CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge remains optimistic about the CFL's future in Toronto despite a disappointing season from the home-town Argonauts and lagging ticket sales for Sunday's Grey Cup game.
Under new ownership, expectations were high for the Argonauts heading into the 2016 season as they moved from the domed Rogers Centre to the outdoor BMO Field. But the season was marked by disappointments. Toronto (5-13) finished last in the East Division and posted a dismal 2-7-0 record at home, averaging just 16,380 spectators at the 26,500-seat stadium with no sellouts.
Orridge preached patience Friday during his annual state-of-the-league address.
"Things don't happen overnight," he said. "We all wish they would've sold out every game ... it didn't happen this year but let's be optimistic because we know we're doing the right things, all the elements are in place, we're going to get better.
"You've got a brand new stadium, committed, quality ownership with people who really care and one of the largest markets in Canada. It's got all the elements of success, it just takes time. We still have a vested interest in making sure our biggest market is successful."
It may be the league's biggest market, but Grey Cup organizers were forced to slash ticket prices last month in an effort to drum up interest in the CFL's marquee event. TSN, the CFL's television partner, also offered its employees up to five free tickets for Sunday's game between the Ottawa RedBlacks and Calgary Stampeders.
On Thursday, the CFL nixed a promotion with Pizza Pizza offering Grey Cup tickets as part of a $29.99 package that also included a large three-topping pizza, 10 chicken wings, four cans of pop and two dipping sauces.
Orridge admitted mistakes were made in ticket pricing.
"We made a correction, we listened to the fans," Orridge said. "In terms of Pizza Pizza, that was a situation where it was an unauthorized promotion.
"But we always give tickets to our corporate sponsors, we always give packages away to people who've been supportive of us. Ticket giveaways are nothing new . . . the idea is to spur engagement and get people more involved and so promotions is all part of the game."
The commissioner was also forced to answer for poor officiating this season, including crucial mistakes made on a key play in the Edmonton Eskimos' 24-21 East Division semifinal win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With the score tied 21-21, the Ticats should have received a first down near mid-field with 1:30 remaining but instead on second-and-14, quarterback Zach Collaros was intercepted, allowing the Eskimos to kick the game-winning field goal.
"I'm as disappointed and frustrated when things don't go right, when mistakes are made," Orridge said. "But I think, on balance, our officials do an amazing job, they get the vast, vast majority of calls right.
"I think we've done an incredible job with instituting video replay and we're setting the benchmark for other leagues. Anytime there's innovation, you've got to evaluate it and see how it can get better so that's what we're going to do in the off-season. We're going to review the reviews."
Orridge also said the CFL board will discuss how Edmonton's Jason Maas complied with the league mandate that head coaches wear a live microphone on the sidelines during a regular-season game. Maas was fined $15,000 and the Eskimos received a $20,000 penalty after Maas failed to do so during an earlier contest.
Facing a one-game suspension and $25,000 fine if he didn't comply, Maas wore a microphone in Edmonton's regular-season finale but not a headset and barely spoke after delegating play calls to his assistants.
"Did he comply with the letter of the law? Absolutely," Orridge said. "Was he non-compliant with the spirit and the intent? Probably.
"So because it was a board mandate, the board will subsequently be meeting on that and I will orchestrate that. I can't give you more details right now but rest assured we're continuing to look to ways to improve alignment and make sure everything is followed."