July 25, 2017

Can the Argos be saved in Toronto?

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

Take a look to your left.

Now take a look to your right.

Is there one or two people ten or so metres away from you? If so, you’re either on a pretty nice subway ride, or you’re at an Argos game at BMO Field.

Whether they like it or not, a lot of the attention that the CFL’s franchise in Canada’s biggest market is regarding the lack of attention that the team is getting.

And unlike the fans, these headlines aren’t going away.

You have to give the franchise credit, though. The Argos are pulling out all the stops to try to draw more fans to BMO Field. The atmosphere there alone should be a big draw and the stadium’s primary tenant provides just that – Toronto FC regularly sells out, bringing in more than 10,000 more fans per game. PER GAME.

The Boatmen are now pulling out promotions to get fans into the stadium and they’re still barely working. On Monday night, with the team trotting out CFL legend Doug Flutie and the 1996 and ’97 Grey Cup teams – and giving out a Flutie bobblehead at the gates – the attendance was still just an announced 15,000 or so (a number that’s often inflated).

Oh, and that was with a special deal of two tickets for $19.97 and cheaper beer prices at the tailgate.

But here’s the problem: The Argos aren’t going at this hard enough.

That Flutie bobblehead looked about half the size of a usual one when a TSN analyst placed it beside his own.

Those discounted tickets were only available in four sections of the stadium and in the top corners of the upper deck on the east side.

And the fans that would come out to see a reunion of the great 1996-97 teams aren’t the types that the team needs to come out, it’s newer fans that the team needs to survive. Everybody that was happy to see Flutie, Pinball Clemons and Co. was already likely to buy tickets at some point this season. Where’s the promotion targeted at new fans?

The first thing that the team needs to do is lower ticket prices – a lot.

It’s ridiculous to ask a new fan to pay $72 for a decent seat – and $97 for one near midfield. Why would anyone pay that?! It’s no wonder why there’s large sections and rows of seats empty during games. Ticket prices need to be slashed to draw crowds – just like they were when Grey Cup sales were bombing last year. The prices that Argos tickets are currently at reflect a major league experience – something that the Scullers can’t provide.

Next: Promote your rivalries. The Hamilton Ticats are just down the highway and their fans could take an easy GO Train ride right to BMO Field. How in the world was the game between these two teams not sold out last month?! It was the Argos home-opener to boot!

Third, start something – anything – that could become a tradition. The CFL is currently running a commercial which highlights various traditions around the league. There’s beer snakes in Winnipeg, the Green Wave in Regina, “Oskie Wee Wee” in Hamilton. The Argos are noticeably absent from the montage.

Toronto FC has done a good job with this, starting chants, beating a drum and really involving the fans. It’s not a hard thing to do, but you need to build it over time and really make it yours.

Finally, do something about the ridiculous scheduling. No football team should have to play three games in 11 days and no team should play just one in a month – both instances the Redblacks face this season. And playing games on Wednesdays and Monday nights aren’t making it easy for the fans, either. TSN is obviously the driving force behind this, as well as the Argos’ secondary tenant status, but there’s no reason why the league couldn’t work out something more manageable here. Or why there was just one game on Canada Day. Or why the Argos are now on a three-games-in-11-days stretch. Somebody – anybody – has to know this was a bad idea and terrible planning.

Many will say that putting a winning team out there will turn things around, but that’s not entirely true, either. After the 1996 and 1997 Grey Cups, and even the more recent championships, tickets sales don’t take off like you would expect. While having a winner on the field is nice, it’s not necessarily a winner in the ledgers at MLSE.

The CFL has a huge problem, one that won’t sink it, but is making life hard on the league. Without new fans, there’s no new money coming in. And without younger viewers, there’s less advertising revenue for TSN and less TV money to feed back into the league.

The CFL can be an exciting product at times, but if nobody’s watching, it doesn’t matter.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

June 21, 2017

What is the hardest trophy in sports to win?

by Dan Bilicki In: Football, Ice Hockey, Soccer

Last week we argued that, despite what commentators will tell you, the Stanley Cup is no harder to win than any other league’s championship. In fact, it might actually be a little bit easier than some.

But if the Cup isn’t the hardest to win, then what is?

Just to prove that we’re not biased against ice hockey, we do believe one of the hardest championships in sports to win is actually the Memorial Cup – but it might also be one of the easiest, too.

To capture the Memorial Cup, you have to get through the grind of the OHL, QMJHL or WHL regular season and then win four rounds in the playoffs to even qualify. Then you have to beat the other league champions in a round-robin tournament to win it all. Or, you could just host the tournament, granting you a spot regardless of your finish in the playoffs, and then win it all like the Windsor Spitfires did this year. It’s a real tossup whether to throw the Mem Cup in the easy or hard category because of this fact.

If we’re talking about not just North American leagues, then really the debate ends in place: The Champions League final.

This is without a doubt one of, if not the toughest championships in sports to win.

Just think about the name itself: The Champions League. This is a tournament that features only the best teams in Europe and runs them through the gauntlet of group and then knockout stages – all while the teams continue to compete in their domestic competitions, hoping to secure a place in next season’s Champions League.

