Stadium story attracts extensive coverage

Reports about a possible change in the Toronto Argonauts’ plans to participate in the construction of a new stadium at York received extensive coverage in both print and electronic media over the weekend of April 23-24, after a Toronto Star report on Friday of a free-rent offer to the Argos by the owners of their current home field, the Rogers Centre. Most stories contained speculation on what would happen to the plan for the 25,000-seat stadium that is scheduled to be a key site for the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) in its plan to host the FIFA Men’s Under-20 World Youth Championship, as well as home to various soccer clubs and York teams and programs. 

In a story on Saturday, headlined “Stadium not dead yet: York”, the Toronto Star reported York University wants to go ahead with plans to build a new stadium even without the Toronto Argonauts. But it said the issue facing the University is how to make up the $20-million shortfall that would be created by the withdrawal of the CFL club. The story said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has been toying with the idea of acquiring a Major League Soccer franchise to play at the proposed $70-million stadium at York but they seem not to include MLSE coming up with the money. CEO Richard Peddie, said MLSE only wants to be a tenant, not an owner or manager of the stadium.

The National Post reported Saturday that CSA chief operating office Kevan Pipe was already talking about ways of filling the $20-million funding shortfall created by the Argos’ possible departure. He did not specify if that was to be accomplished with private or public money. Pipe added that FIFA, which awarded Canada the 2007 tournament on the understanding a new Toronto stadium would be used as a centerpiece, called first thing on Friday to inquire about the situation.

Virtually all media reported that Argos president Keith Pelley and co-owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski could not be reached for comment. On Saturday, The Toronto Sun quoted Paul Godfrey, president of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club which owns the Rogers Centre, saying, “This is something between the Toronto Argonauts and York University. We have no deal with anyone at this point in time.” While the provincial government, set to contribute $8 million, did not make a definitive statement, the story said the federal government, which is slated to contribute $27 million, remains committed to the stadium. “Our deal and our arrangement was with York University so it has nothing to do with the Toronto Argonauts,” Immigration Minister Joe Volpe said.

A Canadian Press story on Friday, April 22, about the Argos’ having “second thoughts” generated the bulk of the coverage, including the Globe & Mail, Web sites and on radio and television broadcasts across the country. The story noted the announcement “caught the other principal stadium partners — the Canadian Soccer Association and York University — by surprise.”  

Bud Purves, president of the York University Development Corporation, as well as York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, said York remains committed to the project with or without the Argos but that the CFL team’s absence could change the design plans. In a National Post story, Purves also indicated the football team’s owners had legal options to pull out of the deal, saying: “There’s a contract in place subject to a variety of parameters, and we are at one of those milestone parameters right now…so this is an appropriate time to cross this bridge.” Purves said the University had sent out a request for design proposals about three weeks ago was about to begin the selection process to choose an architect. The Post quoted Purves as saying he had assurances that the other partners would consider funding a revised stadium plan.

In its Saturday edition, The Globe & Mail said, “There is not much time left. The shovel has to be in the ground by October if they want to meet the July 1 start of the 2007 World Youth Championship. There is not much of a window. ‘It’s not exactly a picture window,’ Purves said dryly.” In explaining the timing of the Argos’reconsideration of the deal, Purves said, “This is the point of time where we are at the make-it-or-break-it time on going into (spending) super money.”

Most stories also noted that the Argonauts hope to host the CFL’s Grey Cup game in 2007 and that this could play a role in any decision. “I can’t comment or get in the way of their negotiations. As of today, they (Argos) have a contract through 2006-07,” Godfrey told the Globe.

Commenting on Saturday, the Post said, “The Toronto Argonauts, whose co-owner David Cynamon confessed he and partner Howard Sokolowski felt like their ‘hearts were ripped out’ when the University of Toronto pulled out of a stadium deal with the club last year, are considering doing exactly the same thing to would-be partner York University.” 

Toronto Sun columnist Mike Ulmer suggested the announcement from Sokolowski and Cynamon, expected sometime this week, “will also go a long way in revealing how long the duo will hold on to the club.” The Argos, he noted, “‘cannot fill the Rogers Centre,” and “by staying, they sentence their core supporters to an indefinite stay in an oversized, cold, albeit recently renovated stadium. A new building has always been central to their vision. If Sokolowski and Cynamon walk away from it, they start the clock on the wait between enlightened purchase and profitable retreat.”

Stadium on air

  • The stadium was widely discussed on Friday, April 22, on radio stations in Toronto and throughout Ontario. It was also carried nationally by Broadcast News and CBC Radio. Television coverage included virtually all Toronto stations and many throughout Ontario. National television coverage included reports on CTV, Rogers Sportsnet and TSN.