MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum is concerned with the structure of the CFL, citing low franchise values as a reason why the league needs to embrace change.
“I’m not happy with it. I’m not happy with the structure of the league. My concern is, in the major cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, it’s not attracted the younger fan engagement. You look at value creation and, you know, quite unfortunately, these teams are not worth that much money,” Tanenbaum told Simon Houpt of The Globe and Mail.
“The hockey, basketball or soccer teams are trading at hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases billions of dollars. And you see the Argos, you know, a 106-year-old league, and what value creation are these franchises trading at? You’ve got to look at that and say, Is that success?”
Tanenbaum is the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Argonauts, and Toronto Marlies.
Forbes valued the Raptors at $2.48 billion in October 2021, which is staggering considering the franchise was valued below $1 billion as recently as 2016. The Maple Leafs were valued at $1.8 billion in December 2021, an increase of 64 percent of the past five years.
CFL teams have not experienced similar growth, though there is little data to indicate exactly how values have changed over the past five years.
Stelco reportedly paid $20 million for a 40 percent stake in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in January, marking a valuation of $50 million. It remains unclear how much Amar Doman paid for the B.C. Lions in August 2021 or Gary Stern paid for the Montreal Alouettes in January 2020.
When asked if there was a solution to the league’s challenges, Tanenbaum claimed he had been “working on it,” though it appears he failed about the changes he desired.
“I’m not sure there’s alignment among [some of] the other ownership groups of the other eight teams. The community-owned teams seem to be satisfied with what’s happening in the CFL, so we’re working to see how the Argos fit into that scenario.”
Toronto averaged a league-worst attendance figure of 8,603 fans per game in 2021, finishing dead-last in the CFL for the sixth consecutive season. The figure also marked a 31.1 decrease in ticket sales from in 2019, though some games were affected by Ontario’s COVID-19 regulations.
The club sold 21,492 tickets for the East Final at BMO Field in December, though many were purchased by fans of the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Tanenbaum also stated that he is “always” interested in procuring an NFL team, though there is nothing concrete in the works on that front.