Argonauts confirm they’ll stay in Rogers Centre

The Toronto Argonauts opted to stay at their downtown home Monday, saying an improved lease at the Rogers Centre trumped the proposed new stadium at York University, reported Canadian Press May 3 in a story that made headlines in at least 20 newspapers across Canada, including Toronto’s three major dailies, and on TV and radio stations throughout the GTA and beyond.

The deal is not rent-free but gives the CFL team improved scheduling, cost certainty and a piece of the action, from parking to concessions, reported CP. “It will certainly ensure the long-term survival of the Toronto Argonauts, without question,” Argos co-owner Howard Sokolowski, speaking at the domed stadium formerly known as SkyDome, said of the 11th-hour deal with the Rogers Centre. It also frees the Argos from finding $20 million to invest in a new stadium.

As a result, York University and the Canadian Soccer Association find themselves jilted at the stadium altar, said CP, as building deadlines loom. If the York stadium gets built, it will be smaller – 20,000 and one-tiered instead of 25,000 and two tiers, reported the wire service. “We’re sorry if anyone isn’t happy but we’re committed to the Argos and our fans. If that sounds selfish, maybe it is but that’s what we have to focus on,” Argonauts co-owner David Cynamon said.

The CSA, which made the stadium the cornerstone of its successful bid to host the world under-20 men’s soccer championship in 2007, insisted the York project remained on track, despite the loss of the Argos. “We’re moving forward with our stadium project and are very confident in our ability to ensure that this stadium will be built,” Kevan Pipe, CSA chief operating officer, said in an interview.

But the University, which called the Argos’ decision “disappointing, although not wholly unexpected,” has been less definitive, said CP. While saying it is looking at developing a “viable solution,” it has not said the stadium is a done deal. Gary Brewer, York’s vice-president of finance and administration, said in a statement Monday that the University Board of Governors “will make the final determination on the stadium project once the available options have been presented and all the information has been assessed.”

The Argos had initially agreed to contribute $20 million, plus look after any cost overruns, to the planned $70-million York stadium. The federal government agreed to provide $27 million and the provincial government $8 million, with York supplying another $15 million and the land.

The CSA, while strapped for investment cash, did help open up those government coffers by winning the right to host the 2007 World Youth Championship, said CP.

 HIghlights from other stadium coverage:

  • “We feel bad for York,” said Cynamon, who, like Sokolowski, attended the school, reported The Globe and Mail May 3. “They are great people. You couldn’t ask for better partners if we were going to work further in that situation. But it was the right thing to do for the Toronto Argonauts, for the franchise, economically and also for our fans. It turned out to be a better situation, it was the right thing to do.”
  • You can certainly understand the business decision to bail, even while understanding how much the Argos’ stadium partners – soccer folks and York University – must feel betrayed right now, wrote The Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt.
  • The Rogers Centre stadium, for the record, is the same lousy stadium for football it was a year ago and a year before that, wrote the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons. The turf is better and the video screens are brighter but the 100-level seating is viable only if you’re eight-feet tall. The atmosphere is not football. The feel never has been football. The flip could be a flop, he predicted.
  • “It’s nice to know that the Argos have clarified their position after a week-and-a-half,” said Guy Lepage, spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, reported the National Post. “But our government’s commitment remains to providing this venue for 2007, the world under-20 soccer championships. We continue to be part of that project.”
  • The Argonauts’ decision reached radio and television audiences the day it broke on May 2. Practically every radio station in the GTA carried the news at 6pm, including Mojo News, CBC, CFRB, CFMJ, Q107, CFTR, City-tv, OMNI and Global. Affiliates picked it up around Ontario – in Kingston, Ottawa, Peterborough, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cobourg. And national audiences heard it on on CBC TV’s “Canada Now,” Rogers TV’s “SportsCentral” and “CTV News.”

Ethics prof among the Globe’s “Top 40 Under 40”

When Richard Leblanc was growing up in Timmins, Ont., his high-school principal dad would lock him in the library on Saturdays so he could work undisturbed. So while other kids “were playing and goofing off,” he did school work and read, reported The Globe and Mail in a profile of the law and ethics professor at York. Leblanc is among the Globe’s “Top 40 Under 40”. He’s Canada’s leading authority on corporate governance, and a new book, Inside the Boardroom, co-authored with Jim Gillies and based on Leblanc’s ground-breaking PhD thesis, will put the imprimatur on that.

Indeed, policy on the issue is already changing, he points out, to “where you have to assess independent directors based on their competencies and skills – and that’s huge for corporate Canada and puts us on the map internationally.”

Leblanc got his BSc from the University of Toronto, an MBA and law degrees from Canada and the United States as well as a graduate law degree. He now runs his own firm, University Studies for Management Inc., and teaches at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

He studied 39 boards and interviewed some 200 directors for his thesis, curious about what he calls “the disconnect” between 20 years of research on board effectiveness and what directors themselves were saying. By negotiating unprecedented access to boards, he turned the field on its head: “The decisions the board makes have a fundamental impact on a company; unless you can drill down to competencies and behaviours the independent directors have, and how they contribute to that decision making, you’re never really going to have effective governance.”