Argos want CFL to acknowledge Toronto rent disparity

Housing prices across Canada continue to rise to record highs and the general manager in the CFL’s most expensive market is hoping the league will finally take notice.

The average Toronto home will set a prospective buyer back $1,334,544 as of February, a 28 percent year-over-year increase. Even the average condominium costs upwards of $800,000, presenting a real challenge for Argonauts general manager Pinball Clemons in a league where the minimum player salary is $65,000.

“We’re on a conference call with the B.C. Lions right now trying to figure that out,” the CFL icon joked when asked about the ramifications of the housing crisis on player recruitment.

The cost of living is a struggle for many Canadians, but even the ever gregarious Clemons couldn’t sidestep its possible implications for the CFL. While the lure of the big city is enough to draw top players to Toronto, the reality is that few will ever be able to afford to put down roots in their new home. That provides a real hurdle for Argos’ management that Clemons hopes will soon be addressed by the league.

“That’s a trouble spot for us trying to figure that out. We are restless around that,” he admitted. “We would like for acknowledgment of that from a league perspective because we do believe there should be some level of balance that takes place there.”

From the Argos’ perspective, players and staff might eschew The Six in favour of the cheaper real estate in places like Regina. However, any form of equalization from the CFL league office would be difficult to implement without loopholes for teams to exploit and likely to receive pushback from smaller market teams that feel Canada’s major cities have much more important advantages.

While Pinball may hope to find a kindred spirit from the league’s Vancouver team, where houses go for an average of $1,313,400, Lions’ co-general manager Neil McEvoy felt the issue was less important than it has often been made up to be.

“I’m not sure how many young Canadian or American players coming up to Vancouver are gonna be dipping into the housing market,” he said, noting most players rent for the season and don’t live in the city year-round.

“In reality, everything else is pretty much the same. Gas is a little higher, but at the end of the day, people want to play in Vancouver because of the weather. I haven’t worn a jacket for three months, where if you come up to Southern Ontario, it’s snowing today.”

For the CFL’s most financially vulnerable players on the practice roster, housing is provided by the team. Those on the active roster have to foot the cost of rent themselves, a cost on average of $1,925 in Toronto and $1,450 in Vancouver. However the team is there to provide support in finding affordable options close to the team’s facilities.

“We do our homework on where guys can stay, what part of Vancouver you’re living in and how much the rent is,” Lions’ head coach Rick Campbell added. “We also sell it. There’s a lot of benefits to playing football in Vancouver and living in Vancouver and playing in a dome and all those things. There’s a lot of positives, too.”

With many players still opting to play in the major North American markets of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal over smaller and more football-hungry towns, it seems unlikely that the Argos will receive their desired housing relief any time soon.

“Right now, it’s just a challenge and all of us in our particular places have challenges, so we’ll accept this one,” Clemons said, begrudgingly.

Living in the centre of the Canadian universe will have to be a nice consolation prize.

Abbott is a UBC student, youth coach and lifelong CFL fanatic. He specializes in coverage of the CFL draft and the league's global initiative.