In all, this is essentially a two-year long competition to crown a winner of the aptly named Champions Cup. Imagine having to win the Stanley Cup just to qualify for another tournament the following year while you’re defending your title. That’s about as hard as it gets.

By sheer numbers, there’s no major tournament in the world bigger than England’s FA Cup. While many won’t start paying attention until the third or fourth rounds, when some teams with name recognition enter the tournament, at the beginning of this annual tournament, there are 736 teams involved.

Yes, you read that correctly: Seven hundred and thirty-six teams.

Semi-pro and amateur teams across England are eligible to qualify for the FA Cup, making it also one of the most inclusive tournaments around.

And if you don’t think that one of those beer league sides can make an honest run, you’re wrong: Fifth-tier Lincoln City actually hosted Arsenal in a quarterfinal game this year after beating several teams well above it in the tables – including Premier League side Burnley – along the way.

If we broaden our argument to international competition, then soccer, again, likely holds the most difficult trophy to win: The World Cup.

Starting with the fact that nearly every country in the world has a chance to qualify for the final tells you just the breadth of this whole thing. And while some countries are obviously better than others, you can’t overlook the fact that soccer is most widely played sport in the world.

Oh, and the whole process takes nearly four years to crown a champion, with qualifying starting just months after the previous tournament ends. Something else to consider is that being one of the best players ever in the sport, doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to hoist the World Cup trophy.

Two of the best players in the history of soccer – that are playing right now – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, haven’t won a World Cup. When you look at the list of the top scorers in NHL history, there is only one player in the Top 15, Marcel Dionne, that doesn’t have a ring.

But, oh, wait, there’s actually another club tournament that many won’t even think of: The FIFA Club World Cup. While it is true that only the representatives from Europe and Brazil have won the tournament the 11 times it has taken place, you can’t ignore that you literally have to be the best team from your continent to even compete in this tournament.

But due to the fact that it’s a small competition with just four teams in it and it takes place around the Christmas break, usually in Japan – making watching it very difficult due to the time difference – it’s easy to forget that the Club World Cup even exists.

So, when you figure that there are competitions of this scale taking place in Europe and around the globe, there’s no way , in good conscience, that you can claim that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

June 14, 2017

The Stanley Cup isn’t the hardest trophy to win in sports

by Dan Bilicki In: Baseball, Basketball, Football, Ice Hockey

A lot was made on Monday night after Pittsburgh defeated Nashville to win the Stanley Cup about how it was the hardest trophy in sports to win.

While many get wrapped up in the romanticism of the Cup and its history, it’s no harder to win than other major league sports.

Now, first off, I’ll state that while the Stanley Cup isn’t the hardest trophy to win, it’s also not the easiest. That in itself is part of my argument.

The first thing that many ice hockey fans point to is that many NHL players compete while injured. I’ve got some not-exactly breaking news for you: Players in every sport compete while hurt. It’s a fact of life in sports. If you think that this is exclusive to ice hockey, you’re dead wrong.

Football players are very rarely at 100%, basketball players play through their fair share of pain and as for baseball, does nobody remember Curt Schilling’s bloody sock game?

As for the sports themselves and the toll it takes on the competitors, you’re crazy to think that ice hockey is any tougher than a sport like football. Sure, the NHL season is much longer than the NFL’s , but it would be unrealistic and borderline inhumane to ask football players to compete any more than once per week – and we’ve seen how quality of play drops when teams play on just three days’ rest.

When looking at the physicality of each sport, many will argue that the grind of a NHL is the hardest – another point that just isn’t so. Even if you figure that NFL teams play far less games than NHLers, the amount of hits in an NFL season are still greater.

Look at, for example, Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. There were 47 hits, total. When you consider that there were 136 tackles made during the Super Bowl – a number that doesn’t include the contact accumulated from blocks and hits away from the play, each NFL game has the same amount of physicality as an entire NHL playoff SERIES.

Then, there’s the numbers, which simply don’t add up for the NHL. Statistically, a team has the same odds to the Stanley Cup as the NBA championship or World Series. Each of the 30 teams starts the season with same odds as any other, while in the NFL, where there are 32 teams, it’s a bit trickier.

But when you consider that only 10 of 30 MLB teams reach the post-season while more than half of the 30 NHL and NBA teams make it, it’s actually harder to win in baseball. The NFL, which sees 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs, is harder as well.

An argument that I’ve heard is that the NHL is more competitive than other sports because any team that reaches the post-season has a realistic chance, unlike the NBA, where a superteam like the Warriors or Cavs were the only two squads with realistic shots. But this argument is a double-edged sword.

While the “anyone can win” mentality could be construed as making it harder for all, on the other side, is it not harder for a lower-ranked team like the Portland Trail Blazers or Indiana Pacers to win it all than, say, the Nashville Predators? Seeing the Preds make it to the Cup final shows it might actually be easier to win the Cup than the NBA title as an underdog.

So what is the hardest trophy to win in sports? That’s a discussion for another day, but let’s please stop saying that the Stanley Cup is the toughest to win – it’s merely just the best-looking of the five major North American sports.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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