Boxing Day blowout: on the hunt for Argos gear at Toronto’s Eaton Centre

Finding CFL merchandise at sporting goods stores in Manitoba is something that I’ve always taken for granted.

The Blue Bombers have a massive team store located at Investors Group Field that sells virtually every type of merchandise imaginable. The club has also been known to create satellite shops for special occasions — trip sites, extra holiday stores, and more.

Local independent retailers also carry gobs of Bomber gear, the popularity of which is surpassed only by that of the Winnipeg Jets (if even by a small margin). Saskatchewan Roughrider gear is also popular in many Manitoba sporting goods stores, particularly on the west side of the province.

Despite the popularity of the Bombers (and, to a lesser extent, Riders), all nine CFL teams are typically represented in Manitoba sports retail stores. Do you want a B.C. Lions cap, Ottawa Redblacks toque or Hamilton Tiger-Cats t-shirt? The selection might not be great, but there’s a good chance you could find any of these items at almost any sports outlet in the province of Manitoba.

This, as I’ve learned, isn’t the case in every CFL market.

I was in Montreal during the summer of 2014 for a holiday with my then-girlfriend (now fiancée) and I planned before the CFL schedule was released. To my great pleasure (and her dismay), the schedule would later reveal that Winnipeg was to play in Montreal during our stay in La Belle Province. I insisted on getting tickets to the game and we later attended what would end up being an excellent contest — Chad Johnson scored his only career CFL touchdown, while Winnipeg won 34-33 on a last-minute Drew Willy touchdown pass.

We spent a few hours at two of Montreal’s largest shopping centres prior to the game in Centre Eaton de Montréal and Place Montreal Trust. I stopped in at every sporting goods store between the two facilities to get an idea of the professional sports landscape in Montreal.

Canadiens merchandise could be purchased seemingly everywhere (and not just at sporting goods stores, but general retailers as well), while Expos gear was surprisingly plentiful. Alouettes gear, meanwhile, was virtually nowhere to be found. The one store that carried Alouettes merchandise had only three hats for sale, all of which were covered in a thin layer of dust. Unsurprisingly, none of the stores I checked out sold gear bearing the logos of any other CFL teams.

I’ve found this to be the case in my travels to Toronto, which occur on at least an annual basis. My fiancée is from Toronto originally, so we’ve been making semi-regular trips there since we started dating over six years ago.

Interested to see if the club’s recent Grey Cup victory was beginning to shift Toronto’s sporting landscape, I ventured to the Eaton Centre (which, at 1.7 million square feet, is easily Toronto’s largest shopping complex) on Boxing Day in search of Argonaut gear. This shopping trip was both ambitious and misguided — while I was excited to conduct some field research, the Eaton Centre was sure to be an unmitigated disaster of overcrowded hallways, congested stores, and (justifiably) irritable retail workers.

I arrived at the Eaton Centre at approximately 2:00 PM and quickly made my way to the first stop of the day: Lids on the main floor.

Lids is exclusively a hat store, but that suited me just fine — it has a ton of sports gear, meaning it was possible that I would succeed in locating some Argonaut merchandise.

The store carried hats bearing the logos of almost every team imaginable. I saw every MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA franchise represented, including some (ie. the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Huskies) that no longer exist. Some of the NBA hats in the photo above bare Chinese symbols, which I suspect are related to the league’s decision to play a preseason game in Shanghai this past October.

After a thorough search of the store’s NFL section — it quickly became evident that there was no CFL section present in the shop — I began to lose hope of finding an Argonaut hat among the thousands of ‘lids’ available for sale.

Finally, I resorted to asking the nearest salesperson if the store carried any Toronto Argonauts hats. He remained silent, seemingly bewildered by my question — it was as if I’d asked about the Tokyo Katanas, not a local professional sports franchise.

I quickly found a different sales associate and posed the same question. Fortunately, this salesperson had clearly heard of the Toronto Argonauts before.

“You bet!” he said. “You came at the right time — we’re down to our last two Grey Cup caps.”

It was a very small amount of merchandise, but it was merchandise nonetheless. It also appeared to be selling, given that stock was virtually depleted.

I asked the salesperson if the store planned to carry regular Argos gear once the Grey Cup championship merchandise ran out. He told me that he didn’t know.

My next stop was Sport Chek on the basement level. I quickly spotted an area of the store that exclusively featured Toronto-area teams (pictured below) and felt encouraged by the fact that the Argos’ logo was featured alongside those of the Leafs and Blue Jays.

From there I found a rack of Argos sweaters and jerseys, followed shortly by a small selection of toques.

The selection wasn’t stellar, but the amount of available merchandise far surpassed my expectations. I also found it funny that the majority of the Argos’ merchandise was located next to the store’s collection of Toronto FC gear (see below), pairing two organizations that haven’t always enjoyed the best working relationship.

