Don't you just feel for those poor old Toronto Argonauts?
Here they are on one of the biggest days in franchise history, about to get out from under the ownership of David Braley, who owns another CFL team, and into the arms of Larry Tanenbaum and BCE Inc., two-thirds of the sporting colossus that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. And, they're set to escape the cavernous Rogers Centre for fan-friendly BMO Field.
But Rogers Communications Inc., the other third of MLSE, told their partners to stuff it on buying the Argos, since it was merely a play to bolster the CFL programming for BCE's subsidiary, Bell Media's TSN. Rogers was not keen on paying to help the hated rival of its own Sportsnet. (BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail).
The new ownership structure did not give the Argos official MLSE sibling status with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC, but two-thirds of MLSE is better than none.
So the Argos and their new owners put together a head table that included new CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, Toronto Mayor John Tory, himself a former CFL commissioner, and prepared to make their big announcement Wednesday at BMO Field. They even made sure there were no soccer fans in sight screaming about the damage the Argos will do to the BMO pitch when they become co-tenants with Toronto FC in 2016.
Tory even opined that "to have two of the most pre-eminent figures in Canadian sports signing up to own this team and joining forces in a city-owned stadium to make this a huge success is something we can all be happy about." Evidently, the mayor has been too busy to check the NHL or Major League Soccer standings or the NBA playoffs in quite some time.
But the storm clouds started gathering on Twitter an hour or two before the big news conference. The Maple Leafs unexpectedly surfaced in the bidding for now-former Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock.
Lightning struck not long into the Argo news conference, just as MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke was answering a question about football tearing up the BMO grass. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman tweeted that Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, Leiweke's prize hire, landed Babcock.
So some rude newspaper guy – okay, it was me – got up and asked Leiweke and Tanenbaum to comment on the Babcock hiring. Leiweke tossed the Babcock ball to Tanenbaum, who confirmed the news and tried to swing everyone back to the Argos. But at that point the Argos were headed from Page 1 to the inside of the sports section. ( Leiweke, by the way, is staying on as MLSE CEO, past his original June 30 departure, because BCE, Rogers and Tanenbaum can't agree on a successor.)
The interruption of the football news conference did not go over well with some football fans, who castigated your agent on social media.
One of the Argos, defensive lineman Ricky Foley, jumped in on Twitter. He called letting the Babcock news out during the Argo press conference a "[stupid] move" and fired a shot at the Raptors. Then he dropped these two zingers on his sort-of corporate cousins, the Leafs:
"And our Captains and vet leaders don't play like a bunch of soft ass punks with no emotion or passion for the game or its fans … #NHL"
"So congrats on Ur new coach @MapleLeafs … Hopefully 50mil & sky high ticket prices r enough 2give Ur players heart & a compete level #CFL"
Boy, that first hot-dog roast between the Argos and their new owners should be fun.
Then again, the anger over Babcock's salary, which works out to $6.25-million (U.S.) a year for eight years is understandable. Throw out the currency difference with the Canadian dollar and it is $1.25-million more than the entire Argo roster will make, as the CFL salary cap is $5-million a team.
It is also likely more than Tanenbaum and Bell Media paid for the Argo franchise (nobody would talk about the price). A source close to MLSE once said the company could have had the Argos for next to nothing around the time Braley was forced to rescue them in early 2010. MLSE passed because its due diligence showed annual losses of about $5-million and things have not improved since then.