Dolphins, Argonauts: We need new stadiums because our old ones are too roomy

Yesterday was the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, and I bet most of my non-Canadian readers couldn’t tell you what the score was, what teams played in it, or how many yards long the field was. (They might have heard that Justin Bieber got booed lustily at halftime, though.) But anyway, championship games aren’t really about winners and losers, they’re about media opportunities for league commissioners to stump for new stadiums:

The Toronto Argonauts need to have their own, smaller stadium in the long term, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said Friday as he fielded questions following his annual state of the union address.

“They want to make the Rogers Centre work and you will see on Sunday when that stadium is full that it’s exciting,” Cohon said. “But I think long term, when you look at the size of the new Tiger-Cats stadium and the size of the new stadium in Ottawa, all around 24,000 seats, that’s perfect for CFL football.

“I think a long-term plan should incorporate a strategy around potentially a new stadium in the Toronto region.”

The Rogers Centre (née Skydome) was, of course, built at huge public expense in part to serve as the home of the Argonauts, which is why it has that old-school circular shape and artificial turf. Any prospect of a new Argos stadium is a long way off just yet, but if it picks up steam, you have to wonder if the Blue Jays owners will begin agitating for a baseball-only facility as well. In fact, really shouldn’t every sports team have one stadium for well-attended games, and a smaller one for games where tickets are hard to come by? It’s been done before.

And the Argonauts aren’t the only ones complaining that their stadium is too plus-sized:

Completed in 1987 as team founder Joe Robbie’s answer to the decaying Orange Bowl, the Dolphins’ home is now the 10th-oldest stadium in the NFL. It has few eye-popping features to compete with the home-viewing experience and, with a capacity of 75,540, it’s too big for the club’s dwindling number of season-ticket holders…

The stadium has seen more than $300 million in improvements in the past 7 1/2 years – primarily in upgrades to the club and suite levels and the high-definition scoreboards – but attendance remains disappointing and the low-tech facility doesn’t give Super Bowl bids much punch.

“We’ve got a 25-year-old facility, and it clearly needs some tender loving care,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. “This facility, in its current form, is not going to serve the anchor tenants for the long-term. We’re going to be in a competitive environment with a lot of facilities that have been built in the last 10 years. Clearly, it’s something that’s going to have to be addressed at some point.”

So, to recap: The Dolphins need a new stadium in order to draw more fans, and also to accommodate fewer fans, and also because it’s 25 years old, except for the parts that were just upgraded. Maybe they should go back to complaining that they built the seating bowl all wrong, and won’t someone please fix it for them?


16 comments on “Dolphins, Argonauts: We need new stadiums because our old ones are too roomy

  1. I was just thinking the other day that [I Still Call It] SkyDome will be 25 years old in 2014 & when they will be barking for a new Blue Jays stadium. The only time I ever heard of a stadium called being too big was the old Municipal Stadium & old Comiskey Park.
    But we all know that saying the stadium is too big is just code for “we want more luxury boxes, higher ticket prices, more money, our current place is crummy & we want bigger digs”.
    They’ll say whatever it takes to win the public stadium funding game.

  2. The Jays own Rogers Centre lock stock and barrel, and seem to be planning to really redo it once the Argos are gone. Don’t see them demanding another one, the real scandal was them getting it for 25mil.

    I blame MLSE, if I recall, BMO Field was supposed to be convertible to football, and they just ignored it. Add 10k more seats and it’d be perfection for the Argos, they could do the MTL thing and use SkyDome for playoffs/Grey Cup.

  3. “In fact, really shouldn’t every sports team have one stadium for well-attended games, and a smaller one for games where tickets are hard to come by?”

    This happens overseas. In Chile the Santiago soccer clubs have their own stadia. But for the playoffs, big international tournements, and rivalry games they use the National Stadium.

  4. @ Ty

    I thought the Argos were all set to get in on BMO Field but backed out at the last minute when they got a plum deal to stay in Sky Dome.

    But you are correct -getting in on BMO probably would’ve saved that franchise.

  5. Comiskey’s capacity wasn’t too “large”, it didn’t have enough revenue generating sq. footage for Jerry & Eddie.
    What the commish really meant to say is “…the franchise can’t draw as they used to because they are pricing out former customers and YOU (taxpayers) have to build a smaller place so they might make a profit and won’t have all those empty seats mocking ‘em…”.
    Too bad other businesses that operate year-round don’t have the bully pulpit for bullies like the Cohon to connive for the kind of handouts sports franchises get.

  6. Yeah, Comiskey’s capacity at the end was about 44,000, and U.S. Cellular’s capacity when it was built was a few hundred seats more than that. And, famously, U.S. Cellular was much bigger in terms of physical scale, with the front row of its upper deck farther from the field than the back row of Comiskey’s.

  7. “…the front row of its upper deck farther from the field than the back row…”
    – which is true of almost all of the mallparks, customers should remember that when their nosebleed seat prices increase.

  8. Andrew:

    Absolutely right. The original deal for BMO was that the Argos had to be afforded the ability to be part of the development (Toronto Mayor Miller insisted on this as part of the agreement over land). I’m not one to defend MLSe, but they did invite the Argos in and said they’d be happy to have them as partners (I believe they were looking for around the same $10m that MLSe put in to gain naming rights/control of the stadium, but am not sure that a concrete figure was ever named). The Argo owners of the day said ‘thanks but no thanks’ after using the option of BMO to leverage a rent free deal (more or less, there’s always horse trading going on…) at the skyDome.

