2015 Villain: David Braley
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2015 Villain: David Braley

Nominated for: pinching pennies while neglecting Argos fans.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Villain  David Braley  Matthew Daley

This city’s brutal sports market makes it challenging for a small-market team like the Toronto Argonauts to compete for Torontonians’ often indifferent hearts and minds. If the task of winning fan dollars and attention wasn’t already difficult enough for the Canadian Football League team, former Argos owner, Conservative Senator David Braley, made it impossible.

Scheduling conflicts with the Toronto Blue Jays were a fact of life for the Argos—but 2015 pushed the team, and many of their fans, to the breaking point. After being displaced from the Rogers Centre to accommodate the Pan Am Games and the Blue Jays playoff run, attendance tanked to the lowest level in the league. “Home” games were played in Fort McMurray, Alberta (3,700 kilometres away!) and in Hamilton before 3,400 people, many fans of the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats who came simply to shout “Argos suck!”

Attendance woes weren’t all beyond the team’s control. Braley, having checked out of the Argos emotionally (and financially) after deciding to sell the club in 2014, slashed the team’s marketing department. Advertising on television, in print or on public transit was virtually nonexistent. Senior staff within the organization fled the chaos. Without anyone to sell tickets, casual and long-time fans disappeared.

More than marketing suffered. Players and coaches bounced between practice facilities for years (office portables at the U of T Mississauga practice facility actually burned down in 2011) while Braley hemmed and hawed about funding a permanent space. League watchers wondered how the Argos would compete on-field if they lacked funds to go after top-quality players. Who would sign with a team mired in conflict? Especially when that conflict was no secret. Sportsnet reporter Arash Madani tweeted in late 2014 that an anonymous Argos source told him Braley was “cheap as (&#$*). We got no bodies left. It’s a joke.”

Braley, once a saviour of the team after buying the struggling Argos in 2010, prolonged their agony as he sold them off. Trying to recoup money he lost running the team, Braley priced them above market value. No one bit, leaving the Argos orphaned from their stadium and perpetually strapped for cash. Braley gave up on them; it was an indignity the oldest professional sports franchise in North America needn’t have suffered.

Salvation came this summer when the Argos were bought by Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Media, who will move the team to BMO Field in 2016. It couldn’t happen soon enough.