Above the 49: Keeping fan interest will be challenge for CFL champs
By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - The Toronto Argonauts may be the class of the CFL in 2012 but just how big of an impact their Grey Cup win has on their fan base will be measured over the next several years.
But at least now for the first time in about two decades, the Argos seem to have some real momentum and a chance to once again become relevant in a city where they're often treated as a fourth fiddle behind the woeful Maple Leafs, Raptors and Blue Jays.
This is despite the fact that, if you discount the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League, the Argos are responsible for bringing the city its last four professional sports championships dating back to the mid-1990's with Grey Cup wins in 1996, 1997, 2005 and now 2012.
Even before capturing the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday with their dominating 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders, it seemed the future for the Argos was already beginning to brighten up with the team announcing a boost in their season ticket sales for 2013.
While that's all fine and dandy, what the Argos are truly hoping this Grey Cup championship produces is sustained, long-term success at the box office instead of just a temporary bump.
Winning a Grey Cup has been known to drive up ticket sales for most teams and the Argos have been no exception in the past.
They saw their average regular season attendance increase by nearly 5,000 fans per game in 2005 following their championship win the year prior but ever since then, with the exception of 2007 when Toronto hosted the Grey Cup game, they have seen that figure dwindle year after year.
But there is a significant difference between the 2004 Grey Cup champion Argos compared to the 2012 championship squad.
While both teams seemed to come out of nowhere to win the title - the 2004 Argos went 10-7-1 during the regular season while this year's version went 9-9 in a fairly mediocre division - there is a much greater sense this year that this championship may be the first of more to come for Toronto.
Even before all the confetti was swept up after the Argos' Grey Cup win in 2004, there was already many questions swirling around the future of quarterback Damon Allen, the most valuable player of the Grey Cup game who was already 41-years-old at the time. Allen did go on to play for three more seasons before ultimately hanging his cleats up.
The new face of their franchise Ricky Ray, at just 33-years-old, is still very much in the prime of his career and there's no question he will be back in the Double Blue next season. So will the 2012 CFL's Most Outstanding Player receiver Chad Owens, as well as rising star and Grey Cup MVP running back Chad Kackert.
The Argos haven't been the toast of the town since the early 1990's when the trio of former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and late comedian John Candy took over ownership of the club and brought in projected first overall NFL pick and highly-touted college sensation "Rocket" Ismail from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the 1991 season - a season which culminated with the Argos capturing the Grey Cup for the first time in eight years.
There's no guarantee that the Argos' Grey Cup win this year - coincidentally also their first in eight years - will make them the toast of the town for an extended period of time but at least now there seems to be some genuine interest, especially among the casual fans.
The real challenge will be making sure that interest level grows rather than fades away as it has tended to do in the past.
If the Argos can build off their success on the field this year, there shouldn't be any reason why they can't be a major player, not only in the CFL for years to come, but in the Toronto sports scene as well.