When CFL commissioner Mark Cohon stands up to make his annual state-of-the-league address in Calgary this morning, the subject he will be most asked about is likely to be the immediate future of the Toronto Argonauts ownership.
While there will likely be no definitive answers from Cohon, CFL sources say co-owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon are leaning toward remaining proprietors of the franchise they rescued from bankruptcy six years ago.
And, according to multiple sources, they have their eye on a new home for the team - BMO Field, the home of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC. It is believed the Argos may want to play there as soon as next season.
While Cynamon and Sokolowski's disappointment in the past two seasons had them considering selling the club to B.C. Lions owner David Braley - an action the league has no bylaws to prevent - they now apparently prefer to remain CFL owners.
Both owners will be in Calgary to attend a CFL board of governors meeting tomorrow, one day before the Saskatchewan Roughriders play the Montreal Alouettes in the 97th Grey Cup game.
Sources say the Argos ownership duo do not want to exit the league on the down note of a 3-15 season and they remain committed to improving the club's bottom line to make Toronto a financially viable market for the CFL.
Among the ideas floated by Cynamon and Sokolowski in the past has been for the CFL to accept a revenue-sharing model that would recognize the value of the Toronto market to the league in terms of sponsors and television. But they've also become convinced that playing in a smaller outdoor facility would aid their cause.
Though BMO Field, which will have a grass surface next spring, does not fit a CFL field, sources say the Argos owners are willing to consider playing on a field that may be adjusted in length either with a shorter field or smaller end zones.
BMO Field was built with private and public money to play host to the 2007 world under-20 soccer championship, as well as to house the expansion MLS franchise, owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Its construction followed two failed attempts by Cynamon and Sokolowski to build a stadium in partnership with the Canadian Soccer Association, first at the University of Toronto and then at York University.
But when BMO Field was built, the multiuse community-access facility was soccer-specific, not convertible for football use, as it was originally intended. The Argo owners were furious when they learned it had been constructed with stands that do not allow the facility to accommodate a regulation-size CFL field. Retrofitting the 20,000-seat stadium to fit more seats and a bigger field has been estimated to cost about $15-million.
The Argos moved into the Rogers Centre in 1989 (then known as SkyDome) and immediately received a boost in attendance. However, over time the facility has been criticized by fans for being stale and too big to house a CFL game. Its size has also made it difficult to create a demand for CFL tickets in Toronto. This season, the Argos' average crowd was more than 26,000. Though the Argos pay no rent there, they do share some expenses.
There is precedent for the CFL playing games on a field adjusted to fit the contours of a stadium. In 1995, the Memphis Mad Dogs played on a field where end zones were shortened considerably to fit the CFL field in the Liberty Bowl.
While there may be nothing that could stop the Argos from moving to BMO Field as a publicly owned facility, it is doubtful that MLSE, which operates it under an arrangement with the City of Toronto, would want them as tenants. While MLSE has never expressly said that the Argos are not welcome, it is well known that TFC's loyal fan base is fiercely opposed to sharing their home with a CFL team.
Rumours have swirled for weeks that the Argo owners would sell the club to Braley, who has lent the Argos money as part of the deal made in 2003 when Cynamon and Sokolowski entered the league. And sources say discussions between Braley and the Argo owners have been occurring in recent weeks.
Cohon even suggested recently that having Braley own two clubs was something that the league could live with, as long as it was done with transparency and the proper conditions.
The Argos have won just seven games over the past two seasons and have missed the playoffs in back-to-back years, losing 13 of their final 14 games under rookie CFL head coach Bart Andrus this season.
Sources say the league did not want uncertainty around the Argos to overshadow the Grey Cup, but an announcement about the team is expected next week.