Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Argos ‘very enthusiastic’ about potential CFL-XFL partnership

Graphic courtesy: MLSE

The owners of the Toronto Argonauts are fans of the CFL’s potential partnership with the XFL.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officially purchased the Argos in January 2018, mere months after the double blue pulled off a miracle Grey Cup win in the Snow Globe CFL title game in the nation’s capital.

“The losses have been substantial. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, it’s a company that ultimately has parent companies that are shareholders, it’s about driving value and making profit,” TSN reporter Dave Naylor said on TSN radio 1200 in Ottawa.

“That’s what they did in real estate, that’s what they do in hockey, that’s what they do in basketball, that’s what they do in soccer, they drive franchise values. That’s there business, and their business does not line up right now with the business of the Toronto Argonauts.”

Enter the XFL, The Rock, Dany Garcia, and RedBird Capital. The owners from both leagues have agreed to work together to identify opportunities to innovate, collaborate and grow the game of football.

“From the early days of the XFL-CFL story going public, I started hearing that the Toronto Argos were very enthusiastic about this idea, and were among the most bullish teams that wanted to pursue it — maybe the very most bullish,” Naylor said. 

“The other teams are not getting dragged along on this. They may have been forced to this, to look at it and examine it, but there is broad support across the league for exploring this idea, seeing how far they can take it and what it amounts to. There’s no question the Toronto Argonauts are very much into this idea.”

The Rock has stated he’s excited for the ‘unique opportunity’ the CFL and XFL ‘can potentially create together.’ The most recent incarnation of the XFL lasted just five games before the COVID-19 pandemic put their season on hold, which led to Vince McMahon filing for bankruptcy and selling.

Johnson, Garcia and RedBird Capital were selected as the winning bidders last August for all of the assets of Alpha Entertainment LLC, the parent company of the XFL. It cost $15 million and the goal is to make the XFL a stable league in the future, which could be an agreement with the CFL.

“I don’t know that MLSE would walk away from the CFL if the XFL deal doesn’t happen, but would it shock me? No, it would not,” Naylor said.

“I think there are scenarios where you could have some dominoes drop very quickly if you try to pursue the status quo in the CFL with this business model. At the very least, it could be the way to keep all nine teams invested in their franchises.”

Bell Media and Larry Tanenbaum bought the Argos from David Braley in May 2015 after nearly a year of talks. Rogers did not get involved at that time, with speculation that it was not interested in the franchise because the CFL was tied to Bell, through its broadcast affiliate TSN.

“If your business model for Toronto is that those guys will just keep paying the bills, every week, forever, when 12,000 to 15,000-thousand people show up, that’s a very risky assumption about the future,” Naylor said.

“In the backdrop has always been, but what about Toronto? That’s been the elephant in the room even during good times in the CFL. Until you really solved that, the league’s potential was always going to be held back.”