Argos president Copeland not concerned about attendance woes

Dan Ralph, Canadian Press

It’s been a tough start to the CFL 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 BMO 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 at BMO Field 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 to BMO Field _ 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 BMO 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 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 the domed facility had a capacity exceeding 52,000 for football the Argos struggled there, averaging just 12,431 spectators in 2015.

Fans often complained about the cold, antiseptic atmosphere at Rogers Centre. By comparison, BMO Field is an open-air facility providing fans with great sightlines of both the field of play and nearby Lake Ontario.

“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.”

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30 Comments on Argos president Copeland not concerned about attendance woes

  1. Having become a new seasons ticket holder last year I am confident that this will succeed – the atmosphere is great and the product is entertaining. If the Argos are able to build a competitive team they’ll draw 20k+ with occasional sell outs for big games (similar to mtl).

  2. Ron Bates // July 4, 2017 at 9:28 pm //

    we all saw the debacles last season and especially opening game when Argos seemed determined to demonstrate fun football as a near SO crowd watched in disbelief. We just read the CEO’s comments. fun football sucks and belongs in the carny’s.

  3. TSN is key to this thing. They need to keep the CFL and the Argos in the spotlight on SportsCentre. They also need to keep having the CFL panel live from BMO field for all the home games there

  4. It will come around in time. The product is great and the venue is solid. The Toronto sports market has more than enough room for the Argos. The “party atmosphere” is what I find the most appealing. Marketing and advertising will get people in the seats but they will need to be a winning team to keep them filled.

    • All of you people are in deep deep deep denial and that is not the answer nobody in Toronto cares face the facts

  5. Not concerned? A city with 5 million people cant draw even 15000 fans to a game? I’d be concerned, probably more people walking around in the Eaton centre than there are at the games…. Gotta support your team through ups and downs. Might just be time to face the facts the Argos time in Toronto is winding down. Consider moving to a city that will actually support the team.

  6. John Broadhead // July 5, 2017 at 10:10 am //

    Seriously. I wanted to go to the home opener but it was 92 bucks for 2!! For the FAMILY section!!

    No way. Toooooo much Argos.

    And as far as “building” or “rebuilding” a brand, that’s unadulrerated BS. The Argos are the oldest continually operating pro sports team in North America.

    They HAD a brand and squandered it.

    • They have a 4 hot dogs/4 drinks and 4 tickets for $99 … you can’t beat that.

      • John Broadhead // July 5, 2017 at 10:35 am //

        See. That’s the one of problems. No one, not even a medium core fan like myself, knows about deals like this.

        Where did you see this deal?

        • it’s not the price it’s the clear fact that nobody in Toronto cares it all died in the late 90’s

  7. Scottsask // July 5, 2017 at 10:11 am //

    Moose Jaw could draw more fans than that.

  8. footballnut // July 5, 2017 at 10:24 am //

    I agree with Scottsask: Moose Jaw could draw bigger… apparently the games are fun but how come so few people? Tired of hearing all the excuses- concerts/blue jays/raptors/price of tea in china… T.O. does not want the CFL and it seems rather obvious- relocate to London… relocate the Lions to Kelowna (call them something like The Okanagan Express or something like that)… kelowna is more of a football town than Vancouver for a league like the CFL imo plus you have 3 commuitities nearby (Penticton/Vernon/Kamloops) to help out with ticket sales and a trip to Kelowna for a summer weekend and a football game is already fun with the Sun playing so I cant imagine anything less on a bigger stage

  9. This Copeland guy is an idiot. Please fire him already!

  10. I’m tired of the excuses “The Yankees were in town. It was the Honda Indy weekend. It was too hot. It was too cold.” Fact is the Toronto football fan focuses so much about the NFL, it’s hurting the Argos. At the moment.

    The other fact is that the failure of the Bills In Toronto series was something of a wake-up call. The NFL has since ruminated on expansion to London, and mused about Germany, but crickets on Canada, especially Toronto. The NFL is NEVER coming to Canada again, outside of a pre-season game here or there. Never ever ever. The Toronto Football fan torpedoed that forever.

    Ownership has it’s work cut out for it in order to return the Argos to prominence, but if any group has the wherewithal and the people to do it, it’s them. Having MLSE basically running the Argos is the best possible situation for them. Ownership has to get serious about marketing the product though. They have it easy with their other properties. The Toronto Maple Leafs are firmly established as THE team in town, and they market themselves. They bought the Raptors when they were on the upswing and just maintained their momentum. The Toronto Rock have always been successful and are a model Lacrosse franchise. MLSE just thought they had to stamp their name on the Argos and people would show up in droves with their wallets open. It took a rough 2016 to learn it doesn’t work like that, and this year will be payment for that lesson.

    Again, if they take their time, be patient and put in the work, they can bring the fans back. It won’t be quick or easy but it can be done.

  11. Mr . Copeland

    Your teams ship is upside down in the water , Rogers would do a better job marketing – and that is saying ‘ nothing ‘

  12. Gooseen // July 5, 2017 at 12:45 pm //

    Technically MLSE doesn’t own the Argos, since Rogers refused to participate in the acquisition from David Braley. It’s actually Larry Tanenbaum’s company and Bell. And since Bell owns TSN, they have a vested interest in making the Argos successful again. But it will take time and 2016 doesn’t go away with a snap of your fingers.

    I know it’s a popular pasttime, but when serious fans say move them to Moose Jaw or Kelowna or Rankin Inlet, that doesn’t inspire the casual fans to fill the seats. The CFL is a family and right now the oldest family member is sick. Do we just cut them loose, or try to make them better again? Who enjoyed seeing the Rough Riders fold, or the original Alouettes (not to mention the Renegades and Concordes)? If Toronto fails, what does that say about the CFL to the casual fan?