    BMO field would have been built to accommodate both the CFL and soccer if only the Argo owners of the day had been willing to put money in. They told MLSe they weren’t interested and MLSe (sensibly) built it for soccer only.

    I agree that the dome is not a good facility for the cfl (despite the fact it was built to accommodate both the Argos and Jays as ‘equal’ tenants, if you can believe that…) but BMO is not the answer. It’s too small, and renovating it for football would likely cost $30-40m and leave each tenant with an unsuitable stadium.

    If the Argos want their own facility, they should start by committing the $10m+ (which doesn’t include the $9m in fed/prov Cup Festival seed money they have yet to account for) they just earned on the Grey cup toward building it… couple that with a 10-15yr naming rights deal, and you’ve got about half what you need to build a 25-28k seat CFL only facility.

  9. Notably, Rugby Canada also had hoped that the Argos would go to BMO so that the facility would have room for a full-sized rugby pitch. Canadian football fields were originally the same size as rugby fields, which is why they appear so large and still have posts in the front of the endzone (football eventually narrowed the field a bit, but retained the length). Few Americans realize that the evolution of the game was rugby > canadian football > american football.

  10. EG:

    A standard FIFA approved pitch must be a minimum of 68yds wide (most are 70-75, including BMO at just under 75yds).

    If I remember school sport accurately, the rules of rugby dictate a maximum pitch width of 70 metres (just under 77yds) and max length of 100m, so BMO (at 105mx68m) is capable of hosting international rugby matches, although not at maximum pitch dimensions. As you probably know, it has hosted CMNT games on several occasions.

  11. @ John and Andrew

    Thanks for the clarification, I think I was mislead by some random reading a few months ago.

  12. John:

    You’ve forgotten about the in-goal area (10-22m per end). Rugby fields are 70m wide x 120-144m long. Also, IRB safety standards dictate that the touch lines be no closer than 5m from the edge of the playing surface (i.e. there must be 5m of grass or turf beyond the sidelines and deadball lines). Though Rugby Canada has been able to hold a few matches there, it’s already been told by the IRB that the venue would not be welcome as part of a World Cup bid for North America, is not suitable for a pro franchise (North American pro league set for 2014), and cannot be used if a foreign nation protests (i.e. the US could veto a match being played on a small pitch if it wanted to; Canada would then have to offer a site with a regulation pitch or yield the home match to its opposition).

  13. @Paul W – Actually I was referring to the outfield upper deck which aside from 1990 was empty most of the time. Plus it was falling part; concrete falling 1987 (ChicagoTribune) By 1988 Reinsdorf had invested $20M in repairs (WhiteSoxEncyclopedia) and it was the oldest ballpark at the time.

    That said, I still would have preferred old Comiskey was still around.

  14. EG:

    I didn’t forget about the goal areas, but you are correct in that BMO cannot accommodate a maximum size pitch. They could get away with 90m length and 10m goal areas (which many more famous facilities of years past have employed), possibly even 95m. Meeting the “side” touchline provisions would be less problematic.

    It’s certainly possible that other nations would refuse to play on a small (but still playable) surface at BMO, but I think it unlikely that the US will ever do so given that they often play on smaller than regulation surfaces “at home” as well. I would also suggest that the “option” Canada would present to complaining nations would be a regulation pitch in a facility far, far less attractive to play in… but your underlying point is well made, it is technically possible that other nations might refuse to play at BMO.

    I suspect MLSe would not be interested in having any more than the occasional friendly or qualifying match at BMO anyway, given that rugby does significantly more damage to the playing surface than soccer does.

  15. Ty:

    For what it’s worth (not much!) I think the Argos would have been far better served to fundraise – which might mean whining to various levels of gov’t rather than actual fundraising… – and buy their way in to BMO as a partner than to stay at SkyDome.

    They didn’t, and that’s too bad. In my more optimistic moments I do hope that the club and it’s Senator/multimillionaire owner will actually put some cash into a stadium of their own. As noted above, if there was a “university” or amateur sport connection somewhere along the way, I’d have to think the Feds and province would each be willing to match a $10-15m commitment on the part of the ownership. That doesn’t get a stadium built, but with a naming rights deal and reasonable cooperation with a friendly suburb (Hazel and Mississauga?), it’s possible they could get it done.

    There were rumours years ago (before TFC and BMO) that the Argos were looking at a renovation (which I assume meant knocking it down and rebuilding) of Lamport stadium… not sure if that is the right area for even a small CFL stadium, nor if enough land could be assembled around it to make a 20,000 seater possible (as I recall there is a parking area and a small green space on land around the stadium). But they at least talked about it for a short time.

  16. You can forget about a new football-only stadium in the city of Toronto. It’s not going to happen. The only option is for the Toronto Argonauts to build a 24,000 or 26,000 seat football-only stadium in the suburbs either in Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Woodbridge, Markham, Richmond Hill or somewhere in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and like someone said use SkyDome aka Rogers Centre for playoffs and/or hosting the Grey Cup similar to what the Montreal Alouettes do with the Olympic Stadium. As for the Dolphins………. if the old Miami Arena site is still available they can build a new retractable-roof stadium on that land.

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