Argo tailgaters will have to leave booze at home

Tailgating is coming to Toronto this season but football fans accustomed to bringing their coolers full of beer and partying with the masses might be disappointed.

The Argonauts’ tailgate party will be limited to about 250 vehicles, and while beer and other beverages will be sold, bringing booze from home won’t be allowed due to Ontario’s strict liquor laws.

Designated parking lots near the team’s new permanent home, BMO Field, will open at least three hours prior to kickoff and those participating in the tailgate party will have to pay an additional $5 on top of the parking fees of $30 or $35. Beer prices have been set at $4 and fans will be allowed to bring a barbecue.

President Michael Copeland said the team is hoping to create a new culture among Argos fans, who’ve not been able to enjoy the tailgating experience at the team’s old stadium, Rogers Centre, which was located a dense area of downtown Toronto.

“I’ve taken part in tailgating at the University of Michigan and other pro stadiums and it’s a great part of the experience,” Copeland said Wednesday at a news conference in a parking lot near BMO Field. “Some of my best memories are of times I’ve spent with my friends and family that lead into the games themselves and we need to bring that to the people of Toronto.

“I think it’s really going to create an event on game day.”

With the NFL’s Buffalo Bills only a couple hours away, Toronto football fans may be familiar with more traditional tailgating – thousands of fans arriving at dawn with their coolers stocked with beer and barbecues ready to grill an assortment of tasty dishes. These gatherings are largely self-regulated with little to no police presence and many fans are often well lubricated by gametime.

While there will be security at Argos events, Copeland said the goal is not a boozefest.

“People are going to be able to create their own experience and know they have the freedom to have fun,” he said. “This is going to be a family experience . . . we want people to be able to enjoy a beer, to barbecue a hot dog or hamburger but over-consumption is not part of the equation.

“That behaviour is not going to be able to take root and we don’t think it will. It’s not part of Argos football.”

Ontario’s liquor regulations don’t deter Hamilton football fans from filling their coolers in parking lots around Tim Hortons Field prior to Ticats’ games. The key, though, is an overwhelming majority act responsibly.

Copeland said vehicle checks will be conducted and limits imposed on the number of beers Argos fans can purchase.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who served as CFL chairman and commissioner in the 1990s, applauded the initiative, saying it’s crucial for the league that the Argos thrive.

“To me, it’s very important this survive and thrive and in the biggest market in the country,” he said. “It has to be going here for the rest of the league to do well.

“It’s in my blood . . . and now I’m the mayor of the city and I want our team to do well, to be successful and win the Grey Cup.”

The venture is an attempt by the Argos to attract more fans. Toronto averaged just 12,431 spectators last season at Rogers Centre – which had a capacity exceeding 52,000 for football – with fans complaining about the proximity of the field in the domed facility as well its cold, antiseptic atmosphere.

At BMO Field, the Argos will play in a refurbished outdoor stadium with a seating capacity of roughly 27,000 that will expand to 38,000 for the Grey Cup game in November.

Toronto begins the regular season June 23 hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats although limited parking spots will be available its June 11 exhibition game.

Season-ticket holders will have first shot at purchasing the spots but some will be reserved for the general public.

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