Arg­onauts pres­i­dent Copeland not con­cerned about low at­ten­dance

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAN RALPH

TORONTO — It’s been a tough start to the Cana­dian Foot­ball League sea­son for the Toronto Arg­onauts, with more ob­sta­cles ahead. The Ar­gos drew just 11,219 spec­ta­tors to their 28-15 home loss to the B.C. Lions on Fri­day, their low­est at­ten­dance since re­lo­cat­ing to Bank of Mon­treal Field to start last sea­son. And that came af­ter just 13,583 fans at­tended Toronto’s 32-15 sea­son-open­ing win there over the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats on June 25. But Ar­gos pres­i­dent Michael Copeland isn’t con­cerned. “I think we as a group, from own­er­ship right down to man­age­ment and staff, un­der­stand this is a re­build,” he said. “Ask any­one who’s try­ing to build a ma­jor brand, very rarely is it done overnight. “We’re go­ing to take our time and have pa­tience while we do it but work ag­gres­sively each day un­til we reach that goal.” There were fac­tors work­ing against the Ar­gos on Fri­day. Not only was it the start of a hol­i­day week­end but the Toronto Blue Jays were also in ac­tion at Rogers Cen­tre ver­sus the Bos­ton Red Sox. How­ever, the open­ing-night at­ten­dance sent up red flags, as Hamil­ton is usu­ally a solid draw for the Ar­gos. Last year, 24,812 spec­ta­tors — many clad in Hamil­ton’s black and gold colours — watched the Ti­cats beat Toronto 42-20 to kick off the 2016 cam­paign. Copeland said be­cause Toronto is in re­build mode and has a sea­son-ticket base that’s smaller than other fran­chises — Copeland wouldn’t pro­vide specifics — the Ar­gos are vul­ner­a­ble to such vari­ables as weather and week­night games. “We have to work through things. We have to ex­pect things are go­ing to be un­pre­dictable.” he said. “But we also think we’ve got a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity with this mar­ket, one that the Ar­gos have a his­tor­i­cal place in. “We just need to re­con­nect a new gen­er­a­tion of fans to the Ar­gos and bring the ex­ist­ing gen­er­a­tion of fans to the new ex­pe­ri­ence at BMO Field.” Toronto heads on the road for its next two games: in Ot­tawa on Satur­day be­fore vis­it­ing Win­nipeg on July 13. And when the Ar­gos re­turn July 24 host­ing Ot­tawa and Aug. 4 ver­sus Calgary, they’ll face the added chal­lenge of try­ing to at­tract fans to week­night con­tests Toronto av­er­aged 16,168 fans per game in 2016, their first at Bank of Mon­treal Field. Fol­low­ing Fri­day’s game, the Ar­gos pre­sented fans who at­tended with the op­por­tu­nity to pur­chase tick­ets to the next two home games at 33-per-cent dis­counts. “Our job and pri­or­ity is to get as many peo­ple into the sta­dium that we can be­cause we know they’re go­ing to come back,” Copeland said. “What we’ve heard is al­most uni­ver­sally peo­ple have loved the ex­pe­ri­ence so that’s what ticket of­fers are di­rected at achiev­ing.” Copeland doesn’t be­lieve Toronto’s at­ten­dance woes are be­cause their ticket prices are too high. “We have af­ford­able tick­ets, tick­ets as low as $20 so we don’t think ticket prices are an is­sue,” he said. “Hon­estly, I think the is­sue we have now is one of aware­ness be­cause we’re play­ing in a mar­ket that has some in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful teams. “The Blue Jays have been in the play­offs the last two years, the Rap­tors in the play­offs, the Leafs in the play­offs, Toronto (FC) Foot­ball Club in the play­offs. Last year was prob­a­bly the busiest sports cal­en­dar in the his­tory of the city. The Arg­onauts are com­ing off a long stretch of time where it was not af­ford­able to mar­ket the club in a way to main­tain that level of rel­e­vance and aware­ness and I think it’s just get­ting our­selves on the path.” The Ar­gos av­er­aged 47,356 in their hey­day in 1976 at Ex­hi­bi­tion Place. In 2014, the av­er­age Rogers Cen­tre reg­u­lar-sea­son crowd was 17,791 — down from 21,926 in 2013 and 23,690 in 2012. Toronto moved to BMO Field fol­low­ing 27 sea­sons at Rogers Cen­tre. Al­though Rogers is a domed fa­cil­ity with a ca­pac­ity ex­ceed­ing 52,000 for foot­ball, the Ar­gos strug­gled there, av­er­ag­ing just 12,431 spec­ta­tors in 2015. “I think ev­ery­thing we did last year in terms of build­ing the game ex­pe­ri­ence at and around BMO Field with tail­gat­ing, lever­ag­ing the ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic sight­lines ... we think we’re now in a po­si­tion to grow,” he said. “It may take some time (but) we’re pa­tient.”

TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Ar­gos ban­ners are raised at Bank of Mon­treal Field in front of seas of empty seats prior to the sea­son opener against Hamil­ton.

TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Michael Copeland, Toronto Arg­onauts pres­i­dent, ex­pects things to im­prove as they find their way in a crowded mar­ket.

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