How do you fix CFL apathy in Toronto? It’s the question that has perplexed some of Canadian football’s best and most ambitious minds for decades, but in the opinion of one reporter, it simply may not have an answer.
Stampeders’ beat reporter Danny Austin joined The Rod Pedersen Show and spent considerable time talking about his boyhood team, revealing that he believes the Argos decline in fan interest may be endemic.
“If you spend enough time covering this league, you realize that sometimes the problems just don’t go away,” Austin remarked. “I do think that is a big problem. Maybe winning helps, maybe this group being really good can get in the conversation, but I don’t see the solution.”
Growing up in the Toronto, Austin and his friends regularly attended Argos games. Now he fears the disconnect with those of his generation and younger is larger than most people recognize.
“I hate saying this but I know so many people, they don’t even realize that the Argos are playing. They don’t even know that the Argos exist at this point. I think that the challenge is so much bigger [than people realize],” he explained.
“I have this problem where when I get home, all of my friends want to know what’s going on with the CFL, but in Toronto, it doesn’t slap them in the face. They don’t get confronted with it. The CFL can be too easy to ignore and that is not simply a Toronto problem. That’s a problem here in Calgary, that’s a problem certainly in Vancouver and Montreal, it’s a problem in a lot of markets. It just needs to be automatic that you know what’s going on with your CFL team.”
Some of that is the fault of the league through its failure to market effectively, but many Toronto media outlets simply aren’t spending money to cover the CFL. As a print journalist, Austin knows that is an issue across the country, but the centre of the universe has the greatest disparity between media infrastructure and dedicated coverage.
“There are four daily newspapers in Toronto, the Toronto Sun is the only one that has any coverage, that’s Frank Ziccarelli,” Austin noted. “There’s no visibility. It’s a chicken and egg situation that really depresses me, because I honestly did grow up going to Argos games.”
Those issues have gotten worse in recent years despite moving into the more CFL appropriate BMO Field and getting stable ownership in the form of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. The oldest franchise in North American professional sports has become the butt of the joke nationwide in a way Austin simply doesn’t feel is merited.
“Actual Argos fans, if you’re on Twitter, they’re really cool. They’re awesome, they know football, they love their football and I think that they get dumped on a little bit by the rest of the CFL and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.
Austin simply wishes there were more of them and he has no quick-fix solution to that issue. It may always be that way no matter what, a problem so insurmountable that even an excellent organization can’t dig itself out of the hole.
“It’s so tough to talk about because the people who are literally with the Argos right now are doing everything right. Pinball, the executive, all the way down, I love what they’ve done with that team. I want to be very clear, I think the Argos, to be honest, I’m picking them to come out of the East and I’m doing it now,” Austin predicted.
“I think they’re going to win the Grey Cup and I hope that is communicated and that is understood by fans and by people who might be interested in becoming fans right from the start of the season.”
Even if a star-studded Grey Cup team sparks some level of renewed interest, history has shown that it doesn’t translate long-term. The rest of the CFL may need to keep bailing the Argos boat in perpetuity.