    The serious CFL fan can make a difference. Change the narrative. Focus on the positives and refuse to be dragged into the negatives. Be like Kool-Aid Man!

    • Easy to say. In other words pay your 92 bucks and be glad?

      Why not encourage ALL fans with 10 buck upper level seating or similar

      • Gooseen // July 8, 2017 at 11:03 am //

        I’ll say firstly that your second sentence is a great suggestion. No reason to limit marketing to just Argos fans or those with disposable income. Hopefully the Argos can realize $10 (or $5 even) paid for a seat is better than an empty seat. Imagine the message if a family of 4 can attend for $40. (Food and parking costs the same no matter what pro sports game you attend in Toronto.)

        But I wasn’t saying pay 92 bucks and be glad in the way I think you meant it (i.e. just be happy, no complaints, rose-coloured glasses, etc.). It might be a nuance in what it means to be glad – in that I mean being positive. I can complain bitterly about the attendance, or the money, or Toronto’s general malaise toward the Argos, and what does that gain me? Ultimately, it would be enabling in some small way the possibility the Argos die (like the Rough Riders and Alouettes before them). Or I can choose to focus and talk about the positives and help in some small way to keep the Argos alive. And yes, it is easy to say (and do).

  13. Scottsask // July 5, 2017 at 3:42 pm //

    Get off your wallets! 2 Tickets to next weeks game Vs Hamilton, $176.50, this does not include parking, concessions or anything else! I will happily pay to be entertained on a beautiful prairie Saturday night! Go Riders! Yet you fools will pay any amount to watch the Leafs? Get a grip!

  14. Feeling Blue // July 5, 2017 at 3:54 pm //

    It’s about now. Come out and enjoy the experience. Positive works better than negative. Let’s embrace what we have.

  15. Horsieland // July 5, 2017 at 4:11 pm //

    I wonder………………….and I know I’ll get crucified for the suggestion.
    Maybe Toronto looks at the riders (including the 2007 greycup) see the massive support and have the attitude…”If this place likes CFL football so much we must be beyond it!”. That’s not a knock on Regina it’s a knock on Toronto.

    • Gooseen // July 8, 2017 at 11:11 am //

      No one should crucify a legit comment. I don’t think Toronto looks at other cities’ support in comparison to their own (that wouldn’t be very self-centred!). I think there’s a bit of herd mentality that it’s “hip” to knock the Argos, for which a lot of the media will then try to explain this is “the way it is” and what sports fans want/need to know, while ignoring the fact they are keeping the vicious circle going. Toronto is just its own animal.

  16. The over the air advertising wasn’t strong last week …sadly I didn’t even know they were playing …
    I realy want to be a fan but I can’t find Argo hats or jerseys or flags ,stickers ,magnets anywhere …

    Let’s have our Good Friend at Bell help out on all the platforms they own …
    Bell has skin in the game let’s see them step up …

  17. Marty Mathieson // July 5, 2017 at 9:40 pm //

    It is a source of curiosity to me that we tend to look at “Toronto” as if it were one large homogeneous mass, however it is anything but. Downtown Toronto (where media tend to focus) has become a different world politically and culturally from even Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, never mind Bramalea, Oshawa and Barrie. Among the “chattering classes” of downtown, Canadian football is regarded as a sport for hicks from Saskatchewan or even – gasp!’ -Hamilton. As such, to be derided by those of sophistication. IMO, Argos need to concentrate their efforts in the suburban belt and the 905. In large cities, North American football is a niche sport – this is true even in New York and Los Angeles. The key is that, in markets that big, you can survive and even thrive as a niche product. You do NOT have to engage the whole city or region to succeed. Alas, most of the media only look at the world east of Ossington, south of Eglinton, and west of the Beaches.

    • Gooseen // July 8, 2017 at 11:20 am //

      This is bang on. But the Argos shouldn’t limit themselves to suburbia and the 905 area code. I’m a season ticketholder in the 519 area code (1.5 hrs from BMO Field). There are a ton a football fans all around the Toronto area. Somehow, though, a huge portion of them seem to think the NFL (and NCAA) are the only “worthwhile” ones to watch.

      And I don’t get the inference that NCAA football is better than the CFL. How many CFLers come from NCAA? Did they somehow get worse once they went pro? Canadian football is different from American football, not worse or better, but both are professional leagues.

      • Marty Mathieson // July 9, 2017 at 9:56 am //

        Excellent point. As a Tiger-Cat fan, I tend to regard the 519 area code (where I live as well) as Cat territory -but I reckon the teams can share. We compete on the field but off it we want the whole league to succeed.
        Cats came to that epiphany a few years ago that the team was no longer viable if supported just by the City of Hamilton, that it was market regionally or die. That is why the Cats tried so hard to get a stadium site close to major highways.
        The casual fan’s attraction to the NFL (and maybe NCAA as well) has much to do with gambling and/or fantasy football. Do not expect the likes of these to buy a TICKET to a game, which (among other reasons) is why NFL expansion will not happen here.
        IMO, attraction of the NCAA is the hype and hoopla, not the quality of football.

  18. Argos32 // July 5, 2017 at 10:05 pm //

    12,431 average attendance for the Argos in 2015 at the dome. As usual, lazy, lazy reporting. Are we now counting 4 “home” games on the road as games at the dome? The attendance is brutal, no question. But if you are going to go to the trouble of writing the article, at least point out these additional 2015 details.

  19. Interesting that no one has pointed out that several long time fans were disgusted by the new ownership’s treatment of them around pricing for the Grey Cup last year, and tacky follow up…. a tuque?
    Also, previously account manager’s seemed genuinely interested in helping, now it’s just about thevery money.
    So some fans just didn’t renew, but it’s obvious they can’t see the message

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