New Argonauts boss says it’s the only way to compete in jam-packed sports market,
Michael Copeland, 46, is the new president and CEO of the Argonauts — who will also have new owners as they move into BMO Field, home of Toronto FC, next season. “We’re going to create some magic around football in this city,” vows Copeland, previously in charge of the CFL’s business operations. “He has incredible knowledge of the league and I think he’ll bring some bright, fresh ideas,” Argos GM Jim Barker said of Copeland, who replaces Chris Rudge. Here is an edited version of an interview with Copeland:
What’s your vision for next season?
We can’t just rely on the stadium itself. This is about changing what it means to be an Argonauts fan. This isn’t going to be a great experience. This is going to be a spectacular experience.
Tell me about your vision for tailgating?
We’re going to create an authentic tailgating experience and we’re going to have that differentiated for families with kids, for young millennials. So you can imagine a traditional tailgate in one area. You can imagine a separate area that’s a family fun zone where kids can throw the football and run around, and parents are in a good environment with their kids. You can think of another high-end corporate hosting area where the corporate community can bring clients. There can also be an experience for the core fan, which will translate right into the stadium.
What’s the model that would best explain your plan?
It’s going to be an Argos experience, but the benchmark that I use is the U.S. college experience. That has a
real sense of community.
How do you compete in a crowded entertainment field?
You’ve got the Leafs and Raptors, but they are sort of more high-end entertainment. You’ve got FC, which is sort of that rough-and-ready young kind of sports fan. You’ve got the Jays, which is more of a relaxed kind of summer experience. This is going to be more of an event, that festival type of event.
You are also challenging old football assumptions such as the need for a coin toss?
Absolutely. I’ve got to be careful with all the coin-toss purists out there, but I think you have to step back and look at everything.
The convert was moved back to 32 yards, something you advocated years ago.
That’s a great example. I remember there was a debate at the board of governors meeting. I was . . . saying, ‘Guys, let’s challenge this. Why does this have to be this way? It’s a bit of a dead point in the game and we can do better.’ It was my first board meeting. Most others were opposed, but over time we realized that this was a great opportunity and I think it proved out.
Is the goal to sell out every game?
What’s going to be capacity?
(It’s) 27,600 for seating with the potential for some standing room on top of that. That’s a great size for us.
The CFL fan represents an older demographic, so how will you address that?
We definitely skew older. We’ve got a great core fan base, but we need to replace that with new fans. There’s going to be an aggressive push to get younger. It’s the 20- to 30-year-olds and developing the next 20- to 30year-olds that we want.
The CFL has an image problem with some fans considering it minor league, so how will you address that?
The NFL is a great league, and I believe there’s lots of room for every sports fan in Toronto for a wide variety of sports. I believe the answer is in creating an unbelievable experience for our fans.
Is it important to make peace with Toronto FC fans?
It absolutely is. I’ve said publicly I’m a TFC fan. I think they deserve to have integrity of their field, integrity of their home stadium. And beyond that, it is good business for me that they’re happy with sharing their home with us.
What’s the latest on ticket prices and seating for next year?
We’re working on developing the final seating map for the football configuration. We hope to have it done in the next few weeks. Once we get that done, we can finalize the ticket pricing. Then people can select their seats for next year. In the interim, we’ve given people the opportunity to put a deposit down ($50) on season tickets at argosatbmofield.ca.
What’s your goal for season-ticket sales?
We would like to be close to 20,000, and we think that’s achievable.
In year one?