As seen in the photo above, large security tags have been placed on all of the Argonauts jerseys. This may be standard procedure for more expensive sale items, but it’s encouraging to see that Sport Chek believes a thief might genuinely consider stealing an Argonauts jersey.

It took a few minutes to find an available salesperson — the store was absolutely packed — but I eventually was able to inquire about the gear.

The salesperson told me that the store only started carrying Argos gear in the summer of 2017. He didn’t normally work in the clothing department — he was only covering clothing sales for Boxing Day — so he couldn’t speak to how well the gear sold on a daily basis. He did, however, mention that he often saw Argos hoodies and t-shirts on the store’s low-stock ordering list, meaning that it had to be selling at least relatively well.

When I asked him if he thought sales would continue to be strong into the winter, he chuckled.

“We just won the Grey Cup!” he laughed. “Of course people are going to be interested in merch.”

Sport Chek also carried the only non-Argo CFL gear I found at the Eaton Centre (see below). Regrettably, I did not think to ask how well the CFL or specialty Roughrider footballs were selling.

I stopped in at a few generic clothing stores after Sport Chek, figuring it was possible that one or two sold sports gear. After failing to find Jays or Leafs merchandise at any of them, I figured it was a safe bet that the Argos would be unrepresented as well.

Speaking of the Blue Jays, the Eaton Centre is home to the Jays Shop, the only standalone Toronto Blue Jays store outside of Rogers Centre. It’s a relatively large space and one that I’d visited the previous year to buy a gift for a friend.

I wasn’t optimistic about finding any Argos gear for sale — the Jays, after all, are owned by Rogers, an organization that has not always been kind to the CFL. That said, a salesperson in another store insisted that he’d seen Argos gear for sale in the Jays Shop weeks before, prompting me to investigate.

The Jays Shop was an absolute zoo when I’d visited it a few days after Boxing Day last year. The Jays were fresh-off an 89-win season that had earned the club an AL wildcard berth, marking the second-straight season of playoff baseball in Toronto.

Venturing into the store this year, it was clear that interest in the Jays had waned following a disappointing 76-win 2017 season. Everything in the store was thirty percent off, yet I counted fewer patrons (eight) than sales staff (nine). And, unsurprisingly, there was no Argonaut gear (or any non-Blue Jays gear, for that matter) to be found in the store.

For perspective, the small EB Games location opposite the Jays Shop was packed with a forty-person line out the door. Several other stores on the same floor — mostly clothing retailers — had reached capacity as well, albeit with shorter lines.

Finally I reached Champs Sports on the second floor, my final stop of the day. Having been to a few Champs locations before, I was felt relatively confident that I’d find some double-blue in the store — if Lids and Sport Chek were repping the Argos, I figured Champs would follow suit.

After a short perusal of the store it quickly became clear that NBA merchandise was king at Champs. There was a smattering of Leafs and Jays gear, but Steph Curry and LeBron James jerseys were front and centre on the store’s back wall.

I found a salesperson to inquire about whether or not I’d missed the store’s selection of Argos merchandise. The response I received was discouraging.

“Do you sell Toronto Argonauts gear?”

“No.”

“Have you ever sold Toronto Argonauts gear?”

“No.”

“Will you ever start selling Toronto Argonauts gear?”

“No.”

So there it is. On the most popular shopping day of the year at the largest shopping centre in the largest city in the country, a fan of the Toronto Argonauts could theoretically have purchased a cap, jersey, hoodie or toque baring the team’s logo.

There’s no guarantee that Lids will continue to carry Argo gear into the new year, but it appears that Sport Chek is having some success with moving team products.

Winning generates fan interest, particularly in a competetive marketplace like Toronto. If the Argos can continue sitting atop the East Division, perhaps there will be more demand for Argos gear in and around our country’s largest city in the future.

John Hodge

John Hodge

John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.
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John Hodge
About John Hodge (344 Articles)
John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.

35 Comments on Boxing Day blowout: on the hunt for Argos gear at Toronto’s Eaton Centre

  1. Fun article. Thanks.

  2. antoine lussier // January 6, 2018 at 9:55 am //

    you should have tried VALUE VILLAGE,THE MENNONITE CENTRAL COMMITTEE THRIFT SHOPS AND OF COURSE Goodwill—all offer discount items. unfortunately you will not find RIDER MATERIALS AT THOSE PLACES.

  3. Hey Hodge

    Have you been drinking ? Or are you on quota for somewhat fashionable Toronto articulate sport articles ?

  4. Magestic McMahon // January 6, 2018 at 10:40 am //

    Basically all the merchandise had sold out except at Champs, which is a US based store anyways.
    Looks like Argos are selling more than the riders!
    Another rider myth shot down!

  5. Lucashaye // January 6, 2018 at 10:41 am //

    With MLS’ now owning the Argos, hopefully the marketing machine of that organization will give the Argos a bigger presence in these stores but don’t hold your breath.

