLSE needs to be scouring the college ranks in the US to find a mobile quarterback who can be the electricity this team badly lacks. Pinball is an icon in Toronto, the city is hungry for a star and it will pay immediate dividends in terms of interest. The team doesn’t even have to win right away but they have to find the CFL version of Lamar Jackson or for the older crowd, Michael Vick or for the even older crowd, Randall Cunningham. I know, I know. It isn’t easy to go find that player, but they need to pour ALL of their resources into finding this player. A fantastic returner is a good start, if they find one but the team needs more than that to capture the imagination of the Toronto audience.
I believe the children are our future
Sexual Chocolate sang it and I believe it too. The future of the Argos is in the younger generation becoming hooked on the games. It is hard to compete with the kid friendly pyrotechnics of the Raptors or the long tradition of the Leafs but there is a way to try and encourage families to start coming: free tickets for everyone under the age of 18. I know that sounds radical but that is what you come here for and half measures have not had any success to this point in getting the Argos to become popular. Allowing school aged kids to attend the games for free may sound like a money losing proposition but I think it will translate into a successful long-term community of fans. The Argos could even have a set up where 17-year old’s have to sign up for a teen priced season ticket commitment to get their last free year. In concert with this plan is a better school outreach program that connects with all the schools that play football in the GTA. I was a coach in a successful high school football program in the GTA and while there were some connections with the Argos, there were not enough. More visits by players to school practices, more school nights at games in June, and more engagement in September. I know the organization is doing what it can now, but they need to pour more money and people into school outreach.
Taking a cue from the Raptors, my last suggestion is an aggressive move to invite fans from all of Toronto’s cultures to the games. The Raptors were incredibly successful targeting South Asian communities and making them feel a part of the Raptors franchise. Advertising in different languages, with appeals to all the diverse communities that make Toronto such a great city feel welcome at BMO would be a brilliant strategy for the Argos to embrace. Raptor crowds look like Toronto and I would love for Argos games to emulate that. There are millions of sports fans in the city that are being ignored by the franchise and a concerted effort to reach out could translate into a massive increase in fanbase. Creating fan nights that celebrate a cultural community, creating new community specific Argos swag and helping to teach the game to people who have no football experience are plans I hope MLSE takes on.
A lot of these plans take money and I know that it is hard to spend a lot on a franchise that is not bringing in a ton of revenue but the game is a Canadian tradition that is almost as old as the country and everything should be attempted to increase its popularity in the most populous city in Canada!