Could MLSE buy, bring Argos to BMO Field?

“We want to be the toughest place for a club to come in and play in in all of Major League Soccer and I want our environment to be renowned around the world as being one of the great experiences in live sports,” Leiweke said. (CP/Neil Davidson)
January 1, 2014, 9:49 AM

The future home of the Toronto Argonauts may very well be BMO Field after all.

Amidst Tim Leiweke’s revelation to Sportsnet colleague Chris Johnston of a future outdoor hockey game being staged at the stadium, the head of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) also suggested a renovation of the grounds would make a renovated BMO capable of hosting a future CFL championship game.

“The Grey Cup, I think, would be phenomenal in an outdoor setting in Toronto, on the lake,” Leiweke told Johnston Tuesday.

David Braley has publicly stated he is looking to sell his full ownership into both the Argonauts and B.C. Lions by 2016.

MLSE has been linked, in recent months, to having interest in buying the Argonauts, but each time the suggestion was brushed aside as being too premature. CFL sources told Sportsnet that privately, Argos executives were hoping a scenario would unfold where MLSE would purchase the franchise.

The Canadian Football League would not address the matter Tuesday evening, other than to say there is no deal done to sell the Argos and that the CFL “will not comment on speculation around ownership.”

The league declined to make commissioner Mark Cohon available for an interview.

Cohon continued to mention a potential partnership with MLSE throughout Grey Cup week in Regina. And both the Argos and league office have made it clear they are searching for a new, permanent home. The Argonauts’ present lease with Rogers Centre expires in 2017, although the football club has an opt-out clause to leave the building prior to that date.

Rogers Centre and the Blue Jays have already started investigating different methods to change the building’s playing surface from Astroturf to natural grass, which, effectively, put the Argonauts on the clock to find a new home by 2017.

The declaration of football on MLSE’s radar is somewhat of an about-face from Leiweke, who in November told Sportsnet’s Damien Cox that the organization’s priority with the stadium was elsewhere.

“Our first focus has been and continue to be how we fix BMO Field for soccer,” Leiweke told Cox during Grey Cup week. “That has to be highest priority. We have to make it better than it is for soccer. We can’t ask our fans to sacrifice their views or their environment.

“Our soccer fans get mad at us when this football thing comes up, and we are not going to declare war on our fans.”

Leiweke did not elaborate with Johnston on what a possible renovation would mean for Toronto FC, nor if BMO Field’s status as Canada’s “national soccer stadium” would be affected. Its surface is presently natural grass, with only soccer lines. In addition to the “views” and “environment” Leiweke referenced, soccer supporters are steadfast that grass remain.

Regardless, an upgrade of the magnitude Leiweke has described requires a sizeable financial investment that the CFL would be unwilling to finance. It may not be required for the league to do so. Leiweke told Johnston that MLSE has already lobbied all three levels of government to help fund the “hundreds of millions” of dollars estimated to upgrade BMO. That figure is significantly more than the original cost of the building, along Toronto’s lakeshore on the city’s exhibition grounds, which was $62.9 million back in 2007.

Leiweke suggested that critical in making the renovation to BMO Field a reality is an assurance from the NHL that Toronto would host a Winter Classic there. Leiweke told Johnston that MLSE’s hope is to host the Winter Classic in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

BMO Field’s present configurations do not allow for Canadian football to be played, because of the dimensions of the field and stadium. Part of any transformation to the facility would require that to be modified, which itself carries a significant price tag.

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