    • Agreed! TFC gear is hot and a lot of young people want it, especially the millenials.
      There isn’t the demand for Argos stuff, as simple as that!!
      Why do you think the Argos average less than 14k for 9 home games and TFC average 28k for 20 home games?
      Soccer shirts are cool and people like to wear them, football jerseys are just not cool and not fashionable to wear.

      • Back to the negativity eh Jim?

      • “Why do you think the Argos average less than 14k for 9 home games and TFC average 28k for 20 home games?”
        Because in bandwagon Toronto, a TFC game is the place to be seen.
        If there is such interest in the soccer team, why are their TV numbers so pathetic. To suggest TFC is anything more than a niche team is foolish. Same goes for the Raptors and Argos. Frankly, you could even throw the Jays in there. If the Jays lose, the numbers decrease massively.

  6. Blobsquatch // January 6, 2018 at 10:52 am //

    Nice article about a heartbreaking topic I know only too well. While the past decade has been an absolute wasteland for CFL merchandise here in the Golden Horseshoe, in the past couple of years some Tiger-Cat stuff has been sighted in a couple of unlikely places – Walmart and the discount store Giant Tiger.

    • As per my comments above it’s about DEMAND – if there is a market for the sportswear they will buy it.
      Just look at the TFC shirts etc.
      The only people buying Argo merchandise are Argo fans and they aren’t that many of them.
      Why would a store go out and purchase Argo gear when there is no demand for it??

  7. William Gertler // January 6, 2018 at 11:17 am //

    John,

    Re: The Jays Store

    There are two separate locations. One at the Eaton Centre and one at the Rogers Centre itself. Others had reported seeing Argos merchandise at the Rogers Centre Jays store presumably left over from when the Argos played there.

    • Probably still trying to get rid of the leftover Argo gear two years later.
      They aren’t going to sell any of that at the RC

    • Thanks for the note, William. The person I talked to specified that he was referring to the Jays Store at the Eaton Centre, but it’s possible he was misremembering where he saw the gear for sale.

  8. Listen there is enough Argo gear out there for All fifty-four hundred and eleven Argo Fans(Toronto Does Not Care About The CFL).

    • You keep following those loser blow jays and raptors! Both of them have ZERO chance at a championship,like the Argos accomplished. Oh I know you follow those American based sports because of the exposure of the American media…right? Oh course I’m right

      • Stamps are losers too, pal.

      • Stick to the topic – he is right.
        There is NO DEMAND in Toronto for Argo gear, whether you think the Jays are not going to make it or not, makes no difference to outlets selling Argo gear.
        By the way – there is huge demand for TFC gear and they just won the MLS CUP

        I don’t get your anti-American comment either, without our US players and coaches we don’t have a CFL.
        There are more Americans on the Argos than the Jays, Raptors, TFC combined

        • “there is huge demand for TFC gear”? Guess they over ordered at the stores in Mississauga. Rack after rack of full shelves.
          TFC has a great following of 50000 in Toronto that passionately support their team. In terms of mass appeal, it may be just slightly larger than the Argos (and that is because it is the place to be seen in current Toronto).
          Perhaps you could advise why TFC TV numbers are so pathetic for regular season games. For a team with such a huge following, shouldn’t they be larger?

      • Ridersnhabs // January 6, 2018 at 6:53 pm //

        So you laugh because of the poor attendance at Argo games then you laugh at the fans for following them . Does your pee brain grasp just how stupid you actually sound . If I were a stamps fan I would be totally embarrassed that you are a stamps fan .

    • How is the Toronto NFL gear selling?

  9. Welcome to Southern Ontario, John.

    I live in Oakville (half-way between Toronto and Hamilton) and finding CFL merchandise (Ticats, Argos or other) has been virtually impossible for years. When my kids were little (20 years ago), I’d try to find CFL stuff but without much luck unless, I ventured into downtown Hamilton to the then Ticats’ store in the Jackson Square indoor mall.

    Today, the Ticats’ store onsite at Tim Hortons Field has an excellent selection of merchandise and is open during home games and also normal retail hours at other times, but the location isn’t convenient to get to (i.e. its a special trip).

    In Burlington, at Sports Obsession, you can find one small section of CFL hats and t-shirts, but that’s it. Like most similar stores, it caters to the NHL, NFL and MLB….and oh yes, NCAA teams.

    All this is, of course the result of several things the CFL has either done poorly, or not done at all, to promote the game in S. Ontario (where extra effort is needed due to all the competition for the average sports fan’s dollar).

    The TV blackouts in the late 20th Century resulted in a lost generation of fans – those now aged 40 to 55, and also their kids (if you don’t follow the CFL, why would your kids?).

