David Braley’s post-season debriefing of Wally Buono may be a little more comprehensive than usual, win or lose Sunday’s Grey Cup game.
The Senator will want to leave the B.C. Lions in great shape for 2012 — and that will mean as much continuing involvement by Buono as possible — because for the next year, if not for the foreseeable future, Braley’s attention is going to have to shift from the semi-profitable side of his Canadian Football League portfolio of teams to the … well, quagmire side.
It’s a good thing he plans to stick with it until he’s 75.
Owning the Lions, who have the organization and the talent to go on without supervision from the guy signing the cheques, is one thing.
Turning around the Toronto Argonauts is something else. For the man who bankrolls one-quarter of the CFL, it’s about to become Job One.
We wish him luck.
With next year’s 100th Grey Cup game in Hogtown, which the league plans to market to within an inch of its life, the last thing it needs is a losing team and a money pit of an operation sucking enthusiasm out of the city all season leading up to it.
“There’s no timeline the board of governors has put on David. But his main focus now is clearly Toronto,” commissioner Mark Cohon said at his annual Grey Cup state of the CFL news conference Friday.
“He has renewed energy, he has time to commit. I had a long breakfast with him yesterday, we’re going to meet monthly, just focusing on Toronto and how the league can help him, and we think he’s the right man to get it done.”
Not surprisingly, the Boatmen represented the major buzz-kill during Cohon’s mostly upbeat session with the media.
News that the board has decided to commit $1-million to figuring out how to move the needle in southern Ontario is interesting, mostly because the operators of CFL teams rarely have the wherewithal, or the inclination, to pour money into a place that hasn’t much of a recent history of spending it wisely.
“When you think about, ‘Would we ever have done this in the past?’ The answer is probably no,” Cohon said. “The fact we’re doing it now is an indication of how mature we’ve grown as a league …”
That’s one interpretation.
The other is that the league — in the middle of a life-altering affiliation with TSN, with a new collective bargaining agreement and an array of metrics from attendance to sponsorships to merchandising that are up, up, up — can finally afford to take a concerted stab at its most unsightly rash, and devote some cash to studying it.
Whether “the biggest challenge we face as a league,” in Cohon’s delicate phrase, would respond to treatment, or whether a cure even exists, is another story.
Friday’s newser was chiefly a useful reminder of how the CFL’s fortunes have improved in the five years Cohon has been its commissioner, and how really, really goofy it would be for the governors not to extend his contract beyond its expiration after next season.
“Those conversations are strictly confidential. But I will tell you this: the board has come to me and said they want me to renew, and I’ve said to the board I want to renew,” Cohon said.
It may be just a question of salary. The governors’ munificence is not unlimited, and there is already concern about how much it costs to maintain the league’s head office.
But from the chaos of many previous administrations has come an era of relative tranquillity, even — judging by new stadium construction and existing parks’ renovations — something approaching comfort.
Nobody’s getting rich in the CFL, but Sunday’s game will take place in a building, BC Place, that’s just undergone a spectacular half-billion-dollar-plus facelift. The Blue Bombers have an impressive new stadium coming onstream next season, Ottawa’s could be up in another two years, Hamilton’s Pan-Am Games-inspired park is scheduled to open in 2014, renovated Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton is still the nation’s best outdoor facility, and they’re at least talking in Regina about replacing Taylor (Mosaic) Field, which would leave Calgary’s McMahon Stadium as the last remaining relic in need of a good rebuild, or a razing.
In a league that takes in nearly 65% of its revenue at the gate, suitable playpens are significant, which is why references to “the Argos journey under Mr. Braley” come with an asterisk. At some point, the team must decide whether it has a real future in Rogers Centre beyond the next few seasons.
The new field at the U of Manitoba almost certainly will mean a 2015 Grey Cup for Winnipeg, unless the oft-delayed Ottawa 3.0 franchise and the Lansdowne redevelopment are still not ready for 2014, in which case the Peg’s Cup duty will move up by a year.
Other than Toronto, the only discouraging news was that TV ratings, after leaping 100 per cent last year, declined by 19% in 2011. But as Cohon rightly pointed out, horrible seasons by teams in the league’s biggest (Toronto) and most widespread (Rider Nation) markets, and a 1-6 start by the Lions, made a decline all but inevitable.
But saying “other than Toronto” is a little like “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
So the Toronto 2012 Grey Cup committee’s “invitation to the nation” will begin with one marked “urgent” for Sen. David Braley.
And it’s just a hunch, but it may not pass the sniff test if the double owner is seen, very often, whooping it up on the Lions’ sideline while he’s trying to convince Torontonians that his heart is in the revival of the Double Blue.