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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EDITORIAL: "It's all gone quiet over there..." But does TFC really care?

The blurst of times.

With apologies to the majority of the BMO Field population (circa 2007-2013), Toronto FC's image was built in large part on the visage of the South Stand. Now in no way are we claiming that the supporters in the south are more valuable or important than any others in the ground but it was the sizzle of the "European atmosphere" that TFC immediately harnessed to carve their place in Toronto's crowded sports entertainment market.

For the first few seasons, the club and its "benevolent" owners were handed a sweet gift from PR heaven - an organic (for the most part), grassroots supporter culture that was the talk of the town. Nary was a TFC ad or promo seen without the obligatory smoke-strewn, flag-waving, streamer-laden "Ultra" supporter that most other MLS markets lacked at the time. Word was out - Toronto had "the best fans in the league (TM)" and MLSE was more than happy to bottle it. The team thingamajig could come later.

Sadly, in true MLSE fashion, their promotional eyes grew too big for their belly and the fervent support they were so happy to promote was not rewarded... but rather milked. BMO Field ticket prices rose and game day expenses grew while expensive friendlies were shoehorned in on the back of this seemingly unquenched thirst for local football. Again, all while failing to meet the one request their fiery fans salivated over - a competitive side of their own.

Seven long and very unfruitful seasons later and the South Stand is a shadow of its former self. Large patches of empty seats and most noticeably an atmosphere that has gone from "European" down to "USL" levels. It is not a from lack of desire, no, TFC fans deserve all credit for still even discussing this team, rather it is the death by a thousand cuts of broken promises, greed and sheer drudgery. With the lowering in volume in the south, the rest of BMO Field has followed to become a fairly passion-free ground. The question is: do TFC and their owners actually care?

New MLSE President Tim Leiweke is most definitely from a part of the world where the "soccer" demographic is the family entertainment dynamic. From an accounting perspective it isn't one to be sniffed at. Strong in numbers and big on concessions, the "family atmosphere" could very well be what MLSE prefers going forward. In a world where most of the passionate support gathers on social media to air their (many) beefs on TFC it may feel that neutering this type of fan is farcical but in the words of Kevin Payne - we are a "vocal minority". Those that live and breathe TFC are far outweighed - and outspent - by those wanting a "day out at the soccer stadium". For the TFC bean counters - we are expendable.

Using our little section of BMO Field as an example: it is filled with long-time "football supporting" types, who usually drink before and after a match outside of BMO, rarely eat much at the stadium and rarely, if ever, buy many souvenirs. Fill our area with a soccer-mom driven minivan full of kids, hands weighed down with hot dogs, drinks, kits and promotional thundersticks and you get the picture. Even if that demographic fills our section 3/4 of the time that we are in attendance in a season, MLSE is way ahead. As an ownership they are poor at seeing the intangibles - atmosphere, connectivity... winning. Why would it then be surprising if they steered Toronto FC into a wholesome day out at the stadium for the whole family?

The "hardcore" supporters may not like to hear this warning but how often does TFC try to promote the club as "the real thing" (aka a football cultured club) anymore? Hardcore support in their eyes may very well be the useful tool that launched the club but now represent a drunken, swearing nuisance that make Mom, Dad, Jimmy, Sally and their ridiculous hats feel uncomfortable.

The family entertainment crowd may not be what we ever thought TFC would end up courting but we are not in charge. When stadiums start to empty, owners who want the easy route to bums-in-seats (as opposed to building a winning club) resort to lame circus trickery. Families will come to BMO Field when the original support has been bled and they will clap and eat aimlessly, laugh at the "hilarious" halftime hijinks, bay at the moon for a free t-shirt and spend, spend, spend. What won't they do? Cause (overblown) security concerns, complain about CFL markings on an artificial pitch and go online after the match to complain that TFC still can't win a match. In general - a fan that MLSE would clone in a lab if possible.

Obviously, the majority of you reading this are of the "hardcore" football supporter variety. In the very least you are a devout TFC/MLS fan. You may be shaking your head at our hypothesis but do you really put it outside of MLSE's thought-process to imagine such a scenario? BMO Field has already been turned into a place where products are blaringly promoted for 90 minutes while a football match annoyingly gets in the way of further sales. Turning Toronto FC into New England Revolution 2.0 has been the only 5-Year Plan the club has ever succeeded at.

Perhaps smarter heads will remember what made attending TFC so exciting in its first few seasons and re-energize that rather than forget its importance. But for those who can't imagine MLSE allowing a once ferocious fan-culture to disappear from the stadium, turn on a Maple Leafs game in the regular season and ask yourself why the lower bowl at the ACC looks like a banker's convention run amok. Replace three-piece suits with thundersticks and you may have a glimpse at what supporting TFC live may resemble in the very near future.


  1. yep. I think they'd quite happily settle for a raptors-esque crowd, maybe 75% full, with a revolving cast of people attending the odd game here and there and not really caring all that much. Much less troublesome or demanding, why wouldn't they want it. much better for merch sales as well, rather have one person there for 19 games, or have it empty half the time, and 6 or 7 different people in there for the other games? A lot more opportunities for merch selling that way.

    1. This may as well be the Director's Cut of the post above. Well put.

      Not as good as "Ice Pirates - Criterion Collection" but agree 100%.

  2. Except marketing to families for soccer without having the passion in the stands AS WELl doesn't work. They can't have one without accepting the other. Proven in: LA, Orlando, Seattle, Dallas, Portland.

    1. Never said I thought it would work here - just that it may be the direction chosen. Would not be the first major mistake made by an ownership who is always looking for the easy way out of a problem.

      Mostly I fear the New England Revolutionizing of BMO Field and the TFC matchday experience.


  3. This may well serve as the eulogy for the TFC supporters. Remember when the south stands were the place to be? More people than seats standing in the rows, loud and raucous crowds chanting in unison, and a real appreciation from the players. When was the last time when the whole team, including coaches, headed over to the south east corner to applaud fans? I haven't seen it this season . . .

  4. I was just shaking my head as I read "You may be shaking your head at our hypothesis".

    Why can't we ever have nice stuff?

    1. Portland took it all.