    With television and the web as distractions, Football = NFL and/or NCAA. Fans cheer for teams located in places they have no physical connection to (having never been to a game – except perhaps one or two trips to Buffalo), and probably couldn’t find the home town of their favourite NCAA team on a map (where is Auburn, anyway?).

    So message to the CFL: Get off your collective butts and do some marketing where it is needed! Visit schools and give away caps and free tickets to the kids for games at BMO Field. Sell the game for the next generation!

    As for my son (now 32), he still loves the Ticats, and we get to a couple of games a year. But that isn’t because of CFL marketing, its because his Dad has taken him to games since he was 8 years old.

    • Also the fact that kids don’t play football, very few schools in the GTA still have football teams.
      But every school has a boys and girls soccer team.
      Young kids do not identify with football.
      Less than 14k average for Argo games but 28k average for TFC games, that tells you something.
      The Argos are NOT| major league in Toronto, that will not change. It is a small market town for the CFL

  10. that’s the part that i can’t understand or relate to – what is the attraction of devoutly cheering for a team that you have no physical connection to, ie, if its not your local town, province or country? i may watch the odd nfl game with casual interest, for example, but where is the emotional investment to be made when its one american city vs another?

  11. It’s always helpful to ask for Argos stuff if they don’t carry it … businesses do respond to demand.

  12. The Argonauts uniforms are one of the best looking of the CFL… can you imagine sales if they were gaudy like the Raptors or FC(BMO)? Great designs that the Argos, Leafs and current Jays use should not be tampered with.

    • Magestic McMahon // January 6, 2018 at 6:37 pm //

      Stamps are better. Especially the 3rd outlaw uniform with the 2 toned helmets.
      Toronto has played around too much with theirs over the years to be considered classics

  13. Mr . Majestic

    I’m thrilled that you brought into respect about – family in Saskatchewan and that it matters as a life style concerning football , I believe that is a very true comment but I do think that hockey and baseball matter also concerning family relationships as a whole unit in the healthy environment of a province.

    I always find it very strange when I read comments from the Star or G&M that football is the only game in town in Sask and that’s why they have such good support for the CFL game

    That couldn’t be further from the truth , look at how many NHL , MLB and NFL players have come from that province – even ESPN have indicated about the NFL sniffing about an exhibition game in Regina and not a word about from our eastern press – call it jealous or just idiots toward the west .

    It all comes down to where – those people in that province ‘Love’ sports and major US colleges and TV networks recognize this
    Not sure what is happening to this nation – but sports does bring us together !

    • Provemewrong // January 7, 2018 at 12:12 am //

      Saskatchewan is a resource province. Get a commodity, oil, potash. people, and send it to a place that can make something out of it. Saskatchewan is a pool of stuff that real places can make better. Get it?

  14. I walked into a small independent sports store in my small town west of Toronto with my Argos sweatshirt. Seeing my top, the owner said, “I usually don’t see much Argos gear around here.” I looked around his store and replied, “Neither do I.”
    I’m not expecting him to start stocking CFL gear (his shop specializes in hockey & lacrosse). But I think it helps to let retailers know that fans would be interested in it.

  15. I’ll second Ticats63’s comment — it’s been an ongoing issue in Southern Ontario, not just Toronto. I can’t speak for Ottawa, but trying to find CFL gear outside of a team store is a futile effort in the Toronto and Hamilton area.

    The Ticats have had their own shops in various locations. I remember a limited stock of stuff in the 1980s when they had their first downtown ticket office on Hughson St., and later on there was there was the outlet in Jackson Square, then the Roar Store that I think had locations in a couple of Hamilton malls. Then the team went back to having a downtown main office (Jarvis St.) with a store attached and better temporary outlets at Ivor Wynne, and there may have been a shop at Lime Ridge Mall. Today the team store is at THF and has an excellent selection of all kinds of stuff, but it seems to be the only official retailer in the city… they were selling things at Campus Crew in Lime Ridge but it’s closing (not sure if it’s moving within the mall?). There is nothing in Burlington, Oakville, Niagara… and I rarely see gear in sporting goods stores.

    What’s more, the last time I was in the Tiger-Cats Shop I don’t recall seeing anything for other teams. Even their website only has Ticats products — you’d think it would be especially easy to add merchandise offerings for the whole league online???

    Even the CFL website has nothing. There’s a dead link titled “Shop” buried behind one of the main links along the top of the page, but that’s it.

    We do need to ask for this as consumers, but some of the teams and the league need to do a far better job making merch available.

  16. Green Pastures // January 7, 2018 at 3:53 pm //

    Jersey City at Market Mall in Calgary has a great selection of Riders stuff.

  17. Scottsask // January 7, 2018 at 5:28 pm //

    ……and they outsell the Stamps.

  18. Unfortunately even at the Eastern Final they didn’t have my size for a Wilder Jr. jersey. Had to get it online.

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