The Grey Cup is coming back to Toronto in 2007 and it’s not a moment too soon.
It has been almost a generation since the CFL’s national championship was played in its largest market. By the time 2007 comes around, it will have been 15 long years in between drinks.
Anyone who recalls the 1992 Grey Cup “festival” will understand why the Grey Cup has been a stranger for so long. It was a tired old act that featured two Western teams (Calgary beat Winnipeg, 24-10) in a city where the CFL was no longer the thing to do. The host city responded with utter indifference and Grey Cup week got trampled in the normal day-to-day hum.
But that was then and this is now. After about a dozen different incarnations under as many ownership groups, the Argonauts finally are getting it right. If the football buzz in the city translates into ticket sales, they may very well put a crowd of 45,000 - 50,000 into the Rogers Centre this Sunday in the East final against Montreal. It has been decades since that many people attended a CFL game in this city, just for the football.
Now, the time is right to bring back the Grey Cup. After the 1992 fiasco, there were plenty on the league board of directors who said, “Never again!” and they had every right to do so. With towns such as Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg, whose populations were eager to play host and put in the effort to make the Grey Cup a success, why come to Toronto, where the game gets lost?
It wasn’t always that way. When the Grey Cup became a national event back in the 1950s, times were different. The CFL was huge back then in Toronto, competing only slightly with the Maple Leafs. And it was a much bigger world back then. There weren’t 15 sporting events on TV every day of the week as there now are. In fact, there weren’t even that many TVs.
The airwaves now are saturated with sports and as the world came to our living rooms, the CFL was overwhelmed in Toronto. And it’s not just about sports. There is just more to do, more to watch, period, than there was even 25 years ago. There is no automatic audience for anything anymore.
That’s why, when the Grey Cup game comes here in two years, it can’t be your father’s or your grandfather’s “grand national drunk.”
The events that are associated with the Toronto Grey Cup must have some added value. You don’t just slap a Grey Cup logo on a party and expect people to come.
If they want to make a splash, the Argos will have to deliver big-name entertainment throughout Grey Cup week. Word is, they’re planning to combine the Grey Cup with the Canadian college championship, the Vanier Cup.
That could turn into a good mix, with a few thousand college kids out on the town for the weekend, looking for a party.
Current Argos owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski have presided over a true renaissance of Canadian football in Toronto. In Keith Pelley, the TV exec-turned-CEO, they have a guy with imagination and marketing savvy. Where countless others have failed, he has succeeded in putting warm bodies in the seats at the much-unloved Rogers Centre.
Given that management team, there will be no lack of imagination once they start putting together the elements that will make up their Grey Cup week, in conjunction with the City of Toronto.
Most everywhere else in Canada, the Grey Cup has been a hot commodity. Teams now fight for the right to host it, because they know that if handled properly, for an investment of $3 million to $4 million, they can make money in the process.
Yet, for 15 years the CFL’s biggest, richest market, the headquarters of most all its corporate partners, has taken a pass, and quite willingly, on the big game.
If it goes well, the Grey Cup surely will be back in Toronto within two or three years after 2007. If it falls flat again, nobody could blame the league for waiting another 15 years.