New Argos owner still sees NFL in Toronto’s future

By Morgan Campbell, The Toronto Star

New Argos owner Larry Tanenbaum.

New Argos owner Larry Tanenbaum.

Earlier this week Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Chairman Larry Tanenbaum formed part of a group that purchased the Toronto Argonauts, and Thursday morning he spoke to local financial professionals about his optimism for the future of pro football in Toronto.

Four-down pro football.

The kind they play in the NFL, which Tanenbaum vows will place a franchise in Toronto eventually.

That’s unusual talk from a sport executive who just invested heavily in the CFL’s flagship franchise, but when asked to envision Canada’s pro sports landscape in the future Tannenbaum said his outlook includes the NFL.

“The timing is totally up in the air,” Tanenbaum said. “They see Canada as an obvious choice for an NFL team.”

Tanenbaum made the comments during a sports business panel discussion at Bloomberg Economic Series: Canada, a one-day conference covering the Canadian economy. The panel included former NBA COO Russell Granik, Inner Circle Sports founder Robert Tilliss, and BMO US acquisitions head Lyle Wilpon. Topics included the Leafs’ hiring of head coach Mike Babcock, the rising value of media rights and the effect of the exchange rate on Canadian franchises, but NFL questions nevertheless arose.

As far as Toronto is concerned, the answers aren’t simple.

First, the league has to deal with Los Angeles where two groups — one in Inglewood and another in suburban Carson — are bidding to build stadiums to house an NFL tenant. This week league officials said the 2020 Super Bowl would head to Los Angeles if one of those two groups succeeds in attracting a franchise, and the consensus coming out of this week’s owners meetings was that L.A. should prepare for a team.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ now, but ‘when,’” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Then there’s the issue of ownership.

NFL rules prohibit collective owners like the Bell/Tanenbaum tag team that purchased the Argos.

Wilpon pointed out Thursday that as the cost of an NFL franchise rises, the pool of individuals with the money and desire to buy one shrinks.

Toronto has been there before.

Four months after Tim Leiweke took over as MLSE’s president and CEO, the company invited rock legend Jon Bon Jovi to Toronto and inducted him into the Air Canada Centre’s Hall of Fame, where he remains the sole enshrinee. And when Bon Jovi announced plans to buy the Buffalo Bills, rumours swirled that he intended to move the club to Toronto.

If that plan ever existed, it collapsed last October when the Pegula family bought the Bills and pledged to keep the franchise in Buffalo.

While Tanenbaum says a Toronto-based NFL team is inevitable, he says his immediate priorities remain MLSE and the Argos, highlighting that MLSE is contributing $100 million toward the $120-million renovation of the city-owned BMO Field. City and provincial governments are paying the remainder, and by next spring the stadium will be ready to host CFL games.

“If you’ve had the experience of going to BMO Field, you’ll understand what a great venue it is,” Tanenbaum said. “For CFL football it really has tremendous sightlines.”


6 Comments on New Argos owner still sees NFL in Toronto’s future

  1. Robert Shmigelsky // May 21, 2015 at 8:49 pm //

    If one was smart—regardless of whether even wanting a NFL franchise in Toronto—they would say the same thing as Tanenbaum just to get the pro-NFL crowd to support the Argonauts, all in the hopes such support would eventually lead to said NFL team.

  2. Edward Leslie // May 21, 2015 at 8:59 pm //

    I’ve always thought that Tanenbaum is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, regarding the CFL. This proves it. Hopefully Bell will buy him out later on.

  3. I’m trying to be very positive about this move but his comment is giving me second thoughts. Could this be a conflict of interest.

  4. Flagship Franchise? More like beleaguered franchise.

    As for the NFL, well it would certainly be an uphill battle for a team to come north of the border. There would probably be a rallying cry to revive the Canadian Football Act to protect our game… While it is protectionist in nature I’d have to freely admit that I’d certainly call for it to be enacted.

  5. 1argoholic // May 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm //

    Wolf in sheeps clothing is bang on. I can’t believe this crap already. First the over shadowing of the great Argo news by this Babcock signing and now this TOOL makes these comments. Gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. People who don’t live in the region just will never get how many Argonaut fans there really are. This kind of crap won’t get them off the couch and down to games.Too many just watch games on tv. Why get invested when this type of talk never goes away. Actually I’m floored by this fools comments and yet not surprised all at the same time. Toronto has such fractured pro sports teams and fan bases. There is plenty of hate going around between fans and this kind of talk doesn’t help. Toronto media helps very little with it’s World Class city BS and looking to stir the pot.
    I’m so disappointed in this morons comments. I’ve gone from feeling good to pissed off. What a scum!!! Shows where this big shot business mans hearts at. Weasel come to mind.

  6. Why would you say that, Tenanbaum? When asked about the NFL, why wouldn’t you just say “we’ve just bought a CFL team, let’s focus on that”?

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